National assessment helps pinpoint conservation issues
The health of American wetlands — at least what’s left of them — in the U.S. is a 50-50 proposition, according to the EPA, which this week released a first-ever national assessment of wetlands conditions, part of a national aquatic resource survey.
Wetlands, once maligned as no-good swamps, are critical for ecosystem health, water quality and flood attenuation, but development and agriculture have chipped away at the waterlogged areas for decades, leaving many degraded.
Overall, the EPA said 48 percent of the nation’s wetlands are in good health. Twenty percent are in fair health, and nearly a third — 32 percent — are in poor health.
“America’s wetlands are vital for reducing water pollution, reducing flooding, providing habitat for fish and wildlife, offering recreational opportunities, and contributing goods to economy,” said Joel Beauvais, deputy assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “We know that protecting our wetlands is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like flooding and managing pollution and nutrients damaging our country’s water quality,” Beauvais said.
Physical disturbances to wetlands and their surrounding habitat such as compacted soil, ditching, or removal of plants, are the most widespread problems across the country, and nonnative plants are also an issue particularly in the Interior Plains and West.
EPA conducted the National Wetland Condition Assessment in partnership with state environmental agencies and other federal agencies, including the Natural Resource Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The assessment supplements the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Status & Trends program, which has been documenting changes to the extent of wetland area in the U.S. for more than 30 years.
Taken together, these surveys increase understanding of these dynamic, extremely important ecosystems that were once actively removed throughout much of the U.S. With new insight gained over time, the assessment will enable EPA and partners to more effectively manage and protect existing wetlands and hopefully restore some of those that have been lost.
EPA is also launching the National Wetland Condition Assessment Campus Research Challenge today to encourage graduate students to identify and use the data to address one or more key and innovative questions and hypotheses on water quality, wetland health, or wetland ecology. The research may examine relationships nationally, eco-regionally, or for other subpopulations of interest. The challenge closes January 2017 and the winners will be announced March 17, 2017.
More information on the assessment: http://www2.epa.gov/national-aquatic-resource-surveys
More information on the Campus Research Challenge: https://www.epa.gov/national-aquatic-resource-surveys/national-wetland-condition-assessment-campus-research-challenge