Wetlands are one of the most incredible ecosystems that exist on our planet. They play a huge role in protecting our drinking water by filtering out pollutants. They protect our homes and built infrastructure by storing floodwaters that would otherwise overwhelm streams, creeks and rivers. They are an incredible carbon sink and an important component of any serious approach to sequester carbon and combat climate change. But of all the important things they do, wetlands may be best known for providing incredible fish and wildlife habitat.
Wetlands are incredibly productive habitat areas because of their aquatic nature. Moving water delivers carbon, nutrients and organic matter to wetlands, which store these valuable materials and create extraordinarily rich transition zones between uplands and open water. Thanks to these productive conditions, plants thrive in wetland zones – and where plants thrive, outstanding habitat for fish and wildlife is sure to follow.
In fact, wetlands exceed all other land-based habitat types for wildlife productivity. In the U.S., more than 150 species of birds depend on wetlands. More than 200 species of fish depend on them as well, plus many kinds of mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Some species are completely dependent on wetlands year-round, while others use them during part of the year or during a specific stage of their life cycles.
Wetlands exceed all other land-based habitat types for wildlife productivity. In the U.S., more than 150 species of birds depend on wetlands.
Many iconic species of American wildlife are inextricably linked to their wetland habitats. It’s hard to think about ducks without Prairie Potholes, moose without willow bogs, or big red drum without coastal marshes. While other species don’t loom as large in our imaginations, they are no less dependent on wetlands than the mallards over your decoys last season. And one thing all these fish and wildlife have in common is that they are threatened by disappearing wetlands. Without the habitat they depend on, the future is uncertain for all kinds of plants and animals that live across the U.S.
Habitat loss is the major factor in declining fish and wildlife populations, and it’s almost always the key culprit when a species is listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In fact, more than a third of all fish and wildlife species found in the U.S. today are at risk of becoming endangered if actions are not taken to protect their habitats.
That’s the bad news about wildlife in America. The good news is that state fish and wildlife agencies have identified the species most in need of urgent action, and they’ve created restoration plans to help those plants and animals thrive again. Every state has these wildlife action plans – and most of these plans call for restoring habitat, especially wetlands.
With the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, states could restore and protect habitats for all the species they have identified as being at the greatest risk of becoming threatened or endangered.
The additional good news is that a bill has been introduced in Congress that would help turn these restoration plans into on-the-ground reality. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would fund state wildlife action plans in a way that would direct more resources to restoration and conservation than has ever been available before – about $1.3 billion a year!
With resources like that, states could restore and protect habitats for all the species they have identified as being at the greatest risk of becoming threatened or endangered. As you might imagine, because so many of those at-risk plants and animals call wetlands home, conserving wetlands would be high on the priority list for many states. And once all those wetlands were protected, they’d keep our water clean, reduce flooding, and slow down climate change, in addition to providing vital habitat for an amazing variety of wildlife.
In other words, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act could keep tens of thousands of species from becoming endangered, while also improving water quality, protecting our health by ensuring we have clean water to drink, and keeping our communities safe during flood events – all by providing the resources states need to restore their wetlands. That’s the kind of common-sense solution we can all get behind.
You can help wetlands get the resources they need to provide vital services for people and wildlife. Sign up to get notified when there's an opportunity to take action on the Recovering America's Wildlife Act and other conservation causes.
Top photo: Green herons stalk the edges of wetlands across much of the U.S., waiting for unsuspecting fish to pass by. Though still common, these small wading birds have declined by more than two-thirds since the 1960s, mostly due to habitat loss.