WASHINGTON – Scientists say wetland restoration research could contribute to increased economic productivity for the nation.
The Society of Wetland Scientists held a discussion on Capitol Hill Wednesday to highlight the importance of restoring and conserving the nation's wetlands,not only to safeguard them as an ecological necessity but also to use them as essential economic resources.
Wetlands and estuaries,where freshwater rivers and streams flow into the ocean,play major roles both in nature and in human society. Naturally,they improve water quality,serve as flood water storage and storm protection and provide diverse biological habitats.
Simultaneously,industries such as ecotourism and fishing thrive there.
Estuary counties make up 13 percent of U.S. land area but account for nearly 49 percent of the country's gross domestic product. They support 40 percent of all American jobs,many in commercial fishing and tourism.
While wetlands mean big bucks for the economy,they are considered a natural resource and must be maintained. Scientists say restoring – or even not restoring – wetlands will affect the economy. But to fully grasp the economic potential of the restoration and conservation of these wetlands,scientists say more research is necessary.
Linwood Pendleton,director of ocean and coastal policy for the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University,said wetlands and estuaries should be considered as infrastructure that supports “lots and lots” of other economic activities.
“Imagine thinking about the value of a bolt on a bridge span. It's tough to figure out what that is until the bolt comes out and the bridge falls down,” he said. “That's where we are. We're left to figure out how much money we should invest in repairing estuaries and wetlands,and to do that,we have to start thinking about what values are created by these wetlands.”
Scientists have been working to determine how to best collect long-term data on the economic impact of restoration.
A panel of academic and government economists,convened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Restoration Center and ARD,a consulting company that specializes in water resources,have come up with several suggestions for the completion of the project. They include focusing research on specific regions where restoration projects are already in place or planned.
Pendleton said the availability of such information would be a major step,not just as a tool for ecological policy but also as a tool for economic policy and development.
“The next question is how does that value change because of our policy of our restoration?” he said. “Wetlands are valuable – we get that. But the real question is what are we going to do to make them more valuable? Which wetlands produce the greatest value,and what value are we going to lose if we don't do wetland management correctly?”
University of Maryland Professor Andrew H. Baldwin added that the economic potential of wetlands should not just be an interest of scientists and policy makers. An understanding of the benefits of wetland management is beneficial to everyday citizens.
“There's a lot of opportunity for community involvement,and that's how you can wind up preserving and protecting these [wetland],” he said. “Get the community involved in monitoring and understanding the wetland and preserving it and taking a stock in it. It becomes more important to the community and increases its value even more.”