No matter who you are, or where you live in Oregon, wetlands touch your life. Every corner of the state contains these uniquely productive and valuable ecosystems, which play a wide range of ecological, social and environmental roles.
Today, many Oregonians recognize that wetlands contribute to clean water, flood prevention, wildlife habitat, recreation and scenic beauty, and that they have economic worth as well. Unfortunately, over much of the history since settlers struggled west on the Oregon Trail, wetlands bore the disparaging label of "wastelands." Until the early 1970s, federal policy promoted draining wetlands, and many federal and state programs expended large sums to bring vast areas of wetland under cultivation.
Various techniques such as ditching and diking drained these soggy, seemingly unproductive areas, Landowners commonly logged forested wetlands; deepened and straightened rivers and streams to speed rainwater drainage; and installed extensive drain tile systems to remove water more efficiently from wetlands converted to cropland. Developers filled many wetlands to create land for houses, roads, and commercial buildings. Just a vestige of Oregon's original wetlands wealth remains, covering two percent of the state's land surface for a total of about 1.4 million acres.
The vital function of wetlands in maintaining the overall health of our environment has become clearer in the last few decades, but even as our understanding grows, wetlands are still being filled, dredged and drained. Urban runoff, rural development and the invasion of exotic species have an indirect impact on wetlands, too. The cumulative statewide loss is considerable, in wetland quality as well as quantity: Many of our remaining original wetlands are now seriously degraded.