Conserving America’s Wetlands 2007:
Three Years of Progress
Implementing the President’s Goal
Wetlands have long been recognized as critical to a clean, properly functioning environment and to ecosystem health. They provide a protective buffer for our towns and cities against floods and storm surges; and they provide important ecological benefits, contributing to water quality, supplying life-sustaining habitat to hundreds of species, and connecting aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The Nation's wetlands provide an array of benefits to society, and their continued ability to function and thrive affects the economic, ecological, and cultural heritage of all Americans. The importance of wetland stewardship is reflected in the array of public-private partnerships that have formed, enhanced through efforts at the Federal level. Recognizing the need for more effective use and coordination of Federal wetland activities, on April 22, 2004, President George W. Bush announced a new national policy on wetlands to achieve an overall increase of U.S. wetlands each year, with a goal to restore or create, improve, and protect at least three million wetland acres between Earth Day 2004 and 2009.
Two years after the President underscored the importance of wetlands, significant progress has been made toward achieving his goal to increase overall wetland acreage and its quality-588,000 acres have been restored or created, 563,000 acres have been improved, and 646,000 acres have been protected. Between Earth Day 2004 and 2007, it is expected that a total of 887,000 acres will be restored or created, 1,325,000 acres will be improved, and 1,105,000 acres will be protected (Figure 1).
The primary programs making contributions to restoration or creation are the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS), Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Partners), and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The primary contributors to the improvement goal are the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program, NAWCA, NWRS, and Conservation Technical Assistance. Protection accomplishments through acquisitions or long-term easements are being contributed by NAWCA, WRP, NWRS, and Coastal Program.
Because more than 85 percent of our Nation's wetlands are on non-Federal lands, the effectiveness of Federal efforts to improve the health, quality, and use of the Nation's wetlands will be greatly enhanced by expanding public-private partnerships. Through cooperative conservation, the Federal government can facilitate these partnerships by providing matching grants, technical assistance, and opportunities for recreation and other activities. Federal agencies must encourage and partner with non-Federal parties (state and local governments, tribes, and nongovernmental organizations). Well-coordinated public-private partnership efforts focused on wetland opportunities will yield significant ecological benefits.
About This Report
Conserving America's Wetlands 2006: Two Years of Progress Implementing the President's Goal presents a snapshot of Federal efforts to achieve the President's goals for wetland acreage. In providing information, the participating agencies used terminology similar to that developed by the White House Wetlands Working Group and the same terminology used in the 2005 version of this report. Agencies reported all notable accomplishments toward the President's goal in the year the project was completed, or projected to be completed, rather than the year the project was funded. Adjustments were made to account for projects reported by multiple agencies ("double-counting"). Projected estimates in the 2005 report were adjusted in this year's report as actual results became available. Appendix A provides a thorough discussion of terminology and methodology, and Appendices B through I present program-level information and descriptions.
The President's goal for wetlands has led the responsible Federal agencies to focus their resources-by managing programs more strategically, leveraging resources, and partnering with others whenever possible. The following sections summarize accomplishments planned for each of the three goal areas included in the President's Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 budget, with major contributing programs highlighted.
Restoring or Creating Wetlands
First Two Years of Accomplishment: 588,000 acres
Estimated Accomplishment Earth Day 2007: 299,000 acres
Wetlands can be added by creating new wetlands or by restoring former wetlands lost to drainage. New wetlands are created in upland areas or deepwater sites. A gain in wetland acres may also be achieved by re-establishing former wetlands to restore functions and values approximating natural/historic conditions. Because of difficulties in establishing wetlands in upland areas, agencies have preferred to re-establish former wetlands when possible. In many cases the necessary soils and seed stock still exist, and wetlands flourish once more as soon as the hydrology is restored.
During the first year, Federal agencies reported restoring or creating 301,000 acres of new wetlands. In the second year, Federal agencies plan to create or restore an additional 287,000 acres. By Earth Day 2007, Federal agencies plan to restore or create an additional 299,000 acres of wetlands. Of the second-year gains, 96 percent will result from re-establishing former wetlands and only four percent from establishing wetlands (primarily on upland sites).
The Federal Government will restore wetlands in FY 2007 primarily through the Wetlands Reserve Program, North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, National Wildlife Refuge System, Conservation Reserve Program, and Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Figure 2).
