America's Wetlands by Rebekah Jessen - Elizabeth Burleson

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22 févr. 2014 (il y a 3 années et 3 mois)

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1




America’s Wetlands:
Policies

to Protect, Enhance, and Restore

a Vanishing

Ecosystem

Rebekah Jessen



Introduction



Wetlands are a major feature of the landscape
in nearly all parts of the world. Historic
ally
wetlands have played a fundamental
role,
ranging form producing and preserving fossil fuels during
the Carboniferous period, to more recently acting as a source, sink, and transformer of a multitude
of chemical, biological, and genetic materials. They stabilize water supplies, cleanse polluted wa
ter,
prot
ect shorelines from erosion,

recharge aquifers
, and protect coastal areas for inte
n
se storm
surges

(EPA, 2006)
.
The connection between loss of wetlands in coastal areas and decre
a
sed

storm
surge protection was

apparent in Gulf communities followin
g Hurrican
e

Katrina (
Zinn and Copeland,
2006
).
Wetlands are also regarded as ext
remely valuable in terms of biod
iversity, support
ing an
extensive food chain and

pro
viding

unique habitat for a vast array of flora and fauna
, including
many of the nation’s th
r
eatened and endangered spec
i
e
s
.

Now with the growing concern of global
warming, wetlands are being described as an important carbon dioxide sink and climate stabilizer
on a global scale (Mitsche and Gosselink, 2000).

These values are now being recognize
d on a large
scale and translated

into

wetland protection laws, regulations,

and management plans.

Until recently, policies of the United State

s federal government were intended to
encourage or subsidize the con
version of wetlands to filled or

drained land that could be used for

agricultural or

other
developmental
purposes not compatible with
the existence of
wetlands. These
federal pol
i
cies,
along with e
xtensive private efforts, reduced the total wetland acreage in

the
contiguous United States

to

approximately

1
03

million acres, or
less than
half of the original
221
million acres (USGS, 1996)
. While this conversion of wetlands produced extensive amounts o
f new


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2




cropland and eliminated many

socioeconomic nuisances associated with wetlands, it als
o reduces
many of the important
wetland functions.

In recognition
of the functio
n and significance of wetlands, protection is accomplished
through the regulation of jurisdictional wetlands. Jurisdictional wetlands are defined as a wetland
which can be

regulated by a government agenc
y whether it is a state or federal agency for the
purpose of preservation, protection, or to otherwise limit its potential development and/or
destructions.

The Federal

Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) and its amendments
,

collectively
known as the Clean Water Act
,

have acted as the basis for federal jurisdiction to pro
tect wetlands.
Additional legis
lation, including

the

Swampbuster

Provision

and the Endangered Species Act,
have
also
serve
d

as m
ajor vehicles
of wetland pro
tection
.


These policies give federal agencies, such as
the
Environm
ental Protection Agency

(EPA),
US Army Corp of Engineers
(USACE), US Fish and
Wildlife Service (USFWS), and US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
the authority to regulate
and
manage matters

concerning wetlands.
Such regulations and court rulings have lead to wetlands
being the only ecosystem type to be comprehensively regulated across all public and private lands
within the United States (NRC, 1995).


To further protect and pr
eserve wetland

eco
sy
s
tems
, the goal of no net loss was introduced
at a national wetland policy forum by the Conservation Foundation in 1988, endorsed by the federal
government in 1990, and supported since

under the Clean Water Act
.

The overall objective

states:

To achie
ve no overall net loss of the nation’s remaining wetlands base and to
create and rest
ore wetlands, where feasible, to

increase the quantity and
quality of the nation’s wetlands resource base (National Wetlands Policy Forum,
1988).




Th
e no net loss goal h
as been interpreted to mean wetlands should be conserved wherever
possible, and that acres of wetlands converted to other uses must be offset through restoration and


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cre
ation of wetlands, thus maintaini
ng or increasing wetland acres (Heimlich et. al. 1998)
.
T
h
e no
net loss goal lies behind federal agencies’ efforts to develop
the Clean Water Act’s
Section 404
guidelines that will secure compensation for permitted wetland impacts, and the no
-
net
-
loss goal is
now the basi
s for national wetland policies (Board

on Environmental Studies and Toxicology (BEST)
2001).

But even if we can sustain the no net loss of wetland acres, the main challenge lies in
protecting the quality of remaining wetlands from changes in land and water use (Heimlich et. al.
1998)
.


