Wetland protection – Safeguarding the South’s valuable wetlands

Wetland protection protects communities

Wetlands are vital to the South, protecting our communities in multiple ways. But what are wetlands?

The EPA defines wetlands as “areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season.”

When it rains, wetlands act like natural sponges that absorb flood waters, lowering flood levels and slowing the rise of waters downstream—a life-saving combination. Their natural flood protection is especially important to low income communities and communities of color that historically have been pushed to less desired, more vulnerable low-lying inland areas. Wetland protection is even more critical as climate change brings additional flood risk events and more intense storms. Our interactive wetland map shows which areas are most vulnerable.

Explore marsh migration and how rising seas will impact our coast.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, preserving and restoring wetlands can often provide the level of flood protection otherwise provided by expensive dredge operations and levees. A one-acre wetland can typically store about 330,000 gallons of water, so when developers and industry destroy wetlands, communities lose valuable flood protection.

As North Carolina continues to rebuild from the past two years of hurricanes and historic flooding, the rollback repeals are especially egregious. We need restored wetlands, streams, and floodplains, not less protections.

Tim Gestwicki, CEO of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation

Multiple benefits

Wetland protection protects our communities. Wetlands help buffer our communities from increasingly intense storms, act as natural pollution filters that improve our water quality, and protect wildlife as well as fish and shellfish for our fisheries.

Nearly all of the commercial catch and over half of the recreational harvest in the Southeast are fish and shellfish that depend on wetlands.

The South just isn’t the South without seafood and without its beautiful wetlands, from the Chesapeake Bay and South Carolina’s Lowcountry to Georgia’s Okefenokee and salt marshes and Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw. Wetlands are places to explore, boat, fish, and hunt, drawing tourists and hunters from our local communities and from across the country.

In addition to protecting our communities from flood risk and storms, wetlands help moderate global climate conditions. Wetlands store carbon within their plants and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as heat-trapping carbon dioxide.

Saving wetlands 

Despite their numerous benefits, wetland protection is under attack from multiple sources and we are working hard to save them with the help of communities across the South.

In federal court, we challenged a now vacated Trump administration rule that was disastrous for wetlands, and we pushed the Biden administration to halt those harms and restore federal clean water protections. The Trump administration rule removed federal Clean Water Act protections from thousands of acres of wetlands, making these valuable waterways vulnerable to destruction and fill by mining companies, developers and other industries. Now wetlands are once again at risk in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Slashing valuable wetland protections at a time when our communities face increased storms and flooding from climate change defies all logic.

Highway and pipeline projects also can take a toll on wetlands and we are vigilant in ensuring these and other destructive projects minimize harms to wetlands.

Current legislation is not enough to ensure wetland protection. Together, we can protect them for years to come.