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photo by Steve Berliner Bogs and marshes, swamps and sloughs. Collectively known as wetlands, these biologically rich and diverse ecosystems hold incredible value. Wetlands provide food, water, shelter and breeding grounds for numerous species, including amphibians, reptiles, mammals, fish, birds, invertebrates and plants. Wetlands prevent soil erosion and provide flood mitigation. Nationally, nearly 35 percent of all rare and endangered animal species depend on wetland habitats for survival. In the words of Esther Lev, Executive Director of The Wetland Conservancy in Oregon, "Wetlands are vital to our lives." Unfortunately, the valuable functions of wetland ecosystems have, until relatively recently, gone unheeded. The result has been extensive dissolution of these crucial areas, with an estimated 40 percent of Oregon's original wetlands already drained, diked or filled. More than 500 acres of wetlands are lost annually in the Willamette Valley alone, and approximately 53 percent of western Oregon's wetlands have been converted to other uses. With these losses, native fish populations have diminished, migratory shorebird numbers have dwindled, and flooding has amplified in both frequency and severity. Enter a grassroots organization that seeks to reverse the trend of destruction. Founded in 1981 by Tualatin residents Althea Pratt-Broome and Jack Broome, The Wetlands Conservancy dedicates itself to preserving the wildlife, clean water, and open space values of long-neglected wetland environments. TWC emphasizes collaboration: they work in conjunction with local communities, land trusts, watershed councils, landowners and resource managers, promoting local stewardship and acquisition of key wetland areas. The organization also trains and educates citizen groups and businesses. TWC's community-based strategy has proven remarkably effective, with over 1200 successfully restored and protected acres. Most recently, 241 acres of invaluable marsh and forest habitat in Alsea Bay have been secured. This achievement, in conjunction with Yaquina estuary acquisitions and collaboration with Oregon State Parks and Recreation at Beaver Creek, is a critical piece of an envisioned connected system between Newport and Waldport. This is a multi-partner effort to ensure the conservation of 10,000 acres of Oregon's coastal forest, river, wetland and estuary habitats. "It's tremendously exciting to have this vast jigsaw coming together," comments Lev. Assuredly, the frogs, egrets and dragonflies agree, this is a puzzle worth assembling.