Congress considering ending wetlands preservation across America
This would be an ecological disaster unparalleled in modern American history.
Since 1985, the farm legislation has required farmers to protect wetlands and fragile soils on their lands in order to qualify for billions of dollars a year in farm-program payments. But the bill that has emerged from the House Agriculture Committee lacks an important provision that would preserve those conservation incentives. Perhaps no place would be more threatened by this failure than the prairie pothole region, where, 10,000 years ago, decaying glaciers left behind an extraordinary landscape marked by thousands of shallow wetlands.
This region is already being plowed under because high commodity prices have enticed farmers to opt out of the less lucrative government assistance programs, freeing them to drain wetlands and plant as much of their land as possible. A recent study by Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Working Group found that the annual rate of grassland loss nationwide had doubled between 2006 and 2011, much of it in the prairie pothole region. If this rate continues, most of the remaining grasslands there will disappear over the next 15 years.
It is not an overstatement to say that this looming destruction is one of America’s greatest conservation challenges.