Title: We Need Wetlands, They Need Us
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/WL00000777/00001
 Material Information
Title: We Need Wetlands, They Need Us
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publisher: The Bradenton Herald
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
Abstract: The Bradenton Herald Article August 11, 1986
General Note: Box 7, Folder 2 ( Vail Conference 1987 - 1987 ), Item 53
Funding: Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: WL00000777
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text

We need wetlands, they need us

"Dirty swamp land in Florida..."
be said, as if "dirtyswampland"
were one word. And this was no
ignoramus talking; it was a re-
spected U.S. Senator referring to
112,000 acres of land bordering the
Everglades. The outburst was
sparked by a Department of Interi-
or proposal to swap the Florida
land for federally-owned property
in downtown Phoenix.
Granted, swamps are foreign to
Arizona. Granted also, the land ex-
change may not be wise. But
swamps are NOT dirty. In fact,
wetlands are quite simply the most
fertile ecosystems in the world.
They are the most efficient con-
verters of solar energy. They are
unequaled as fish nurseries, water
purifiers, flood, storm and erosion
shields, habitat for wildlife and
aquifer recharge areas. In mone-
tary terms, wetlands in their natu-
ral state, left alone to do their
work, are worth over $24,000 per
acre, compared with under $4,000
per acre on average for US. farm-
Much has been written about
the importance of wetlands, but
many people, like the Arizona-sen-
ator, either do not know the value
or do not care. Perhaps that is be-
cause the value is long-term, gen-
eralized, indirect and not readily
visible, like most of nature's free
bounty clean air and water, for-
ests, topsoil, sun and rain. Since
before recorded history, human-
kind has waged vigorous war on
wetlands, motivated by short-
term, specific, direct and visible
benefit to be gained by "cleaning
them up."
The man who hacks down some
mangroves and dumps in a few
loads of fill for a better Gulf view
may never connect that act with
his poor fishing "luck." Yet two-
thirds of all fish caught in the
world are hatched in wetlands.
Wetlands destroyed inevitably
equals fish loss.
Half the world's wetlands have
disappeared since 1900, with the
most rapid damage occurring in in-
dustrial nations. But without tech-
nical and financial "help," devel-
oping nations around the world are
busily ditching, diking, draining,



dredging and filing their "water-
logged wealth." Very poor coun-
tries face a perplexing dilemma: the
desperate effort to put food today
in millions of hungry mouths may
well mean starvation for even more
"Think globally, act locally" is a
popular guide among environmen-
talists. At the global level, we can
act only in a small way. We can
support groups and help elect offi-
cials whose goals are the same as
ours. But just thinking globally
helps set criteria for local action.
And at the national level our im-
pact is real, though limited. Let-
ters from a thousand constituents
shake up any congessan.
As of the mid-1970, only 99 mil-
lion of the nation's original 215
million acres of wetlands remained
in the contiguous 48 states. About
half a million acres are being lost
every year.
However, we can sometimes act
to make a difference in our own
state and locality. The onslaught
of urbanization, phosphate mining,
timbering and agriculture has de-
stroyed two-thirds of Florida's
original wetlands. A major target
was the Everglades. This perfect
hydrological system highly pro-
ductive, self-cleaning, self-regulat-
ing spread over 9,000 square
miles from Orlando to Florida Bay.
But the US. Corps of Engineers
responded with consummate tech-
nical skill to development pres-
sure. The result was Lake Okee-
chobee diked, marshes drained for
cattle grazing and sugar cane plan-
tations, the meandering Kissim-
mee River turned into a straight
The good news is that Florida
may be a world-class example of
snatching damaged wetlands from

the jaws of total destruction. An
attempt is being made to restore
the Everglades to 1900 condition.
This. involves un-straightening the
Kissimmee, letting land south of
Lake Okeechobee revert to wet-
lands, restoring Everglades Na-
tional Park and various actions to
protect wildlife adversely affected
by damage already done.
Other attempts are being made
to save Florida wetlands, but it is
an uphill fight. For example, the
1984 Legislature passed a Wet-
lands Protection Act with the state
objective of protecting existing
natural wetlands "wherever possi-
.ble." There's the catch. If it isn't
possible to keep the wetland,
there's a neat remedy called "miti-
gation" which developers have
latched onto like a liferaft. If wet-
lands have to be destroyed for "es-
sential" purposes (golf course?
sa, pping center?) developers may
mitigatee" the destruction by cre-
ating a wetland elsewhere.
This procedure is still experi-
mental, never yet shown to be suc-
cessful. In fact, "mitigation" ap-
pears little more than a PR shield
behind which Florida's natural
wetlands will continue to be de-
stroyed if they stand in the way of
mining, timber cutting, agcculture
or urban development. T re are,
unfortunately, other weaknesses in
the so-called Florida Wetlands
Protection Act, such as permitting
dumping of wastewater in wet-
lands. Lesiglators and county offi-
cials who countenance such bla-
tant wetland destruction deserve
the ire of all Floridians who care
about the natural environment.
Think globally, act locally. Ac-
tion to save local wetlands is criti-
cal to the environmental health of
our own areas. It will also keep us
in harmony with the goal of pre-
serving our beautiful blue-green
Mrs. Ouy is a local freelance writer
and active environmentalist.

The Bradenton Herald, Monday, August 11, 1986

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