Wetland

History and
Policies of the Past



At the time of colonization, the land now know
n

as the contiguous United Sates consisted of
over 220 million acres of swamp, marsh, and bog land (Dahl 1990).
Th
ese wetlands extended
broadly al
ong river systems
,

and uplands were commonly speckled with
small pockets of swamps
and mar
s
hes
. There were also several wetlands large enough to have a global significance, some of
which still persist and others have been virtually destroyed, including the Everglades which
still exist
but in a much altered state; the bottomlands of the Mississippi River, which are greatly reduced but
still extensive; and the Kankakee marsh, which once covered a large portion of up
per Illinois and
Indiana but have

since disappeared
.

Th
e colon
ist brought with them the mentality that wetlands
were undeveloped agricultural resources, that when drained yielded rich soils capable of
sustaining
high yields of crops, as seen in Europe (Lewis, 2001).


Early policy actually encouraged the conversion of wetlands to agricultural
and other
uses.
The Swamp Land Act, passed
in 1849

and revised in
1850 and 1860
,

ceded wetland acres to the
states
.
The act was designed to decrease federal involvement in flood co
ntrol and drainage by
transferring federally owned lands to the states, leaving
to them the initiative of reclaiming
wetlands through activities such
as levee construction and drain
age

(Lewis, 2001)
.
The S
wamp Land


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Act passed a total of 64 million acres to

the states

of Louisiana (1849), Alabama, Arkansas,
California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missis
s
ippi, Missouri, Ohio
,

Wisconsin (1850),
Minnesota, and Oregon (1860),

but it was ineffective in making the large
-
scale conversions that

were originally intended

(Mitsch and Gosselink, 2000)
. The swamp l
and a
cts, however, were
effective in setting the federal and public mind
-
set towards wetlands

for the next century
. This
mi
n
d set is described by
Larson and Kusler (2000
), “
wetlands were re
garded as wastelands
,

if not
bogs of treachery, mires of despair, homes of pests, and refuges for outlaw and rebel. A good
wetland was a drained wetland free of this mixture of dubious social factors.”


Some of the first efforts to sustain and protect wet
lands were initiated by waterfow
l
hunters. When noticeable declines in migratory wildlife populations were recognized, political and
private forces began to support the preservation of wetlands (Lewis, 2001).

Early f
ederal efforts
centered

around
the
National Wildl
i
f
e Refuge System,

which evolved at the initiative of
Presi
dents
Harrison and Roose
velt. The system was administered by the USFWS and was comprised of 91
million acres, of which 76 million were located in Alaska. Legislation such as the Migra
tory Bird
Treaty Act of 1918 and the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 provided the system with
longevity and direction. Financial support for the National Wildlife Refuge System cam
e

in the form
of the Migratory Bird Habitat Stamp Act

and the Land W
ater Conservation Act of 1964, which
authorize the collection of a duck stamp fee for hunters and assesses user taxes and energy taxes
for land acquisitions (Fink 1994).


Executive Order 1190, issued
by President Jimmy Carter

in 1977
also played an
i
mporta
nt
role in changing the traditional mindset toward wetlands. It established the
p
rotectio
n of

wetlands
and riparian systems, requiring that all federal agencies consider wetland protection as an
important part of their policies
, stating that
:



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Each agency

shall provide leadership and shall take action to minimize the
destruction,
loss, or degradation of wetlands, and to preserve and enhance the
natural and beneficial values of wetlands in carrying out the agency’s
responsibilities for (1) acquiring, managi
ng, and disposing of Federal lands and
facilities; and (2) providing federally undertaken, financed, or assisted
construction and improvement; and (3) conducting Federal activities and
programs affecting land use, including but not limited to water and rel
ated land
resources planning, regul
ating, and licensing activities (Executive Order No
11990, 19
7
7).



Wetland Protection and Mitigation Under the
Clean Water Act

The primary policy for protecting and regulating wetlands comes through the Federal Water
Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) enacted in 1948 and subsequent amendments made in 1972 and
1977,
which
commonly
became
known as the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The Clean Wat
er Act
established the basic structure for regulating dischar
ges of pollu
ta
n
t
s into the waters of the United
States, and for regulating water quality standards for surface waters.
The USACE and EPA define
waters of the United Sta
t
es to include most wetland
s, recognizing that wetlands improve water
quality through nutrient cycling and sediment trapping and retention, and specifying that some
goals of the Clean Water Act can not be achieved if wetlands are not protected (BEST 2001).
The
primary administrator
of the CWA

is the Environmental Protection
Agency;

however th
e US Army
Corp of Engineers

also
play
s

a central role
in matters dealing with the nation’s waters.