Wetlands Reserve Program
Floodplain forests, prairie potholes, and coastal marshes are among the wetlands restored through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). The WRP is a voluntary program providing technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to address wetland, wildlife habitat, soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on private lands. In FY 2005, NRCS made $4,045,000 in financial assistance available for Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) partnership proposals (1) that address wetland creation and enhancement efforts on easements enrolled in prior years; (2) where partners will contribute significantly to WRP technical assistance costs; and (3) that provide assistance with managing easement projects. Of the total funding, $500,000 was available for partnership proposals addressing bog turtle habitat in the East, and $500,000 was available for partnership proposals addressing ivory-billed woodpecker habitat in Arkansas.
In FY 2006, USDA anticipates restoring or creating 158,000 acres of wetlands through this program. The President's proposed enrollment authorization for FY 2007 will allow NRCS to restore, create, or enhance an additional 173,000 acres.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act
This FWS program promotes long-term conservation of North American wetland ecosystems for the benefit of waterfowl and other migratory birds, fish, and wildlife. Funds are provided by appropriations and by nonappropriated sources such as the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), interest earned on Pittman-Robertson Funds, and fines collected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In FY 2005, 35 completed North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) projects contributed to the President's wetlands goal.
One such initiative was the San Pablo Bay Tidal Wetlands Habitat Restoration Project. In an effort to re-establish historic wetland functions lost to agricultural conversion and habitat degradation, the project restored 9,224 wetland acres in San Pablo Bay (part of the San Francisco Bay Estuary). Activities included levee construction, creation of drainage swales and shallow water ponds, and restoration of a mosaic of estuarine and palustrine emergent wetlands on the Napa Sonoma Marshes State Wildlife Area. The grantee-the California Wildlife Conservation Board-was joined on this project by the following partners: Ducks Unlimited, Sonoma Land Trust, Save the Bay, CALFED, California Department of Fish and Game, United Heckathorn Trustee Council, Marin/Sonoma Mosquito Abatement District, Pacific Gas and Electric, Sonoma Community Foundation, Sonoma County Fish and Wildlife Board, Shell Oil Spill Litigation Settlement Trust, NRCS, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
This program expects to restore or create approximately 107,000 acres of wetlands in FY 2006 and 78,000 acres in FY 2007.
The Importance of Coastal Wetland Protection and Restoration
Healthy coastal and marine ecosystems are essential to the nation’s economy. Because 95 percent of commercial fish and 85 percent of sport fish spend a portion of their life cycles in coastal wetlands and estuaries, the commercial and recreational fishing industries rely on productive coastal habitat. The value added to the national economy by the commercial fishing industry is over $28 billion per year, and each year nearly 18 million Americans engage in marine recreational fishing. In addition, coastal and marine waters support over 28 million jobs.
Coastal wetlands include all wetlands in a coastal watershed—tidal and non-tidal, saline and fresh. More than 30 percent of all wetlands in the United States are coastal. In addition to supporting a diverse array of wetlands, coastal areas also support the majority of this country’s population— coastal counties contain 53 percent of the Nation’s population on only 17 percent of the nation’s land area.1 With this population density comes intense development pressure and increased wetland loss. From 1992 to 1997, coastal counties experienced a net loss of approximately 24,400 acres of wetlands per year. And even though coastal wetland restoration has received increased emphasis in recent years, the area of coastal wetlands lost was 4.3 times the area of wetlands gained.2
Overall the wetland loss in coastal counties was nearly three times that of inland counties. Not surprisingly, wetland loss to development is disproportionately high in coastal areas: coastal counties (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the Great Lakes states) occupy seven percent of the land area, have 20 percent of the wetlands, and have experienced 31 percent of the gross wetland loss and 42 percent of the gross loss to development.2
The majority of coastal wetland loss has occurred in Louisiana, where approximately 40 percent of the coastal wetlands of the lower 48 states are located. The wetlands of coastal Louisiana support many plant and animal species, but are subject to continuing pressures as a result of natural causes and human intervention. The coastal wetlands of Louisiana also provide a natural buffer that can lessen the impacts of some storms, and are in fact an important part of the overall storm reduction system for New Orleans.
Natural deltaic processes formed much of the Louisiana coast; natural subsidence and erosion have shaped these lands ever since. Over the past century, the rate at which the coastal plain is submerging into the Gulf of Mexico has accelerated greatly as a result of our efforts to maintain a commercial navigation channel from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans and farther up the Mississippi River, provide flood and storm damage reduction to communities in the Louisiana coastal plain, and support oil and gas exploration and development and navigation in and through these wetlands.
