Compensating for wetland losses in the United States




Impacts of climate change on US wetlands will add to those of historical impacts due to other causes. In the US, wetland losses and degradation result from drainage for agriculture, filling for urbanization and road construction. States that rely heavily on agriculture (California, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana) have lost over 80% of their historical area of wetlands, and large cities, such as Los Angeles and New York City, have retained only tiny remnants of wetlands, all of which are highly disturbed. The cumulative effects of historical and future degradation will be difficult to abate. A recent review of mitigation efforts in the US shows a net loss of wetland area and function, even though ‘no net loss’ is the national policy and compensatory measures are mandatory. US policy does not include mitigation of losses due to climate change. Extrapolating from the regulatory experience, one can expect additional losses in wetland areas and in highly valued functions. Coastal wetlands will be hardest hit due to sea-level rise. As wetlands are increasingly inundated, both quantity and quality will decline. Recognition of historical, current and future losses of wetland invokes the precautionary principal: avoid all deliberate loss of coastal wetland area in order to reduce overall net loss. Failing that, our ability to restore and sustain wetlands must be improved substantially.