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The Destruction of Wetlands

Knowing what we do about the benefits of healthy wetlands, it's hard to imagine purposefully destroying them. Unfortunately, people didn't always understand the importance or usefulness of these marshes, swamps, and bogs.

When they encountered a wetland area, settlers saw mosquito breeding grounds and wet, mucky soil. On top of that, there was the smell; the unpleasant odor of methane released by organisms living in the soil.

Developers have drained many wetlands to make way for farmland, homes, and industrial complexes.

Still, others have been altered by levees and dams built to control flooding. The seasonal flooding, though, served a purpose. It nourished and enriched the soil in the wetlands. Because of the levees and dams, nutrient-rich sediments once deposited in wetlands are now carried far out into gulfs or oceans; their nutrients wasted.


In 1849, 1850, and 1860, deeming wetlands a menace and a hindrance to land development, Congress passed a series of acts encouraging the draining and filling of wetlands. The first Swamp Land Act gave Louisiana the right to drain and fill all swamp and overflow lands. In 1850 and 1860, fourteen more states received the same authority. The idea was that the states could reclaim the land that in its current state seemed worthless and unprofitable. Since the passage of the Swamp Land Acts, more than half the wetlands in the United States have been destroyed.

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Science Encyclopedia for KidsRestoring Wetlands