Our Views: New study, old erosion

While it’s not a surprise to anyone around here, the staggering rate of loss of wetlands in America’s coastal areas is underlined in a new report by federal agencies led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

And the study shows that coastal preservation issues are a nationwide concern, including areas along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, not just the Gulf of Mexico states.

“When a study shows that an area four times the size of Miami is disappearing every year, it underscores the importance of strengthening our collective efforts to improve wetlands management, to reduce losses and to ensure coastal infrastructure and resources are protected,” said Sally Jewell, the U.S. secretary of the Interior Department.

We applaud the federal agencies involved in the study. It documents wetlands loss over five years, to 2009. The study is available from the Fish and Wildlife Service. And as it shows the national dimensions of the problem, it provides more ammunition for the Louisiana delegation in Congress to press for more effective federal aid for coastal wetlands.

Although the national dimensions of the problem are sketched out, the hard fact is that 71 percent of the wetlands lost in the study period were in the Gulf Coast states.

As the study period includes the arrival of monster hurricanes in the Gulf, such as Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, it is not surprising that storm loss was considered a significant contributor to the problem. Still, there are other causes cited in the study, including development in coastal areas. With a rise in sea levels, and with development continuing apace in the coastal zone, there is a squeeze on the wetlands.

This is important because the vitality of the nation’s fisheries and migratory bird populations is heavily dependent on wetlands, even if they are not immediately on the coast.

We’re familiar with these trends in the Gulf region, and we welcome the efforts of federal agencies to catalog the problem and demonstrate the national implications of the loss of coastal wetlands.