Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: What Does the Public Really Think About Wetlands?

          “So rotten planks of broken ships do change
          To barnacles.  O transformation strange!
          ‘T was first a green tree, then a broken hull,
          Lately a mushroom, now a flying gull.”

                                           The Compleat Angler 

Many public policy professionals who work on water and wetland issues struggle to find the right balance between the public’s need for clean water and individual goals for land that contains or abuts on water resources, including wetlands.  Public support is key, but what does the public think and what do they want to know about wetlands and water?   How can we communicate effectively

In March 2009 the Gallup Poll released the results of a study that identified water pollution as Americans’ top green concern. The poll is useful in establishing that clean water is important to Americans, but it does not address wetlands.

A Badger Poll conducted by University of Wisconsin in December 2008 established that Wisconsin residents support wetland protection, but it also revealed that the public’s perception of wetlands does not match the scientific definition (i.e. those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support and that under normal circumstances do  support a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions).

Three-quarters of respondents said that cattails were required for wetlands, and more than 50 percent said that ducks and open water were required for a wetland.  On the positive side the poll indicates that Wisconsinites polled had a good understanding of the benefits provided by wetlands.

The Badger Poll highlights something important.  Members of the public are concerned, but they don’t necessarily have a lot of specialized knowledge about wetlands.

At ASWM’s Wetlands 2007 conference Eric Eckl, a water blogger and environmental communication consultant, shared his research on this topic.  American citizens have low confidence in their understanding of environmental issues.  They care about water and wildlife.  But there is so much information and so many conflicting stories in the media that they don’t know what is best for the environment.

How can Wetlanders help the American public?

First by using words they understand.

Which words?  Well, Eric’s already figured that out:

Go to Swap the Shoptalk: and Use words that work:

There is a wealth of useful information on his website at

Erick Eckl’s presentation at Wetlands 2007 is located at:
Bibliography for the Presentation:

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