Wetlands are highly productive and biologically diverse systems that improve water quality, control erosion, maintain stream flows, separate carbon, and provide a home to at least one third of all threatened and endangered species.
Wetlands were once regarded as wastelands. It was common practice to drain them, fill them, or treat them as dumping grounds. Today, we know that wetlands play an important role for the environment and the public. They offer critical habitat for wildlife, they purify polluted waters, and they help control the destructive power of floods and storms. They also provide a wide variety of recreational opportunities such as fishing, hunting, photography, and wildlife observation.
Wetlands act as natural water purifiers, filtering sediment and absorbing many pollutants in surface waters. Coastal wetlands help to soften the force of major storms.
Wetlands along rivers and streams absorb energy and store water during storms, which reduces flooding. The slow release of this stored water over time can help keep streams flowing during droughts.
Wetlands provide habitat for many species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that are uniquely adapted to aquatic environments. Upland wildlife like deer, elk and bears use wetlands for food and shelter. Wetlands are necessary for many migratory bird species. Freshwater and marine life including trout, striped bass, crab, and shrimp rely on wetlands for food, cover, spawning, and nursery grounds.
About one-third of all plants and animals listed as threatened or endangered species in the United States depend on wetlands for their survival, including whooping cranes, American crocodiles, the dwarf lake iris and several orchid species. Nearly 7000 plant species live in U.S. wetlands, many of which can only survive in these wet environments. Some wetland types are among the most productive ecosystems on earth. A stand of cordgrass in a salt marsh can produce more plant material and store more energy per acre than any agricultural crop except cultivated sugar cane. Nutrients and plant material flushed from some wetland systems during storms provide essential food for plants, fish, and wildlife in downstream ecosystems.
Many wetlands contain a diversity of plants, animals and water features that provide beautiful places for sightseeing, hiking, fishing, hunting, and bird watching.
Some wetlands help provide clean, plentiful water supplies.
Ecological, cultural, and historic resources are plentiful in our nation's wetlands, and provide countless opportunities for environmental education and public awareness programs.
Source: Why Are Wetlands Important
National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Public Domain