The nation urgently needs to improve protection of its dwindling wetlands because they are essential for reducing water pollution, controlling floods and nurturing wildlife, a special commission said Tuesday.

In a report requested by the Environmental Protection Agency, the commission of state and local officials, environmentalists and industry representatives wrote that the United States already has lost half its wetlands to commercial development and warned of "major gaps" in current protection programs.The report, titled "Protecting America's Wetlands: An Action Agenda," laid out an ambitious plan to give states prime authority for overseeing wetlands, to balance limited development with the creation of new marshes and to boost incentives for private landowners to preserve wetlands on their property.