Wetlands. Why are they so important? Wetlands provide critical habitat for waterfowl, certain mammals and amphibians, reptiles, aquatic insects, fish and birds. Depending on the type of wetland, whether it is a freshwater marsh, a tidal estuary, a peat bog or fen, forested wetland or swamp, headwater streams or saltwater marsh, a wetland performs different types of “services” for a watershed. Wetlands are often nicknamed the “kidneys” of the earth because they filter out pollutants, which improve water quality for surrounding streams, rivers, lakes and other wetlands. But they also perform other functions, such as flood attenuation, water storage, providing habitat for wetland-dependent species and recreation opportunities for people, including nature-watching, birding, hunting, hiking, paddling and fishing. Wetlands also help natural resource managers better understand climate change impacts, such as sea level rise and natural hazards like hurricanes. Because wetlands are naturally carbon sinks, which means they can sequester carbon, they are part of the solution for reducing greenhouse gasses. For all of these reasons and many more, it is essential to protect and conserve wetlands.
Realistically, resource managers face a number of challenges to protecting wetlands. Sprawl and development pressure, confusing Supreme Court cases and legal battles, climate change impacts and invasive species, plus the public’s general lack of understanding about the value of wetlands hinder the wetland manager’s ability to protect wetlands. This is not just a regional or national issue of importance—it is a global issue. This webpage will direct you to general information about wetlands. For more specific topics in wetland science and policy in the U.S., navigate to other sections of the website using the menu bar across the top.