The federal government protects wetlands through regulations (like Section 404 of the Clean Water Act), economic incentives and disincentives (for example, tax deductions for selling or donating wetlands to a qualified organization and the "Swampbuster" provisions of the Food Security Act), cooperative programs, and acquisition (for example, establishing national wildlife refuges).
Beyond the federal level, a number of states have enacted laws to regulate activities in wetlands, and some counties and towns have adopted local wetlands protection ordinances or have changed the way development is permitted. Most coastal states have significantly reduced losses of coastal wetlands through protective laws. Few states, however, have laws specifically regulating activities in inland wetlands, although some states and local governments have non-regulatory programs that help protect wetlands.
Recently, partnerships to manage whole watersheds have developed among federal, state, tribal, and local governments; nonprofit organizations; and private landowners. The goal of these partnerships is to implement comprehensive, integrated watershed protection approaches. A watershed approach recognizes the inter-connectedness of water, land, and wetlands resources and results in more complete solutions that address more of the factors causing wetland degradation. The government achieves the restoration of former or degraded wetlands under the Clean Water Act Section 404 program as well as through watershed protection initiatives. Together, partners can share limited resources to find the best solutions to protect and restore America's natural resources.
While regulation, economic incentives, and acquisition programs are important, they alone cannot protect the majority of our remaining wetlands. Education of the public and efforts in conjunction with states, local governments, and private citizens are helping to protect wetlands and to increase appreciation of the functions and values of wetlands. The rate of wetlands loss has been slowing, but we still have work to do. You can be a part. Approximately 75 percent of wetlands are privately owned, so individual landowners are critical in protecting these national treasures.
What You Can Do
Despite the efforts of governments and private conservation organizations, pressures that destroy wetlands will continue. The problems of degradation of wetlands from pollution, urban encroachment, groundwater withdrawals, partial drainage, and other actions also require attention.
Many opportunities exist for private citizens, corporations, government agencies, and other groups to work together to slow the rate of wetland loss and to improve the quality of our remaining wetlands. First, state and local governments need to be encouraged to establish programs to effectively protect wetlands, especially inland wetlands, within their borders. Second, because individual landowners and corporations own many of the nation's wetlands, they are in a key position to determine the fate of wetlands on their properties. Finally, all citizens, whether or not they own wetlands, can help protect wetlands by supporting wetlands conservation initiatives.
Wetlands are an important part of our national heritage. Our economic well-being and quality of life largely depend on our nation's wealth of natural resources, and wetlands are the vital link between our land and water resources. As wetlands are lost, the remaining wetlands become even more valuable. We have already lost many of our nation's wetlands since America was first settled. We must now take positive steps to protect wetlands to ensure that the functions and related values they provide will be preserved for present and future generations.
- Get involved find out where wetlands exist near your home, try to learn more about them, and support educational efforts.
- Support wetlands and watershed protection initiatives by public agencies and private organizations.
- Purchase federal duck stamps from your local post office to support wetland acquisition.
- Participate in the Clean Water Act Section 404 program and state regulatory programs by reviewing public notices and, in appropriate cases, commenting on permit applications.
- Encourage neighbors, developers, and state and local governments to protect the function and value of wetlands in your watershed.
- Rather than draining or filling wetlands, seek compatible uses involving minimal wetland alteration, such as waterfowl production, fur harvest, hay and forage, wild rice production, hunting and trapping leases, and selective timber harvest.
- Select upland rather than wetlands sites for development projects and avoid wetland alteration or degradation during project construction.
- Maintain wetlands and adjacent buffer strips as open space.
- Learn more about wetland restoration activities in your area; seek and support opportunities to restore degraded wetlands.
- In New England, participate in EPA's "Adopt-a-Wetland" program.