“Wetland” is a generic term covering a wide variety of habitats that are wet for at least some period of time each year, have vegetation, and have soils that are saturated long enough during the growing season to produce oxygen-deficient conditions. Although they can vary tremendously depending on climate and topography, all wetlands promote the growth of different types of microbial, plant and animal communities.
Wetlands attenuate floods, help steady the water supply, and improve it by filtering out nitrogen and other nutrients. They’re also an important habitat for many fish, wildlife and plant species—and the venue for many recreational activities such as fishing. For these reasons and more, protecting wetlands is a key environmental concern.
In the United States, federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state environmental and land-management agencies, and private conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy (TNC) play significant roles in monitoring, managing and protecting wetlands. USGS’ principal role is to provide scientific data and advice to other federal agencies. EPA, a regulatory agency, generally doesn’t restore wetlands directly, but it provides grant funds to agencies and organizations that do so, and TNC has purchased and restored wetlands across the country.
Historically, wetlands protection has been one of the greatest achievements of the conservation movement. However, these achievements are challenged by changes in land use and climate.