The Science

Author:Stephen M. Johnson
Pages:1-24
 
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Chapter 1
The Science
I. Wetland Values and Functions
This is a book about wetlands, and the laws that protect wetlands. It seems only natural,
therefore, to begin the book by looking at the reasons that there are laws to protect
wetlands. This first chapter begins with a focus on the values and functions of wetlands.
In the 19th century, wetlands were considered “a menace, the cause of malaria, and a
hindrance to land development.” See U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment,
OTA-O-206, Wetlands: Their Use and Regulation 37 (Mar. 1984). Attitudes towards
wetlands have changed greatly since then as scientists and the public have discovered the
societal benefits and important ecological functions of wetlands. The United Nations
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment determined that the ecosystem services provided
globally by wetlands in 1997 were worth 15 trillion dollars. See Ramsar Convention on
Wetlands, Ramsar Convention Secretariat, Wetland Ecosystem Services - An Introduction.
Consequently, wetlands frequently provide far greater economic benefits as part of healthy
functioning ecosystems than they would provide after being converted to other uses. Id.
The “ecosystem services” and other values and functions provided by wetlands include:
Provision of Habitat / Protection of Species and Biodiversity
Flood Control
Erosion Prevention and Shoreline Stabilization / Protection
Water Quality Protection (removal of sediments, nutrients and toxics)
Groundwater Replenishment
Climate Regulation
Wetland Products (timber, food products, etc.)
Recreation, Aesthetics, and Education
Protection of Cultural Values
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Not every wetland provides all of the functions outlined above. The services that each
wetland provides will vary based on the type of wetland, its size and location. See Ramsar
Convention on Wetlands, Ramsar Convention Secretariat, Wetland Ecosystem Services -
An Introduction. However, the services that each wetland provides generally benefit much
broader segments of the public than would be benefitted by the conversion of the wetlands
to unsustainable uses. Id. It is not always easy to get that message across, though, as, in
the past, there has frequently been a lack of concrete economic data available to
demonstrate the monetary value of preserving wetlands in their natural state. Id. In
addition, some of the values provided by wetlands, such as recreation, aesthetics,
education, research and protection of cultural values, are difficult to quantify in dollar
figures. Nevertheless, methods for assessing the value of ecosystem services are maturing
and a recent study demonstrated that coastal wetlands in the United States provide storm
protection worth over 23 billion dollars per year, so that the conversion of one hectare
(about 2 ½ acres) of coastal wetlands would eliminate about 33,000 dollars worth of storm
protection per year. Id; see also Institute for European Environmental Policy, The
Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Water and Wetlands 19-33 (2013).
Many of the values and functions provided by wetlands, such as water quality protection,
flood control, shoreline stabilization, atmospheric maintenance, and groundwater
replenishment, are tied to the integral role of wetlands within the hydrologic cycle. Wetlands
receive, store and release water physically through ground water and surface water, and
biologically through transpiration by vegetation. See U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
Watershed Academy Web, Distance Learning Modules on Watershed Management,
Wetland Functions and Values 5 [hereinafter “Watershed Academy Web”]; see also
Institute for European Environmental Policy, The Economics of Ecosystems and
Biodiversity for Water and Wetlands 5-6 (2013). Wetlands are frequently referred to as
“nature’s kidneys.See Association of State Wetlands Managers, The Compleat Wetlander:
Wetlands - Nature’s Kidneys and Other Specialized Services (Feb. 23, 2010). The United
States Supreme Court recognized the central role that wetlands play in the hydrologic cycle
and discussed the importance of protecting wetlands in order to protect ecosystems in
United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes, 474 U.S. 121, 132-133 (1985). The diverse
values and functions that wetlands provide are discussed in more detail in the following
sections.
A. Provision of Habitat / Protection of Species
and Biodiversity
Wetlands are sometimes referred to as “nurseries of life”
because they provide the essential elements of habitat -
food, water, and shelter - for thousands of species of
aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. See U.S.
Photo 1 By Muffet
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