Protecting Wetlands, Promoting Nature-Based Solutions

Friday, February 2, 2024

Since 1997, World Wetlands Day has been highlighting the importance of wetlands for people and the planet and helping to encourage wetlands preservation. Wetlands are typically defined as areas of land that are either covered by or saturated with water. Wetlands are critical ecosystems that provide numerous important benefits for people and wildlife and are integral to the culture and economy of local communities. Wetlands benefits include flood protection, resilient infrastructure, carbon storage, and increased water quality. With wetlands disappearing at an alarming rate, ELI’s Wetlands Program is working to protect and restore wetlands to reverse the trend. 

A great example of ELI’s commitment to strengthening wetland protection and restoration is our work to advance nature-based resilience solutions throughout the Mississippi River Basin. We recently wrapped our first round of work on this project: an exciting, two-year transition period during which we continued in our long-term support for efforts to advance large-scaled, nature-based infrastructure projects to increase the resiliency of Louisiana’s coast, but also turned our gaze upriver, cognizant of the fact that the need for innovative, large-scale natural infrastructure projects to increase climate resilience is not limited to the river’s Lower Basin. As extreme weather events and flooding become more frequent throughout the basin, it is critical that upriver jurisdictions embrace nature-based strategies—including but not limited to wetland protection and restoration—that can reduce the impacts of riverine flooding on a meaningful scale, often more cost-effectively than traditional “gray” solutions.

After two years listening, learning, and working closely with partners and stakeholders in the region to identify potential strategies and tools to help scale-up deployment of nature-based projects, we have recently published a suite of reports examining some of the key, cross-cutting problems and identifying some of the most promising solutions.

Designed for a range of audiences and purposes, these reports tackle issues like permitting nature-based projects; prioritization of nature-based alternatives; advancing use of nature-based solutions for hazard mitigation; and overcoming barriers to access to crucial funding sources (e.g., cost-sharing burdens, other legal and political challenges faced by states, localities, and NGOs seeking to partner with the Army Corps). 

Our project team is now embarking on an exciting new round of activities supported by the Walton Family Foundation. Over the next two years, wetlands will be the primary focus of our broader effort to advance nature-based solutions. ELI will be working hard to bolster state and local wetland protections throughout the Basin, including by:

  • Organizing and facilitating a national conference for the exchange of analysis, ideas, and plans related to the legal, regulatory, and practical repercussions of—and governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders’ responses to—the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA;
  • Developing reports providing state-by-state, comparative, and gap analysis of certain states’ approaches to wetland protection (with a focus on the effect of changes to the state-federal jurisdictional landscape after Sackett);
  • Developing a Wetland Protection Playbook and disseminating it in communities located in key strategic regions throughout the Basin.

This work is the next frontier for ELI’s wetland programming. For over five decades, ELI’s wetlands program has worked to provide professionals and the public with timely, balanced information on wetlands law, policy, science, and management in order to prevent wetland losses and achieve an overall gain of wetlands across the United States. For more on ELI’s wetlands work, visit the ELI Wetlands Program for the latest updates. 

This post was created in conjunction with People Places Planet Podcast episode Swamps, Science, and Sackett: ELI's Approach to Wetland Preservation