States back wetlands legislation
Staff Report | July 16,2006
WASHINGTON, D.C — The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the organization that represents all of North America's fish and wildlife agencies on important fish and wildlife issues, urged Congress to continue reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, a law that helps provide funds for the protection and restoration of wetlands.
In his testimony on Capitol Hill, John Frampton, director of South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and member of the Executive Committee, requested that the bill be reaffirmed at $75 million throughout a five-year period.
"NAWCA is one of the most effective conservation programs in history," Frampton said. "Continuing this success to restore and maintain North America's wetlands helps keep our water clean and provides vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species.
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act authorizes federal challenge grants to match donations from sportsmen, state fish and wildlife agencies, conservationists and landowners.
Since it was first enacted in 1989, NAWCA has helped fund more than 960 wetland conservation projects in all 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico. About 23 million acres of wildlife habitat have been restored and protected through NAWCA, using more than $720 million in federal grants to encourage $2.1 billion in match contributions from others.
NAWCA funds have been used to leverage success at regional, state and local scales. For instance, in South Carolina, NAWCA helped create the "Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto River Basin Partnership," a conservation initiative that incorporates federal, state, corporate and private entities, have permanently protected 170,000 acres of coastal wetlands. An additional $1 million NAWCA grant resulted in the protection of more than 38,000 acres of mountain habitat under the "Jocassee Gorges Project," a program that was matched by $54 million in partner contributions. This particular area has the second highest rainfall of any area in the continental United States and holds some of the rarest wetland habitats in North America.
"Through this legislation, we can continue to build unique partnerships with landowners, conservation groups, and the states to save and improve even more acres of wetland in the future," said Frampton. "Progress has been made in wetland conservation with NAWCA, but we must increase our efforts to ensure that adequate habitat is available for waterfowl and other important fish and wildlife species for years to come."
Of the estimated original 221 million acres of North American wetlands, there are now 5.1 million acres of saltwater wetlands remaining and about 95.8 million acres of remaining freshwater wetlands.
Many scientific studies show that coastal and inland wetlands are crucial to the health of our environment. The loss of wetlands impacts both human and conservation values: for example, water quality, water storage, flooding, erosion and fish and wildlife habitat.
Wetlands provide habitat for a diversity of fish, wildlife and plant species, which in turn support numerous recreational and commercial activities. The value of wetlands is frequently understated and underestimated.