Stop maligning wetlands with ‘drain the swamp’ metaphor

“Drain the swamp.” For decades this phrase has been used by various politicians as a metaphor for getting rid of wasteful bureaucracy, government corruption, terrorism and even capitalism. I suggest it’s time to quit maligning swamps in this way! Swamps used to be routinely drained, in an effort to control mosquitoes and combat malaria in some areas. Agriculture and development were other reasons for draining what were thought to be worthless wastelands.

Thanks to Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s 1947 book “The Everglades: River of Grass”, people began to realize that far from being worthless, swamps and marshes are actually very valuable natural ecosystems. Swamps act like giant sponges, absorbing heavy rains and protecting coastal areas from storm surges. Wetlands are a natural treatment plant, filtering out wastes and purifying water. It’s a mistake to think that swamps only harbor pestilent insects. The variety of trees and other plants, and fluctuating water levels form a rich habitat for birds and other wildlife. Coastal wetlands are a nursery for fish and other marine animals.

Half of all wetlands in the U.S. were drained or filled before their value was recognized and laws were enacted to protect them from destruction. We can’t replace what’s been lost, but we can refuse to repeat the mantra “drain the swamp” as if it’s an admirable ambition. There are plenty of other more appropriate metaphors we could adopt. How about “flush the sewage”?

Sally Lider


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