Several Federal agencies are working with the State to protect and restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands under the 1990 Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act, which now provides $55 to $60 million annually for this purpose. Since 1992, these Federal dollars, together with contributions from state, nonprofit, and private partners, have helped to protect and restore more than 50,000 acres of wetlands in Louisiana. The Administration seeks to build upon the 1990 Act by supporting authorizing legislation to address the most critical ecological needs over the next ten years by harnessing the same natural deltaic forces that once formed this landscape, with the understanding that significant additional work will be needed in subsequent years.
National Wildlife Refuge System
Many national wildlife refuges are restoring former wetlands. Working with its partners, in FY 2006 the refuge system will address conservation priorities, including activities to restore the lower Salmon Creek in California in joint efforts with nine partners, including the State and the Wiyot Tribe. The creek's delta on Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge is at the bottom of a watershed, with Bureau of Land Management ownership at the top. The delta provides habitat for endangered Chinook, coho, and steelhead salmon, as well as tidewater goby.
A second effort will take place at Horseshoe Lake, an old oxbow of the Missouri River on Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska. This collaborative effort with Ducks Unlimited, Cargill Sweeteners NA, and Omaha Public Power District will create a complex of basins that will provide critical hydrological and biological functions. This project will benefit a host of wetland-dependent plants and wildlife, particularly migratory birds.
The National Wildlife Refuge System expects to restore or create approximately 48,000 acres of wetlands in FY 2006 and, given a slight funding increase, create or restore 49,000 acres in FY 2007, mostly associated with the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Conservation Reserve Program
Wetlands restored through this USDA program range from prairie potholes to floodplains to bottomland hardwood forest. Currently, 846,000 acres of wetlands and 1.46 million acres of associated buffers are under contract. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) wetland successes include partnerships with states through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which has enrolled over 88,000 acres of wetlands and associated buffers. In addition, in August 2004 President Bush announced the Non-Floodplain Wetland Restoration Initiative to encourage landowners to enroll 250,000 acres of large wetland prairie pothole complexes and playa lakes located outside the 100-year floodplain. These wetlands provide important environmental benefits, including critical breeding habitat for ducks and grassland birds. Wildlife biologists at the Department of the Interior estimate that CRP efforts have resulted in a 30 percent increase in duck populations and significant increases in grassland bird populations on CRP lands compared to cropland.
CRP anticipates restoring and creating 19,000 acres of wetlands in 2006 and 40,000 acres in 2007.
Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
At the forefront of the FWS wetland restoration efforts on private lands is the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. Because more than 70 percent of our Nation's fish and wildlife resources are located on private lands, Federal and state agencies and other conservation groups cannot completely provide for them. The Partners program was established in 1987 to fill this gap. It provides technical and financial assistance directly to private landowners and tribes who volunteer to help meet the habitat needs of fish and wildlife on their lands. The program has garnered support over the years, expanding into a much larger and more diversified habitat restoration program. The Partners program supports more than 37,000 landowner partnership agreements and has restored or enhanced more than 750,000 acres of privately owned wetlands nationwide.
The Partners program anticipates restoring or creating approximately 28,000 acres of wetlands in FY 2006 and 27,000 acres in FY 2007.
Some degraded wetlands do not function properly because of past or present stressors. Agencies can improve wetlands by modifying the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a degraded wetland site with the goal of repairing its natural/historic functions and associated values (referred to as rehabilitation). They also can modify the physical, chemical, or biological site characteristics to heighten, intensify, or improve specific functions or to change the growth stage or composition of vegetation. These actions are taken with a specific goal in mind, such as improving water quality, floodwater retention, or wildlife habitat. This type of improvement, called enhancement, results in a change in wetland functions and associated values, may lead to a decline in other wetland functions and values, and does not result in a gain in wetland acres.
Between Earth Day 2005 and 2006, Federal agencies reported improving the quality of 364,000 acres of existing wetlands. By Earth Day 2007, Federal agencies plan to improve the quality and associated values of an additional 762,000 acres of existing wetlands. Of the second-year improvements, 21 percent of the gains in wetland quality will come from rehabilitating the natural/historic functions and associated values of degraded wetlands, and the remaining 79 percent will come from enhancing specific functions and values.
The major programs that are planning FY 2007 wetland improvements include the Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program, North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, and National Wildlife Refuge System (Figure 3).
Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has numerous study, project-specific, and programmatic authorities for implementing aquatic ecosystem restoration projects. Activities contributing to the President's goal also occur on the 12 million acres of water and land managed by USACE for other purposes, such as flood damage reduction, navigation, and recreation. For example, dredged material is used to create, restore, or improve wetland habitat as part of routine maintenance dredging of Federal channels. Most USACE restoration projects take several years to complete. Projects are included in the budget based on the extent to which the project cost effectively contributes to the restoration of a nationally or regionally significant ecosystem that has become degraded as a result of an Army Corps civil works project or to an aquatic ecosystem restoration effort for which the Corps is otherwise uniquely well-suited (e.g., because the solution requires complex alterations to the hydrology and hydraulics of a river system).
