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Water: Outreach & Communication

May is American Wetlands Month: Learn! Explore! Take Action!

This May will mark the 24th anniversary of American Wetlands Month, a time when EPA and its partners in federal, state, tribal, local, non-profit, and private sector organizations celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to the Nation's ecological, economic, and social health. It is also a great opportunity to discover and teach others about the important role that wetlands play in our environment and the significant benefits they provide — improved water quality, increased water storage and supply, reduced flood and storm surge risk, and critical habitat for plants, fish, and wildlife.

EPA encourages all Americans to consider doing the following to help celebrate the month, wherever they reside:

  1. Learn about wetlands. This is a great time to better understand what a wetland is, where wetlands can be found, and the importance of wetlands. Activities may include reading and studying about wetland areas, drawing maps or illustrations of wetlands, and identifying native species found in wetlands. Information on wetlands and the important benefits they provide is available on this website, through EPA's wetlands fact sheets series, or by visiting the websites of our partners.
  2. Explore a wetland near you. Unless you live in the most extreme climate zones, there is a good chance a scenic wetland exists nearby for you to visit and explore during American Wetlands Month and throughout the year. To find a wetland near you, consult your local parks department, state natural resource agency, or the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. If you live in the Washington, DC area, a guide has been created to highlight wetlands and wildlife sanctuaries.
  3. Take action to protect and restore wetlands. Support and promote wetlands informing community members about wetlands' vital roles, "adopting" a wetland, joining a local watershed group, or participating in a wetland monitoring, restoration, or cleanup project. There are many other actions Americans can take to help conserve wetlands. To learn more about what you can do to help protect and restore these valuable natural resources in your state or local area, visit What You Can Do to Protect and Restore Wetlands.

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American Wetlands Month 2014 Events

EPA welcomes and encourages your participation in this exciting outreach effort!

Please share information about 2014 American Wetlands Month events near you by completing and submitting the American Wetlands Month Event Information Form.

Click below to find about 2014 American Wetlands Month Events planned in your state. Only states with registered events are listed.

Nationwide Events

Stay tuned for events in your area during 2014. EPA will regularly update this page as we become aware of planned events.

Map of the United States Washington, DCMassachusettsVirginia

If you have questions about this form or would like to discuss other ways to participate in American Wetlands Month, please contact ow-wetlandsmonth@epa.gov.

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History of American Wetlands Month

American Wetlands Month was created in 1991 by EPA and its federal, state, tribal, local, non-profit, and private sector partners to celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to the Nation's ecological, economic, and social health and to educate Americans about the value of wetlands as a natural resource. Historically, annual events such as national and regional conferences have been organized to include a broad range of people including wetland scientists, educators, and public interest.

The annual celebration of American Wetlands Month in May inspires people to work throughout the year to protect, preserve, and expand wetlands. Highlights from last year's celebration include:

  • The National Wetlands Award Ceremony which honored a diverse group of individuals for their extraordinary commitment to conserving wetlands.
  • National webcasts “State and Regional Wetland Restoration Strategies” and "Designing Wetlands for Rare Amphibians" which stimulated the exploration of new ways to leverage wetland restoration to solve threats to human health and safety, wildlife, and sustainable agriculture.
  • A family event with hikes and games in the Celery Bog Nature Area, Indiana.

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What are Wetlands?

Wetlands are the vital link between land and water, where the flow of water, the cycling of nutrients, and the energy of the sun meet to produce highly productive ecosystems with unique plant and animal life. Wetlands may not be wet year-round. In fact, some of the most important wetlands are seasonally dry transition zones. They are among the most valuable, but often least understood, wetland resources.

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Why Celebrate Wetlands?

Water Quality Protection & Improvement

Wetlands are often referred to as the "kidneys" of the landscape for their ability to remove excess nutrients, toxic substances, and sediment from water that flows through them, helping to improve downstream water quality. Recently published studies on pollutant removal rates for natural and restored wetlands indicate that, depending on the type of wetland, the season, and other factors, wetlands can retain significant percentages of nitrates, ammonium, phosphorus, and sediment loads. Natural wetlands have also been effective in removing contaminants such as pesticides, landfill leachate, dissolved chlorinated compounds, metals, and stormwater runoff.

Reducing Flood Risk

Wetlands play an important role in reducing the frequency and intensity of floods by acting as natural buffers — slowing, absorbing, and storing significant amounts of floodwater. Since flooding is the most common natural hazard in the nation, wetlands play an integral role in managing this risk, particularly through planning approaches that consider the entire watershed. Wetlands can also significantly mitigate the impacts of storm surges and waves. The nation's vital Gulf coastal landscape and associated infrastructure experienced crippling damage as a result of wind, tidal surge, and flood related impacts during the 2005 hurricane season. Experts have concluded that the significant historic losses of wetlands in southern Louisiana contributed to the magnitude of hurricane impacts. These events illustrated the economic, cultural, and ecologic consequences of losing protective coastal wetlands, which provide significant and sustainable protection to life and property.

