Appreciation of the economic value of wetlands has undergone a dramatic change since the 1970s. Prior to that time, wetlands were considered useless, good only for taking up space and breeding mosquitoes. The emphasis was on filling and draining wetlands to turn them into productive land for development and agriculture. In the mid-1970s the growing environmental movement with its emphasis on clean water led to a closer examination of wetlands and their role in watersheds and the global ecosystem. Wetlands are now valued not only for their ecological role but also for their contribution to the economy.
Some of the most popular recreational activities, including fishing, hunting, and canoeing, occur in and are dependent on healthy wetlands. According to the EPA fact sheet on the economic benefit of wetlands (http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/facts/fact4.html, March 4, 2005), more than half of all U.S. adults (ninety-eight million people) hunt, fish, bird-watch, or photograph wildlife. Spending on these activities amounts to $59.5 billion annually. Individual states gain additional economic benefits from the spin-offs (boat rentals, bait, film, ammunition, and other gear) as well as tourist dollars. Wetland areas also provide more areas of open space.
An example of the value of these wetland-related recreational activities can be found in the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wild-Life Associated Recreation conducted every five years by the USFWS. The most recent survey (2001) reported that in that year 34.1 million people age sixteen years and older went fishing and spent an average of $1,046 each; 28.4 million anglers went freshwater fishing, while 9.1 million went saltwater fishing. Overall, anglers spent $35.6 billion in 2001 on fishing trips, $4.6 billion on equipment, $14.7 billion on travel-related costs, $6 billion on food and lodging, and $3.5 billion on transportation. They spent nearly $5.3 billion on land-use fees, guide fees, equipment rental, boating expenses, and bait. Camping equipment, binoculars, and special fishing clothing accounted for $721 million in expenditures. Equipment such as boats, vans, and cabins cost $11.6 billion. Anglers spent $3.2 billion on land leasing and ownership and $860 million on magazines, books, membership dues and contributions, licenses, stamps, tags, and permits.
According to Fisheries of the United States 2003, a publication of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the value of the U.S. commercial fish landings in 2003 was about $3.3 billion. Eighty-seven percent of the value of U.S. finfish landings was from species that are dependent on near-coastal waters and their wetlands for breeding and spawning. The EPA's National Coastal Condition Report II (January 2005) estimated that about 75% of commercial fish and 80% to 90% of sport fish spent a portion of their life cycles in coastal wetland and estuarine habitats. Adult stocks of commercially harvested shrimp, blue crabs, oysters, and other species throughout the United States were directly related to wetland quality and quantity.
In its 1998 National Water Quality Inventory—1998 Report to Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cited the following two examples of the economic benefits of flood control associated with wetlands.
In Massachusetts, the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that annual flood damage costing more than $17 million would occur from the destruction of 8,422 acres of wetland in the Charles River watershed. For this reason, the Corps decided to preserve wetlands rather than construct extensive flood-control facilities along a stretch of the Charles River near Boston. This preservation project has resulted in annual benefits of about $2.1 million per year and costs an average $617,000 annually.
In determining the value of wetlands, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimated that it cost the public about $300 to replace the water storage capacity lost by one acre of wetland that holds twelve inches of water. Using this estimate, the cost of replacing 5,000 acres of wetland would be $1.5 million, more than the state's annual appropriation for flood control.