Wetland loss along the Gulf Coast accounts for a staggering 71 percent of the coastal wetland loss in the United States each year, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report.
“Louisiana’s coastal land loss is the greatest environmental, economic and cultural tragedy in North America,” said Phil Turnipseed, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wetlands Research Center.
“Despite our best efforts at protecting and restoring critical habitat, these losses continue to erode the capacity for coastal Louisiana and Texas to support waterfowl in the single most important wintering area on the continent,” said DU Director of Conservation Programs Jerry Holden.
Based on the best available data, coastal wetland loss since the 1970s means today’s available habitat supports an estimated 3 million fewer ducks in Louisiana. Coastal marsh loss in Texas, combined with drought and the disappearance of rice agriculture, is adding to the already-dramatic foraging deficit on critical wintering grounds for waterfowl species such as pintails.
Despite recognition of coastal wetlands as water filters; barriers against flood waters; storm mitigators; and aids to local, regional and national economies, the national loss rate has increased by more than 20,000 acres per year, now at 80,000 acres annually.
“We have to stabilize and ultimately reverse the rate of loss of these critical wetlands,” said Tom Moorman, director of DU’s Southern Region. “Ducks Unlimited works with a variety of state, federal and nongovernmental partners, as well as private landowners, to conserve and improve wetland habitats for waterfowl and other species, and we continue to look for ways to increase the rate of coastal wetland restoration with our partners.”
For example, DU is seeking additional support for conservation projects via funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
DU is also involved in an innovative partnership with the rice industry to enhance working wetlands on coastal prairies connected to the marshes and supports the use of freshwater and sediment diversions where appropriate to build marsh and important waterfowl and wildlife habitat.
“We must all work together and make coastal wetland restoration a priority. These wetlands are vital for waterfowl, but also absolutely crucial to the nation’s economy and security,” Moorman said. “In the face of sea-level rise, coastal marsh loss and increasingly costly hurricanes, storm surge absorption is more vital than ever to the nation’s economic security.”
Coastal wetlands serve as natural protection from storm-related flooding. By some estimates, approximately 3 miles of coastal wetlands shrink storm surges by up to a foot.
The full NOAA report – “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009” – and past reports can be found at: www.fws.gov/wetlands/Status-and-Trends/index.html. Learn more about DU’s Gulf Coast Initiative at www.ducks.org/GulfCoastInitiative.
Logo courtesy Ducks Unlimited