The U.S. Interior Department issued its latest report on the status and trends of the nation's wetlands last week, and officials declared their concern over its findings of a continuing decline in the number of swamps, bogs and marshes.
“Wetlands are at a tipping point,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “While we have made
great strides in conserving and restoring wetlands since the 1950s when we were losing an area equal
to half the size of Rhode Island each year, we remain on a downward trend that is alarming."
Actually, if you read between the lines of the report, the news is even worse than that.
The official finding says the net wetland loss was 62,300 acres between 2004 and 2009, bringing the nation’s total wetlands acreage to just over 110 million acres in the continental United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii.
However, as the Los Angeles Times astutely noted, the report included in its calculations a lot of new wetlands and "a large portion of those new wetlands consist of freshwater ponds, which some scientific studies have concluded don't provide the same ecological services as natural wetlands. "
In other words, some of those wetlands ain't really wetlands.
Here's even worse news. The report notes that "the largest acreage change in the saltwater system was an estimated loss of more than 111,500 acres (45,140 ha) of estuarine emergent wetland...This rate of loss was three times greater than estuarine emergent losses from 1998 to 2004." Part of the cause of those losses of valuable tidal marshes: sea level rise due to global climate change is converting them to open water.
The freshwater picture is also bad, particularly among the forested wetlands. "Forested wetlands experienced the largest change in area of any wetland type," the report noted. The causes: silviculture (i.e. the lumber industry), as well as development.
For Florida, the news is all bad. The state with the second-most wetlands (after Alaska) lost both saltwater and freshwater wetlands. But that's no surprise, as readers of "Paving Paradise" could attest. As we found, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- which is in charge of protecting those vital wetlands -- issues more permits for their destruction in Florida than in any other state.
Like the downward spiral of wetland losses, that hasn't changed over the years either.