Evidence for the Multiple Benefits of Wetland Conservation in North America: Carbon, Biodiversity, and Beyond
Wetlands make up only 5–8% of the global land surface, yet they play a disproportionately large role in the global carbon cycle and provide many essential ecosystem services. To ensure that the protection and restoration of wetlands is specifically and appropriately included in global, national, and state efforts to reach climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation goals, we need clear justification from the scientific literature to inform effective policies and programs (e.g. America the Beautiful). In partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we synthesized evidence from 160 studies for the wide range of benefits associated with wetland conservation and restoration, how they vary by wetland class, and factors contributing to their variation.
Considering coastal wetlands, freshwater depressional wetlands, riverine wetlands, and montane meadows, we found evidence for a broad array of benefits, including:
- Water Supply Regulation
- Flood Risk Mitigation
- Water Quality
- Soil Health
- Biodiversity Support
- Economic Value
- Carbon Storage and Fluxes
In addition, the role of beaver as a wetland ecosystem engineer emerged as an important topic, and we summarized their impacts on multiple benefits in a separate section.
These restoration case studies in the report highlight wetland conservation projects designed to protect and restore multiple benefits:
- Sonoma Baylands: Building Cultural Investment in Shoreline Habitats
- Hamilton City: A Small California Community’s Journey to Solve a Flooding Problem
- Bridge Creek: Using Beaver Dam Analogues to Restore Floodplain Processes
Based on the results of our rapid evidence assessment, we recommend several priority actions to ensure wetland conservation policies and strategies are most effective in protecting and restoring the multiple benefits provided by wetlands:
- Protect the multiple benefits provided by all types of existing wetlands.
- Restore wetlands to ensure multiple, long-term benefits, using climate-smart restoration principles, and recognizing it may take decades or more to realize the full value of wetland restoration efforts.
- Minimize methane emissions in restored wetlands, such as by managing the hydrology and nutrient inputs.
- Identify and address trade-offs among benefits by adopting Multiple-Benefit Conservation approaches
The results of our rapid evidence assessment also informed the development of policy recommendations developed by NRDC, including recommendations for 30×30, establishing a National Healthy Riverscapes Initiative, investing in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Natural Infrastructure Programs, expanding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agroforestry Riparian Buffer Initiatives, and enforcement of Clean Water Act protections for wetlands. Read about their policy recommendations by clicking the “download NRDC policy brief” button above.