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From: RICH_GREENWOOD@mail.fws.gov

For release May 9, 1997                   Larry Dean 202-208-5634
                                        Martha Naley 703-358-2201


Record-setting floods occurring and expected around the country
would likely be worse if not for nature's safety net of wetlands.

In places such as the Midwest, experts warn that this year's
spring flooding could reach 500-year record levels.  But wetlands
serve as nature's sponge to absorb, then slowly release, spring
runoff, softening the blow of devastating floods.

Acting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director John Rogers said,
"Water held in undrained wetlands won't be flooding roads, farms,
and homes across the country."  Although millions of acres of
wetlands nationwide have been lost to urbanization and
agricultural conversion, partnerships among the Service, states,
other Federal agencies, conservation groups, and private
landowners are making progress toward reversing that trend.

These partnerships are critical to the success of wetland
restoration.  More than 74 percent of wetlands in the lower 48
states are on lands controlled by private landowners, both
individual and corporate.  

Through the Service's wetland easement and agreement program,
landowners have voluntarily protected 3,595,440 acres, a
significant contribution to flood prevention.  Research conducted
by the Service and the North Dakota Water Commission in 1983
found that wetlands can store up to 1.74 feet of run-off water
per acre.  Storage in wetlands or private lands protected in
cooperation with the Service could amount to more than 6.3
million acre-feet nationally, enough to supply the water needs of
more than 25 million people for one year.

"As harsh as the floods may be this spring, they could be even
more devastating without the real heroes:  the farmers and
landowners who decided to preserve their wetlands," Rogers said. 
"These people are true stewards of the land and its resources."

Historically, the lower 48 states contained an estimated 221
million acres of wetlands but that number dropped to an estimated
104 million acres in the 1980s.  Ten states (Arkansas,
California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky,
Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio) have lost 70 percent or more of
their original wetland acres.  And 22 states have lost 50 percent
or more wetland acres.  Agricultural conversion has accounted for 
87 percent of these wetland losses, while urbanization has
accounted for another 8 percent.

However, wildlife habitat restoration efforts such as the
Service's Partners for Wildlife Program have contributed to
restoration of wetlands, with a total of 360,000 acres of
wetlands, 128,000 acres of prairie, 930 miles of riparian 
habitat, and 90 miles of instream habitat restored as of December

Wetlands also help maintain high water quality, contribute to
sustaining groundwater supplies, and provide critical habitat for
hundreds of species including more than one-third of our
endangered species.


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