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Council on Environmental Quality
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Conserving America's Wetlands 2008:
Four Years of Partnering Resulted in
Accomplishing the President's Goal

Executive Summary

Earth Day
2009 Goals
in the First Four
Years after Earth
Day 2004*
by Earth Day 2009
Acres Restored or Created 1,000,000 1,197,000 1,476,000
Acres Improved 1,000,,000 1,079,000 1,317,000
Acres Protected 1,000,,000 1,324,000 1,700,000
Total Acres 3,000,000 3,600,000 4,493,000
*As adjusted by actual results.

On Earth Day 2004, President Bush celebrated the opportunity to move beyond the federal policy of “no net loss” of wetlands and called for a new commitment to attain an overall increase in the quality and quantity of wetlands in America.

As President Bush said in April 2004, “The old policy of wetlands was to limit the loss of wetlands. Today, I’m going to announce a new policy and a new goal for our country: Instead of just limiting our losses...we will move beyond the no net loss of wetlands in America to having an overall increase of Americans’ wetlands over the next five years.”

President Bush described achieving his goal for expanding wetlands acreage by restoring or creating, improving and protecting “at least three million acres of wetlands over the next five years.” The goal is to achieve at least one million acres in each of these separate categories between Earth Day 2004 and Earth Day 2009. This goal reflects federal agency performance in restoring, improving, and protecting wetland acres. The three million acre target does not reflect a net acreage total(i.e., only additional wetlands are tabulated, not losses of wetlands).

After four years of working toward the President’s fiveyear goal, the team of six federal agencies working with multiple states, communities, tribes, and private landowners have exceeded the three million acre target a year early.

Since the President established the goal, 3,600,000 acres of wetlands have been restored or created, improved, or protected.

This report also highlights anticipated progress between Earth Day 2008 and Earth Day 2009, during which time the Bush Administration expects an additional 893,000 wetland acres to be restored or created, improved, or protected.

The President’s focus on wetlands has prompted these accomplishments, as well as improvements in cooperation and understanding among the many federal departments, states, communities, tribes, and landowners that care for and manage wetlands. The federal government team includes the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Transportation, and the Army.

Many government agencies contribute to the continuing goal of “no net loss” by ensuring mitigation for wetlands that are developed for other uses. Even though mitigation for wetlands replaces more wetland acres than are lost, these numbers are not included in the three categories reported here. The report describes these and other programs that contribute to maintaining the nation’s wetlands base.

This report chronicles the major contributions of federal agencies, working together and in partnership with others, that have exceeded each of the categories—and have done it a full year ahead of schedule.

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 lifesustaining habitat for 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.

Wetlands Loss in Coastal Areas: Bucking the National "Net Gain" Trend

Coastal wetlands are all wetlands in coastal watersheds, i.e., local watersheds that drain to the ocean, the Great Lakes, or an estuary or bay. Coastal wetlands include salt marshes, bottomland hardwood swamps, fresh marshes, seagrass beds, mangrove swamps, and shrubby depressions known in the southeast United States as “pocosins.” Coastal wetlands and estuaries are extremely important as nursery, refuge, foraging, and spawning areas for estuarine, marine, and anadromous fish. Coastal wetlands currently make up about 38 percent of the wetlands in the lower 48 states, or approximately 41 million acres.

Wetland trends in the conterminous United States have been measured and reported periodically by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Nationwide, net wetland loss has decreased from about 458,000 acres per year in the 1960s to 58,500 acres in the late 1990s. In the most recent period, 1998–2004, there was a slight increase in wetlands in the conterminous United States.

Because coastal wetlands have not been tracked as a distinct category in the existing FWS reports, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) partnered with the FWS to assess the status and trends of wetlands in the coastal watersheds of the Great Lakes, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico, for the period 1998–2004. Initial indications from the effort reflect that during this period coastal watersheds possibly were losing a substantial amount of wetlands, despite the national trend of net gain. Final results of the study are expected to be released in a joint NOAA/FWS report during the summer of 2008.

Volunteers at a restoration project in the Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, work to plant salt marsh grasses and places and fencing, which will help stabilize new habitat conditions created by the project. (NOAA)

Although the wetlands targets presented by the President in 2004 have been met nationwide, it is almost certain that wetlands will continue to be lost in coastal watersheds. Because people enjoy living near the coast, they continue to build roads, homes, and other structures in coastal watersheds. Emphasis on coastal wetland conservation—both protection and restoration—in federal, state, and other wetland programs will be needed to address this loss of coastal wetlands.


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