America's Disappearing Wetlands

Archive Report

Struggle Over Protection

Slow Official Recognition of Their Value

More than 11 million acres of American wetlands, an expanse twice the size of New Jersey, have been drained for farmland, homesites, roads and other uses in the past 30 years. Ten times that amount has been lost since the first European settlers arrived here.1 Yet, until recently, few people gave much thought to wetlands preservation. On the contrary, it was widely believed that wetlands — marshes, swamps, bogs, fens, tidal flats and prairie potholes — were wastelands. Writers and storytellers infused them with evil and mystery. And they posed a real enough public health threat as breeding grounds for disease-bearing mosquitoes.

The environmental movement that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s cast wetlands in a ...

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