State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

May is American Wetlands Month

To celebrate, take time to visit a wetland in your area and enjoy the birds and diverse plant life that populate these important ecosystems.

In New York, we have Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island. You can also search the US National Wildlife Refuge System using your zipcode.

For the daily dose of education, wetlands are defined by the EPA as,

[T]he vital link between land and water, where the flow of water, the cycling of nutrients, and the energy of the sun meet to produce highly productive ecosystems with unique plant and animal life.


Wetlands are home to over 30% of plant species in North America; are a breeding ground for over 50% of North American birds; and are an essential link in the life cycle of 75% of the fish and shellfish harvested in the US.

Their benefits include improved water quality by filtering and decomposing pollutants, reduced flood risk by retaining storm waters, and they slow global warming by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

To get an idea on the current state of wetlands in New York City – this area once contained over 224,000 acres of freshwater wetlands. Today, after 200 years of construction, there remains just 2,000 acres. Nationwide though, the last national report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that wetland gains exceeded losses between 1998 and 2004.

Further Reading:

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Samantha Tress
15 years ago

Thanks for this Tim- I didn’t know there was an American Wetlands Month. I’m curious about your last statement about wetland gains exceeding losses between 1998 and 2004. I wonder if “new/built” or restored wetlands (as I assume these gained wetlands must be) provide all the benefits that you described that completely natural, never damaged wetlands provide. I don’t know, but I suspect they don’t always, meaning that the important measure isn’t the acreage of wetlands, but the productivity of wetlands (which, unfortunately, is much harder to measure).

Dan Stellar
15 years ago

Great post, Tim – let’s hope that National Wetlands Month really brings some attention to importance of wetlands. As you say, they are not only important for biodiversity, but also have many other benefits. I also wonder about the issue Samantha raises. While it’s great that, nationally, wetland gains exceeded losses between 1998 and 2004 I also suspect this statistic is slightly misleading, as not all wetlands are created equal. In addition to the question of whether “new” wetlands provide the same benefits as the original, undamaged ones, there’s also the issue of connectivity. For example, if a ten-acre wetland is destroyed, and two separate, five-acre ones are restored or constructed, does it have the same benefit? Probably not, since the lack of connectivity would negatively impact the ecosystems. Samantha puts it well – it isn’t really volume, so much as productivity that’s important. I’d be interested in other thoughts on this.

Jennifer Vettel
Jennifer Vettel
15 years ago

Anotehr thing that is probably important to look at is the “age” of these wetlands. Since one thing that makes a wetland so important is the ability to break down and cycle nutrients as well as filter out pollutants, it would seem to me that more good bacteria, denser plant life, and more productive systems would develop over time. These newly rebuild wetlands are likely not to be as productive because they are not as natural and have not developed over time. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but these wetlands that have been created need to be careful protected to give them time to mature and become more productive

15 years ago

Concerning the comment on wetland gains exceeding losses – the answer is always more confusing than the statistics show.

Here is one rebuttal to the statement from the FWS that wetland gains have exceeded losses.

ADWM argues the definition of “wetland” and shows that the gains came from “deep water” habitats that don’t provide the same benefit as traditional wetlands.

The actual FWS site and data is located here and you can review the methodology they used to measure wetland gain/loss: