Editorial: Wetlands loss needs urgent attention

Anyone driving down to Cameron and seeing the massive amounts of water just off the road won’t be surprised to hear that loss

of coastal saltwater wetlands more than doubled between 2004 and 2009, according to a report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report compared 2004 and 2009 to an earlier five-year period. The rising rate contributed to the Gulf Coast accounting

for 71 percent of wetlands lost across the contiguous United States from 2004 to 2009.

Wetlands loss rose from about 45,000 acres between 1998 and 2004, to more than 95,000 acres from 2004 to 2009, according to

the report.

Saltwater wetland losses in the Gulf of

Mexico largely were attributed “to the effects of severe coastal storms

such as Hurricanes

Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, which

inundated wetlands with storm surge, abnormally high tides, increased

rainfall, runoff, increased sediment and debris deposition and

erosion,” according to the report.

The study also pointed to the adverse affects of oil and gas development, “which has increased the vulnerability of these

wetlands to climate related changes,” including stronger hurricanes and other coastal storms.

The previous report, released in 2008, largely attributed Gulf wetland losses to development and other human activities.

About 257,150 acres of total wetland loss was recorded along the Gulf Coast between 2004 and 2009, according to the recent

study. The report also tracked losses along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, as well as the Great Lakes shorelines.

It found that in 2009 there were an estimated 41.1 million acres of wetlands in coastal watersheds. Between 2004 and 2009,

wetland area in the coastal watersheds of the United States declined by an estimated 360,720 acres.

“In addition to the important economic

and safety benefits they provide to people, coastal wetlands are also

vitally important

to native fish and wildlife species,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Service Director Dan Ashe. “While they comprise less than

10 percent of the nation’s land area, they support 75 percent of

our migratory birds, nearly 80 percent of fish and shellfish,

and almost half of our threatened and endangered species.

“We can’t sustain native wildlife for future generations without protecting and restoring the coastal wetlands that support

them.”

Mark Schaefer, the National Oceanic

and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant secretary for conservation

and management,

said, “The three most valuable species that depend on habitats

supported by our wetlands—crab, shrimp, and lobster— had a

combined value of $1.6 billion in 2012. The disappearance of this

habitat could be detrimental to our nation’s seafood supply.”

The full report is available at

http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Documents/Status-and-Trends-of-Wetlands-In-the-Coastal-Watersheds-of-the-Conterminous-US-2004-to-2009.pdf.

It offers more confirmation of the dire threat to Louisiana’s wetlands.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.