Tag: wetlands

Celebrate “Earth’s Kidneys” on World Wetlands Day

A global aquatic resource under threat from drainage, filling, and development is the focus of World Wetlands Day, which is observed annually on Wednesday, February 2. Michigan has a special stake in preventing wetland destruction and promoting wetland restoration.

Michigan was a national leader when the state legislature approved the Wetland Protection Act in 1979. This visionary statute requires a state permit before most wetlands can be altered. It has dramatically slowed, but not stopped Michigan wetland loss.

Dubbed “Earth’s kidneys” because of their valuable role in filtering pollutants, wetlands make other important contributions to ecology and society. They reduce flooding by storing high water and provide critical habitat for fish and waterfowl. The United Nations Ecological, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has estimated that wetlands provide trillions of dollars in annual health and ecological benefits worldwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that Great Lakes coastal wetlands are a key ingredient in recreational activities that feed a sector worth more than $50 billion annually in economic activity in the Great Lakes region.

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. Yet a 2014 science journal article estimated that the world has lost as much as 87% of its wetlands since the year 1700. They are often sacrificed for everything from housing and business development to road construction and drained for agriculture.

Wetlands photo courtesy, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The theme of the worldwide observance on Feb. 2 is a call to take action on behalf of wetlands. Michigan has been a leader in wetlands protection, yet continues to face challenges in their conservation.

Michigan was a national leader when the state legislature approved the Wetlands Protection Act in 1979. This visionary statute requires a state permit before most wetlands can be altered. It has dramatically slowed, but not stopped, Michigan wetland loss.

Before the 1979 law, Michigan had lost 4.2 million acres of its original wetlands endowment of 10.7 million acres, approximately 39%. The counties that had lost the greatest percentage of wetlands were Monroe (93%), Wayne (90%), and Saginaw (87%).

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. Yet a 2014 science journal article estimated that the world has lost as much as 87% of its wetlands since the year 1700. They are often sacrificed for everything from housing and business development to road construction and drained for agriculture.

Since the passage of the state’s wetlands protection law, the rate of wetland loss has declined dramatically, according to a 2014 state report. The total decline of wetland between 1978 and 2005 is estimated at 41,000 acres, with the rate of decline slowing between the periods 1978 to 1998 (loss of approximately 1,642 acres per year) and 1998 to 2005 (loss of approximately 1,157 acres per year).

Slowing wetlands destruction is not enough. Wetland restoration will be critical to Michigan’s future water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and quality of life.

How can you get involved in protecting nature’s kidneys?

  • Organize your friends and neighbors, and connect with local watershed groups, to seek passage of local wetlands ordinances. Unlike the state, local governments can regulate destruction or development of most isolated wetlands smaller than 5 acres. Only about 40 of Michigan’s approximately 1,850 local units of government have enacted such ordinances. 
  • Educate the community, including owners of properties containing wetlands, about wetlands values.
  • Remain vigilant about legislative threats to Michigan’s wetlands protection law. Special interests and allied lawmakers frequently favor development and destruction of wetlands instead of conservation for current and future generations.