Corps aquatic ecosystem restoration projects are expected to improve approximately 13,000 acres of wetlands in FY 2006 and 813,000 acres in FY 2007.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act Program
NAWCA funds improvement projects that modify a functioning wetland ecosystem to provide additional long-term wetland conservation benefits (e.g., installation of nest boxes, creation of habitat islands, and land management activities such as erecting fences and signs). In 2005, Ducks Unlimited, working with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, enhanced approximately 3,000 acres of palustrine emergent wetlands in Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area as part of the Illinois River Basin project. NAWCA grant funds were matched 2.1-to-1 on this project, which provided water management capabilities for both public and private lands. Partnering with Ducks Unlimited on this project were private landowners, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation, Illinois Department of Conservation, Kankakee River Conservancy District, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and FWS.
NAWCA expects to improve approximately 150,000 acres of wetlands in FY 2006 and 154,000 acres in FY 2007.
USGS Reports Latest Land–Water Changes for Southeastern Louisiana After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
The USGS National Wetlands Research Center reports that after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in late 2005, 118 square miles of marshland has been transformed to new water areas in a 9,742-square mile area from the Chandeleur Islands to the Atchafalaya River. This area encompasses the basins of Breton Sound, Mississippi River, Pearl River, Pontchartrain, Barataria, and Terrebonne, as well as the western quarter of the Atchafalaya basin.
These landscape changes created new water bodies and expanded water bodies throughout southeast Louisiana, with major impacts concentrated east of the Mississippi River. Many of the new water areas consist of shallow ponds, where the marsh surface has been sheared or ripped by storm surge to the root mat or to the underlying firm substrate of clay. These changes will also have the effect of further lessening the flood and surge protection that wetlands can so effectively provide, thus allowing the next hurricane of Katrina size to be even more devastating than the last. In looking at the past, studies suggest that it takes as little as one mile or as many as four miles of functioning wetlands to reduce storm surge by one foot. USGS will continue to monitor how these changes may affect future hydrodynamic and flooding conditions.
Over 90 percent of the new open-water area in the Breton Sound basin occurred within the freshwater and brackish marsh communities. USGS scientists and partners are continuing to monitor and project future transformation of coastal landscapes, and will expand their efforts to include southwestern Louisiana, which was affected by Hurricane Rita.
The latest hurricane land change maps for southeastern Louisiana, and the information sheet from which this text is condensed, are available at: Replacement of an undersized culvert to increase tidal flow to a salt marsh in Rockport, Massachusetts. (NOAA) http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/hurricane/hurricane_land_change.htm
National Wildlife Refuge System
National wildlife refuges focus on management purposes and wildlife goals that depend on healthy wetland habitats. Many refuge habitats are managed areas requiring a great deal of manipulation; for example, forested wetlands, moist soil units, and managed impoundments require seasonal flooding regimes to mimic the original natural conditions. In FY 2005, NWRS improved 15,024 acres of forested wetlands and similar habitats throughout the refuge system, and performed enhancement and rehabilitation activities on 94,424 acres.
In FY 2006, NWRS expects to improve approximately 107,000 acres of wetlands and an additional 107,000 acres in FY 2007.
Priority wetlands can be protected from activities that may imperil their existence or condition. In this report, protection refers to acquisition of land or easements of at least 30 years. Because protection maintains the base of existing wetlands, it does not result in a gain of wetland acres or function.
During the first year of the President's Wetlands Initiative, Federal actions protected 294,000 acres of existing wetlands. In the second year, Federal agencies protected an additional 352,000 acres. By Earth Day 2007, Federal agencies plan to protect an additional 457,000 acres of wetlands. The major programs planning FY 2007 wetland protection in FY 2007 are the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, Wetlands Reserve Program, and National Wildlife Refuge System (Figure 4).
North American Wetlands Conservation Act
NAWCA projects often involve partnerships of state and local governments and nongovernmental and private organizations seeking to acquire wetland habitat. These acquisitions may be incorporated into the FWS National Wildlife Refuge System or into a state's protected area system, or they may be included in holdings protected by a nonprofit conservation organization (e.g., The Nature Conservancy).
