Wetlands play many critical environmental roles, including providing
habitat for rare, threatened and endangered species; serving as rest
stops for migratory birds; helping to prevent floods; controlling erosion;
and filtering water. Wetlands can range in size and scope from small
marshes to an area as large as the Everglades.
Since 1600, America has lost more than half of its wetlands. To protect
against further loss, the nation has in recent years adopted a policy
of "no net loss" of wetlands. The Corps, working in partnership
with many other organizations, is helping to implement this policy by protecting, preserving, and restoring.
Over time we expect these efforts to not only reverse wetland losses
but also yield gains in total wetland acreage.
At the same time, we recognize that there are many reasonable and necessary
construction and development projects nationwide that will have an impact
on wetlands. Through our regulatory
program the Corps works to ensure that these projects can go forward,
without causing net loss of wetlands. In 2003, the Corps issued permits
that affected over 21,000 acres of wetland. By contrast more than 43,000
acres were restored, created, enhanced or preserved.
The Corps work related to the Charles River near Boston is an example
of efforts to balance priorities related to wetlands. Because of its
close proximity to the city the river poses a potential flood risk to
residents. In the late 1960s, the Corps undertook a study of the Charles
and found that thousands of acres of wetlands along the river's middle
and upper reaches were playing a key role in protecting the residents
of Boston and 15 other communities from flooding. These wetlands drew
off millions of gallons of excess water during periods of heavy rain
and snowmelt, substantially reducing downstream flow.
At the time, though, many of these wetlands were being threatened by
a boom in construction and development. Working in partnership with
a number of other organizations and agencies, the Corps began acquiring
17 of these wetlands. Over the subsequent three decades, the Corps has
successfully protected or restored thousands of acres of wetlands along
the Charles River, preventing millions of dollars in flood damage. The
Charles River Wetlands also help prevent erosion, provide a source for
recreation and serve as a wonderful habitat for many plants, fish and
The Charles River project reflects the more integrated, regional, watershed approach which the Corps has taken in recent years. This approach addresses
wetlands issues in a broader context that considers other water resources
in the area such as rivers, lakes and coasts.