United States
                Environmental Protection
Office of Water (WH-556F),
Office of Wetlands, Oceans.
and Watersheds (A-104 F)
March 1993
               WETLANDS FACT SHEET # 2
               Values and  Functions of Wetlands
  In their natural condition, wetlands often provide many benefits, including food and habitat
  forfish and wildlife, flood protection, shoreline erosion control, natural products for human
  use, water quality improvement, and opportunities for recreation, education and research.

      Altogether, wetlands are among the most
biologically productive natural ecosystems in
the world, comparable to tropical rain forests
and coral reefs in the number and diversity of
species that they support. Wetlands produce
great volumes of food as leaves and stems break
down in the water to form detritus. This en-
riched material is the principal food for many
aquatic invertebrates (including shellfish) and
forage fish that are food for larger commercial
and recreational fish species such as bluefish
and striped bass.
   Wetlands are critical habitat to the
   survival of numerous threatened
   and endangered species
      Wetlands are critical to the survival of a
wide variety of animals and plants, including
numerous threatened and endangered species
like the wood stork, Florida panther, whooping
crane, and bald eagle.  For many species such as
the wood duck, muskrat and swamp rose, wet-
lands are primary habitats. For others, wetlands
provide important seasonal habitats where food,
water and cover are plentiful

      Wetlands produce a wealth of natural
products, including fish and shellfish, wildlife,
timber, wild rice, and furs. Much of the Nation's
fishing and shellfishing industry harvests wet-
lands-dependent species.  For example, in the
Southeast, % percent of the commercial catch
and over 50 percent of the recreational harvest
are fish and shellfish that depend on the estu-
ary-coastal wetlands system. Waterfowl hunt-
ers spend over $300 million annually in pursuit
of wetlands-dependent birds.

          Wetlands often function like natural tubs,
   storing either floodwater that overflows
   riverbanks or surface water that collects in iso-
   lated depressions.  By doing so, wetlands help
   protect adjacent and downstream property from
   flood damage. Trees and other wetland vegeta-
   tion help slow the speed of fioodwaters.  This
   action, combined with water storage, can lower
   flood  heights and reduce the water's erosive
   potential.  In agricultural areas, wetlands can
   help reduce the likelihood of flood damage to
   crops. Wetlands within and upstream of urban
   areas are especially valuable for flood protec-
   tion, since urban development increases the rate
   and volume of surface water runoff, thereby
   increasing the risk of flood damage. Some wet-
   lands also help recharge ground water supplies
   and help maintain base stream flows durin
   times of drought
          Often located between rivers and high
   ground, wetlands buffer shorelines against ero-
   sion. These wetlands bind soil, dampen wave
   action, and reduce current velocity through fric-

          Wetlands can help maintain and im-
   prove water quality by interceptingsurface water
   runoff before it reaches open water, removing
   or retaining nutrients, processing organic wastes,
   and reducing sediment loads to receiving wa-
   ters. Such runoff represents the most prevalent
   cause of  degradation of our nation's surface
   waters today (1990 Water Quality Inventory).
          Wetlands provide endless opportunities
   for popular recreational activities such as hik-
   ing, bird watching, fishing and boating.  An
   estimated 50 million people spend nearly $10
   billion each year observing and photographing
   wetlands-dependent birds.
     For more information, contact the EPA Wetlands Hotline at 1-800-832-7828
* contractor operated