For example, in 2005 the Conservation Fund transferred its 13,069-acre Canoe Bay property in Alaska to the FWS. The fund had acquired this property using a NAWCA grant and matching funds provided by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Canoe Bay will be included in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which is internationally recognized for its importance to migratory birds.
NAWCA expects to protect approximately 297,000 acres of wetlands in FY 2006 and 579,000 acres in FY 2007.
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
WRP is a voluntary program providing technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to address wetland, wildlife habitat, soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on private lands. The program provides financial incentives for landowners to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring marginal land from agriculture. Enrollment options include permanent easements, 30-year easements, and restoration cost-share agreements.
The WRP was reauthorized in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (Farm Bill). The program is administered by NRCS and funded by the Commodity Credit Corporation. In FY 2005, NRCS state offices secured 751 easements on approximately 134,200 acres.
In 2006, the WRP expects to protect approximately 116,000 acres of wetlands, and expects to protect an additional 128,000 acres in 2007.
National Wildlife Refuge System
The Migratory Bird Conservation Fund finances land acquisition programs that protect large tracts of wetlands. Financed by the sale of Duck Stamps, import duties, and refuge fees, the fund purchases major areas for migratory birds under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The fund also acquires small natural wetlands, located mainly in the Prairie Pothole region of the Upper Midwest.
Migratory Bird Conservation Funds will be used to protect approximately 33,000 acres of wetlands in FY 2006 and 33,000 acres in FY 2007.
This report documents the individual and collective accomplishments of Federal agencies toward the President's wetlands goal. Agencies used available programmatic tools, with particular emphasis on public-private partnerships and cooperative conservation. The President's FY 2007 budget provides for continuation of these efforts to make important gains in the breadth and health of the Nation's wetlands.
Federal agencies will continue to leverage personnel, budgets, and authorities to ensure the best possible results. When the jurisdiction or expertise of more than one Federal agency is involved, interagency coordination at the national and regional levels can help implement cooperative wetland restoration projects. Because the vast majority of wetlands are in non-Federal ownership, the Federal agencies will continue to foster and support collaborative strategies, innovative public-private partnerships, and cooperative conservation.
For example, the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership provides matching funds for Federal wetland efforts. Another example of successful private-public partnerships is the Fish and Wildlife Service Joint Ventures (JVs) formed to implement the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP). These self-directed partnerships-involving Federal, state, and local governments; corporations; and a wide range of nongovernmental conservation organizations-are successful tools for developing cooperative conservation efforts to protect waterfowl and other bird habitat. The 17 current JVs address multiple local, regional, and continental goals for sustaining migratory bird populations by developing scientifically based habitat projects.
To accomplish the President's Earth Day goal, the FY 2007 budget requests over $930 million specifically for wetlands (Figure 5). This budget proposal reflects a continued commitment to the goal of achieving an overall increase in the quality and quantity of wetlands in America, and represents a prudent and necessary course to ensure the Nation's wetlands will continue to meet the needs of current and future generations.
The FY 2007 budget continues to focus on cooperative conservation partnerships and large-scale ecosystem restoration efforts. The budget emphasizes voluntary programs through which agencies work closely with individual landowners, such as the FWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife and the USDA Wetlands Reserve and Conservation Reserve programs. Cooperative conservation efforts with states, tribes, localities, and nongovernmental organizations also are a priority, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. The budget calls for large-scale ecosystem restorations in areas such as South Florida and Louisiana, where a holistic approach is critical to restoring ecosystems. More detailed information on how the requested funds will be used appears in the appendices to this report and in congressional justifications submitted by the participating agencies.
Increased Federal attention to wetland efforts highlights the importance of wetlands and heightens public awareness. Because active citizen involvement is a central component of efforts to restore, improve, and protect wetlands, this Administration remains committed to fostering volunteer efforts that advance and promote individual stewardship. An informed public working in partnership with Federal, state, tribal, and local agencies will ensure wetlands are conserved for future generations.
These collaborative conservation and stewardship efforts depend on accurate, timely, and reliable data. Although the National Wetlands Inventory and National Resources Inventory provide a base of information for this purpose, an integrated national, regional, and local information system would allow for a real-time base of information. In the future, when state and Federal agencies are able to share geographic information systems (GIS) for wetlands, policy officials and managers at all levels will have the real-time information they need to make decisions in support of the President's wetlands conservation goal.
The lessons learned during development of these first two reports will be invaluable for future efforts. Clearly, Federal agencies have improved how they track progress toward the President's wetlands goal. Knowledge gained through this year's effort will be applied to future efforts.