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  May/June 1996 Features:
For Love of a Swamp
What is a Wetland?
Holding the World at Bay
Immersed in the Everglades
Teddy Rides Again
 
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Sierra Magazine
For Love of a Swamp

by Reed McManus

To many people, they're still bogs, swamps, and marshes, inhospitable places that might as well be paved into parking lots. That ooze, though, is the source of life: wetlands nurse juvenile fish and shellfish, provide habitat for threatened and endangered species, absorb floodwaters like sponges, and filter pollutants from drinking-water supplies. And beyond their plumbing prowess, wetlands' sheer otherworldliness can teach us something. "Each visit to the swamp is different, and every visit better, for the eye has sharpened," writes Peter Matthiessen. "As the harmonies fall into place, the mysteries deepen, and intimations of so much that is not known restore the heart."

The message, however, has had a hard time sinking in. Less than half of the wetlands that once existed in the contiguous United States remain today, and nearly 300,000 acres are bulldozed each year. Conservatives in Congress have been squawking at wetlands protections like a flock of geese; saving swamps, they claim, is proof that government has gone awry. Last year the House of Representatives passed amendments to the Clean Water Act that would effectively remove protections for two-thirds of U.S. wetlands. President Clinton promised to veto the measure. But like the hard-to-kill Swamp Thing of sci-fi movies, another bill, this one dealing strictly with wetlands, recently emerged on the Senate floor that would have equally destructive results.

What will it take for people to see the worth of wetlands? Information is a good place to start. In the following pages, Sierra plumbs the depths of wetland ecosystems , meets two Chesapeake Bay -region residents who have turned basic knowledge into passion and activism, and takes a waist-deep journey through the Florida Everglades . Join us, but be prepared to get your feet wet.


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