Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton released a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report March 30 that shows a net gain in America's nonagricultural and agricultural wetlands for the first time since the Service began compiling data in 1954. Norton was joined by Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns as a partner in achieving this goal.

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., the Secretaries announced that approximately 191,800 acres of wetlands were gained between 1998 and 2004, bringing the nation's total wetlands acreage to 107.7 million acres, or 5 percent of the land area of the lower 48 states.

The net gain was achieved because increases in shallow-pond-type wetlands offset the continued, but smaller, losses in swamp and marshland type wetlands. This report shows a loss of 523,500 acres of swamp and marsh wetlands and a gain of 715,300 acres of shallow-water wetlands.

The net gain in wetland areas in the report was attributed to construction of freshwater ponds in combination with wetland restorations on agricultural and conservation lands.

"Farmers and ranchers are leaders in the wetland restoration and protection efforts throughout the United States," says Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. "The President's historic support of voluntary conservation programs has led the nation to this important milestone and we are committed to bolstering our conservation partnerships with producers."

As the most recent in a series of reports published by Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service to track wetlands, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States covers 1998 through 2004. Past data show that from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, the U.S. was losing almost 500,000 acres of wetlands per year. This rate of loss was substantially reduced to about 59,000 acres annually by 1997 and then eliminated by the first net gain in acreage by 2004 in the new report.

The report does not reflect the wetlands losses suffered along the Gulf Coast during the 2005 hurricane season.

Freshwater wetland losses that occurred primarily as a result of urban and rural development offset some gains. Urban and rural development combined accounted for an estimated 61 percent of the net freshwater wetland losses between 1998 and 2004.

Although the report does not study the effects of programs, Secretary Norton notes that multiple partnerships must have played a role in the results of the report.

"We believe that cooperative conservation programs have contributed to this wetlands milestone," Norton says. Since 2001, for example, 16 million acres of wetland and associated upland habitat have been restored, protected and enhanced through North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants.

Secretary Johanns discussed the importance of programs such as the USDA Conservation Reserve Program, which has a maximum enrollment of 39.2 million acres for conservation, more than double the acreage of the National Wildlife Refuge System in the lower 48 States.

For more details on the report, visit: http://wetlandsfws.er.usgs.gov/status_trends/national_reports/trends_2005_report.pdf.