Wetland Losses and Threats
Although the benefits that wetlands provide make them some of our most valuable landforms, the United States and Michigan have lost alarming amounts of wetlands.
The United States was at one time blessed with an abundance of 225 million acres of wetlands. Since European settlement, the lower 48 United States have lost over 53% of their original wetlands. The lower 48 states contained an estimated 105.5 million acres of wetlands in 1997. Great Lakes states and the province of Ontario have fared worse – it’s estimated that only 30% of the original wetlands remain in the Great Lakes Basin. In the most recent survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan has lost 50% of its original wetlands. The percentage of Michigan’s coastal wetlands that have been lost is even greater--70%. In total over 5,600,000 acres of wetlands have been damaged or destroyed in Michigan.
Our realization of wetland values is relatively new. Wetlands were formerly thought of as areas of pestilence that needed be dredged, drained, or otherwise converted to higher use. In association with the need for humanity to manipulate and overcome wetlands, there has also been a societal perception that wetlands were undesirable, dangerous places. As a result, millions of dollars of public funds have been spent in destroying wetlands throughout our history. George Washington took it upon himself to drain the Great Dismal Swamp in hopes of using the land for farming and thought of himself as a failure because he was not successful in accomplishing this task. The portrayal of wetlands as dark and mysterious places where we might get lost and where danger lurks was further engraved into our society by Hollywood with movies such as the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Swamp Thing.”
Without the dramatic flair of Hollywood, wetlands are still seen as breeding grounds for mosquitoes; some take the claim even further with wetlands serving as the breeding grounds for mosquitoes that are carrying the West Nile virus. Even our language has been shaped by this cultural history and societal perception of wetlands; “bogged down,” “mired,” “swamped,” all have negative connotations. For hundreds of years, wetlands have been seen as wastelands, only useful if converted. Due to this belief and negative perception, wetlands across the country have disappeared.
Wetland Changes in Our Service Area
Threats to Wetlands (Loss and Degradation)