Many years ago, a couple of savvy wildlife biologists wrote an article entitled, “An Acre of Marsh is Worth….” In it, they attempted to quantify the value of a wetland in dollars and cents. Not an easy task then, and not an easy one now. In addition to the obvious references to wildlife, they included aspects such as flood control, ground water recharge and entrapment of sediments and pollutants from run-off.
We understand many of these wetland functions better now, as does society at large. There are now federal and state laws to protect all types of wetlands. While many believe some of these regulations have gone way too far, it is difficult to overstate how valuable wetlands are. While wildlife species management often gets more attention by the public and even many natural resource professionals, I believe that habitat management is the key to produce and sustain healthy wildlife populations over the long-term.
Of course, a public agency can’t manage what it doesn’t own, so it all starts with land acquisition. Unfortunately, over half of the acres of wetlands present when the European colonists first arrived in North America were drained or filled in by the end of the 19th century. So the task which began in the early 20th century was an urgent one. For the national wildlife refuge system, most of the money for acquisition comes from the sale of migratory bird (duck) stamps. Since 1934, these stamps have been required for all waterfowl hunters 16 or older. State agencies often utilize revenue generated from hunting license sales as well as special bond acts. The Pitman-Robertson act of 1937 distributes money derived from a federal excise tax on guns and ammunition to states for wildlife research, management and land acquisition. Areas targeted for acquisition usually include the best existing wetlands and the area immediately surrounding them, as well as degraded wetlands that may have been drained for agriculture or filled for non-wildlife purposes.
I will be describing in more detail various wetland management techniques shortly, so stay with us as we learn about what natural resource agencies do to improve and perpetuate these wonderful natural resources!