Over the past 200 years, an estimated 53% (about 47 million ha) of the original wetlands in the conterminous United States have been lost, mainly as a result of various human activities. Despite the importance of wetlands (particularly along the coast), and a longstanding federal policy framework meant to protect their integrity, the cumulative impact on these natural systems over large areas is poorly understood. We address this lack of research by mapping and conducting descriptive spatial analyses of federal wetland alteration permits (pursuant to section 404 of the Clean Water Act) across 85 watersheds in Florida and coastal Texas from 1991 to 2003. Results show that more than half of the permits issued in both states (60%) fell under the Nationwide permitting category. Permits issued in Texas were typically located outside of urban areas (78%) and outside 100-year floodplains (61%). More than half of permits issued in Florida were within urban areas (57%) and outside of 100-year floodplains (51%). The most affected wetlands types were estuarine in Texas (47%) and palustrine in Florida (55%). We expect that an additional outcome of this work will be an increased awareness of the cumulative depletion of wetlands and loss of ecological services in these urbanized areas, perhaps leading to increased conservation efforts.
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Vol. 28 • No. 1