U.S. EPA’s Wetlands Report Shows Challenging Conditions in the West
Assessment points to need for better monitoring and protection of wetlands
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the first-ever National Wetland Condition Assessment. The report shows that nearly half of the nation’s wetlands are in good health, while 20 percent are in fair health and the remaining 32 percent are in poor health. The eco-region west of the Rocky Mountains scored lowest overall, with 21 percent of the wetlands in good condition, 18 percent in fair and 61 percent in poor condition.
“Wetlands play a vital role in decreasing water pollution, providing habitat for fish and wildlife, offering recreational and economic opportunities, and reducing risks from flooding and coastal erosion due to sea level rise,” said Tomás Torres, EPA’s Water Division Director for the Pacific Southwest. “We want to better understand the health of our wetlands and work closely with our partners to protect and restore these vital natural resources in the arid West.”
As in most of the country, the most common stressors of western wetlands include hydrologic changes from the creation of ditches and other draining systems; intrusion of nonnative plants; and surface hardening and vegetation removal (such as for roads and pavement). Additional factors that may have led to the poorer results in the West include generally higher temperatures; long, dry summers; and prolonged drought conditions.
A total of 146 western sites (out of 1,179 sites nationally) were sampled in 2011, including 51 inland woody wetlands, 70 inland herbaceous wetlands, and 25 coastal estuarine wetlands. Overall, more estuarine wetlands were found to be in good condition than inland wetlands.
The National Wetland Condition Assessment is part of a series of surveys designed to advance the science of coastal monitoring and answer critical questions about the condition of waters in the United States. The assessment was conducted in partnership with state environmental agencies and other federal agencies, including the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The report is the first of its kind for wetlands and will be repeated every 5 years.
The report has increased understanding of wetlands and their dynamic, extremely important ecosystems, which were once actively removed throughout much of the United States. With new insight gained over time, these assessments will enable EPA and federal and state partners to develop innovative strategies to more effectively manage and protect existing wetlands.
EPA also launched the National Wetland Condition Assessment Campus Research Challenge today. This challenge seeks to encourage graduate students to identify and use the data to address one or more key and innovative questions and hypotheses on water quality, wetland health, or wetland ecology. The research may examine relationships nationally, eco-regionally, or for other subpopulations of interest.
More information on the Campus Research Challenge: https://www.epa.gov/national-aquatic-resource-surveys/national-wetland-condition-assessment-campus-research-challenge
More information on the National Wetland Condition Assessment: http://www2.epa.gov/national-aquatic-resource-surveys