The presence of wetlands on the landscape can also mitigate flood damage inland. A study by the Wetlands Initiative concluded that restoring wetlands along the 100-year flood plain of the Upper Mississippi River could increase storage capacity to 39 million acre-feet of flood water--a similar volume to the Mississippi Flood of 1993 that caused $16 billion in damages.

Water Storage & Supply

The ability of wetlands to store and filter water helps to protect and replenish surface and underground drinking water sources. Studies have concluded that the thousands of small wetlands that dot the U.S. Great Plains (called playa lakes) play a significant role in the recharge of the Ogallala aquifer — one of the Nation's largest aquifers and a principal source of groundwater used to irrigate agricultural land and provide drinking water in the Great Plains.

Bioproductivity & Habitat

As nurseries of nature, wetlands are among the most biologically productive natural ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs in their productivity and in the diversity of species they support. Mixtures of vegetation and shallow water zones provide diverse habitats for a variety of species — plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, shellfish, and mammals. Many species rely on these critical habitats for survival as sources of food, shelter, and breeding grounds. For example, frogs, toads, and salamanders depend on small, isolated wetlands during their development. It is estimated that one-half of all North American bird species nest or feed in wetlands, and despite the fact that wetlands comprise only 5% of the land surface in the conterminous United States; they are home to an estimated 31% of plant species.

Economic Viability

Commercially, wetlands provide an essential link in the lifecycle of 75% of the fish and shellfish harvested in the United States and up to 90% of the recreational catch. Many industries, in addition to the fishing industry, derive benefits or produce products that are dependent on wetlands. For example, coastal wetland and barrier systems can provide buffers that protect commercial and industrial infrastructure, including ports, and oil and gas structures. Commercial products harvested in wetlands include rice, cranberries, peat, hay, medicines, timber, and fur.

Recreational & Cultural Opportunities

Finally, wetlands provide infinite opportunities for recreation and cultural pursuits. They are inviting places for popular activities such as hiking, fishing, bird watching, photography, and hunting. In 2001, more than 82 million Americans took part in these types of recreational activities, spending approximately $108 billion.

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Status of Wetlands in the United States

The United States has made progress in reversing the historical wetland loss of an estimated 100 million acres of wetlands since the late 1700s. Specifically, the net annual loss of wetland acres has decreased dramatically in the past few decades, from nearly 500,000 acres per year between the 1950s and 1970s to nearly 13,800 acres per year from 2004 to 2009 (refer to the National Status and Trends Reports conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Despite this positive news, however, wetlands continue to be threatened by a variety of factors. The net loss described in the most recent national report includes a combination of gains in certain types of wetlands and losses in other types, especially forested wetlands. Silviculture activities accounted for 38% of freshwater forested wetland loss, and 56% of total wetland loss. Urban and rural development is now the leading cause of wetland loss, accounting for nearly 23% of wetland loss nationally. Urban and rural development can also degrade existing wetlands by increasing sediment, nutrient and other contaminant loads beyond a wetland's capacity to assimilate them. Additionally, habitat fragmentation, hydrologic alterations, and increases in invasive species are all troubling effects on wetlands due to urbanization. As watershed and associated wetland systems are compromised, there can be negative economic, social, and environmental impacts. Consequences of global climate change and sea-level rise are also expected to have an adverse impact on wetlands.

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Efforts to Protect and Restore Wetlands

EPA, along with other federal agencies, is taking a number of steps to protect the health of wetland habitats and ecosystems. EPA works closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure no net loss of wetlands and other aquatic resources under the Section 404 permit program of the Clean Water Act. This regulatory program includes guidelines requiring that discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States be avoided and minimized to the extent practicable and that unavoidable impacts be fully compensated. Currently EPA is partnering with the Corps on a number of important efforts in the Section 404 program including the implementation of national guidance on program jurisdiction in response to the Supreme Court decisions in Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Rapanos vs. U.S., and implementation of the joint EPA/Corps compensatory mitigation regulations.

States, Tribes, local governments, and conservation organizations also play a critical role in restoring, protecting, and improving wetlands. Accordingly, EPA provides funding through Wetland Program Development Grants to build and enhance state and tribal wetland program capacity in the areas of regulation, monitoring, restoration, water quality standards, mitigation compliance, partnership building, and outreach and education. EPA's Five Star Restoration Challenge Grant Program provides funding, technical support, and information to help communities restore wetlands and stream banks. Since 1999, this program has supported nearly 585 projects utilizing more than $4.5 million in federal funds and $27 million in partner matching funds. These projects have restored or improved 8,350 acres of wetlands and 100 miles of stream banks.

Administrative Efforts to Clarify Scope of Protected Waters, Including Wetlands

On April 21, 2014, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers published in the Federal Register a proposed rule to clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation's water resources. The proposed rule, "Definition of 'Waters of the United States' Under the Clean Water Act," is open for public comment until July 21, 2014, and clarifies where Clean Water Act  programs apply. Determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. For nearly a decade, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked for rulemaking to provide clarity. Additionally, the EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 56 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements. Read more at "Waters of the United States."

National Wetland Condition Assessment

This probability-based statistical survey will assess the health of the Nation's wetlands while strengthening state and tribal programs for wetland monitoring and protection. It will develop baseline information in order to evaluate environmental progress in protecting and restoring the Nation's vital national wetland resources. A report detailing the results of the survey will be released in 2014. Read more at the National Wetland Condition Assessment webpage.

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What You Can Do to Protect and Restore Wetlands

Citizens can make valuable contributions to the protection and restoration of wetlands. Consider taking some of the following actions to help conserve wetland resources near you:

  • Volunteer with a local watershed or conservation group (or start your own if none exist in your area) to protect, restore, and monitor a local wetland or stream area. Check Surf Your Watershed for a watershed group near you.
  • Work with a community group, youth group or school to identify a local wetland that could be restored to its natural condition. Funds may be available for local projects through the 5-Star Restoration program. For more information, go to 5 Star Restoration Program
  • Talk to your local government about steps they are taking to protect and restore wetlands in your area, and encourage action. Some local governments protect wetland quality by adopting ordinances that limit development next to wetlands (known as wetland buffers). For information, go to Wetlands and Watersheds Exit EPA Disclaimer or check out The Planner's Guide to Wetland Buffers for Local Governments Exit EPA Disclaimer which provides information to local governments that are considering enacting or amending a wetland buffer ordinance to manage land use and development.
  • Plant native vegetation in your yard and limit your use of fertilizers and pesticides which can pollute nearby waterways.
  • If you live in Georgia, adopt a wetland! The state of Georgia has developed an Adopt-a-Wetland Program, based on its Adopt-a-Stream Program. A manual explains how to find a wetland to adopt and how to conduct a wetland walk, perform surveys, and maintain the health of a wetland is available on the program's Web site. Programs like Georgia's provide an opportunity for hands-on learning for all ages. For more information, call (404) 656-1639 or visit The University of Georgia's Marine Extension Service  Exit EPA Disclaimer

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Resources

"Common Questions: Wetland Festivals" (PDF) (11 pp, 250.3K, About PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer — This guide, prepared by the Association of State Wetland Managers with support from the U.S. EPA, is a resource that may be useful in planning a wetland festival or other outreach event to raise wetland awareness. Drawing upon lessons from previous festivals and other resources, the guide answers questions that groups should consider if interested in designing and carrying out their own wetland festival.

"Wetlands and Wildlife Sanctuaries to Visit in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area" — This guide highlights a few of the many places to learn about and enjoy wetlands in the Washington DC area. If you live outside the DC area, you can find a wetland near you by contacting your local parks department, state natural resource agency, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

EPA wetlands fact sheets — EPA has developed a series of fact sheets that provide technical and educational information on a variety of topics related to wetlands conservation.

"Southeastern Wetlands: A Guide to Selected Sites in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky" — Co-published by the EPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority, this book invites and inspires readers to visit wetlands of the Southeast and learn about the challenges faced in their preservation. A limited number of free copies of this book are currently available. Contact Gail Harrison (harrison.gail@epa.gov) to obtain a copy.

EPA Wetlands Education Materials — You can find activities, curriculum/guides, education programs, teaching tools, and other links at the Wetlands Education page.

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Our Partners in American Wetlands Month

Environmental Law Institute Exit EPA Disclaimer (http://www.eli.org)
Izaak Walton League of America Exit EPA Disclaimer (http://www.iwla.org/)
Association of State Wetland Managers Exit EPA Disclaimer (http://www.aswm.org)
Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (http://www.fws.gov)
Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey (http://www.usgs.gov); American Wetlands Month Page (http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/topics/wetlands/wetlandsMonth.htm)
Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (http://www.noaa.gov)
National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov)
Society of Wetland Scientists Exit EPA Disclaimer (http://www.sws.org)


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