The principal section under the CWA

providing regulatory protection for wetland
s is found
in
Section 404
. The intent of § 404 is to
protect water and adjacent wetlands from adverse
environmental effects due to the disch
arge of dredge or fill material, and is

under joint
administration of the USACE and EPA. Established in 1972, it requires private

landowners and
developers to obtain permits from the USACE when participating in activities involving disposal of


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dredge of fill material
s

into water
s

of the United States
.
According to the Corp, it evaluates over
85,000 permit requests annually; of those
, more than 90 percent are authorized under a
general
permit. Approximately

9 percent
of these permit requests
are required to go through the more
detailed evaluation for an individual
permit; of these 5 percent are voluntarily withdrawn,
less than
0.3 per
cent of these individual permits are denied
with the remainder being

granted with

specified
modifications (Zinn and Copeland, 2006).

Under Section 404 (e) the USACE may issue general permits on a nationwide, regional, or
statewide basis for a category of
activit
i
es that are presumed to cause only minimal adverse
environmental impacts. As of March 19, 2007 the USACE
had

issued
49

nationwide permits (NWPs)
:



The NWPs protect all jurisdictional waters, including small wetlands

and other
water

bodies, through

their terms and conditions. The NWPs also support the
no overall net loss goal through mitigation requirements including aquatic
resource restoration, establishment, enhancement, and preservation activit
i
es
that may be required as compensatory mitigation
(Department of Army, Corp
of Engineers, 2007).



Nationwide permits are in effect for a variety of activities.
These activities can range from
hydropower projects, surfacing mining operations, hazardous waste cl
eanup, and cranberry
operations
,

to installin
g scientific measurement devices, bank stabilization, and road crossing
structures.


Twenty
-
nine of the forty
-
nine NWP require the permittee to submit a pre
-
construction
notification to a district engineer of the USACE; the remaining permits do not require

Corp
notification prior to initiation of the proje
c
t, as long as the landowner complies with the general
conditions of the permit. Twenty
-
six NWP

general conditions are
currently listed, and to qualify for
NWP authorization, a permittee must comply with
all general conditions. These general conditions
specify that actions will not negatively impact a variety of operations and processes, such as


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navigation, movement of aquatic life, migratory bird breeding grounds
, water supply intakes
, tribal
rights,
endangered specie
s, historical property, etc (Dept. of Army, Corp of Engineers, 2007).
General conditions also specify that appropriate soil erosion and sediment controls must
be in place

and maintained throughout the duration of the activity.


Under Secti
on 404, individual permits
are required for activities with more significant
wetland impact potential. These individual permit applications are evaluated on a case
-
by case
basis using guidelin
e
s set forth in §404 (b)(1). The guidelines
require a review pr
ocess
where the
applicant must show t
h
at all available alternatives to the impact were considered and that no
practicable alternative exists which would have a less adverse impact of the aquatic ecosystem
(Turner and Gannon, 1995).

Furthermore, no discharg
e can be permitted if it will violate other
applicable laws, a
nd the discharge cannot cause or contribute to significant degra
dation of wetlands
by adversely impacting wildlife ecosystem integrity, recreation, aesthetics, and economic values. If
these cond
itions are met, an applicant must then show that all appropriate and practicable steps
will be taken to minimize adverse impacts on the wetland. After avoidance and minimization
criteria are
satisfied
, the USACE will consider mitigation requirements to com
pensate for any losses
(EPA, 2006).
When dealing with individual permits, an Environmental Impact Statement
must be
prepared, as
required

under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).


Exemptions to certain activities are set forth in Section 404

(f). Here, exemptions for
activities that
result in the discharges of dre
d
ge

or fill material under specific circumstance are
deemed as accepta
ble.

These exemptions do not prohibit the discharge of dredge or fill material
associated with normal farming, silviculture, and
ranching activities; the maintenanc
e of serviceable
structures, such as dikes, dams, levees, and bridge abutments; for purposes of c
onstruction or
maint
en
ance of farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches, or the maintenance of drainage ditches;


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for construction of temporary sediment basins on construction sites; and the construction or
maint
en
ance of farm roads or forest roads.
These e
xemptions seem to create major loopholes in
the Clean Water
Act that

as a result lead to confusion in its interpretation.



There has been
met with controversy

from both environmental and developers in concern
to the permitting system. Developers say that

the system is too complex and burdened with
arbitrary restrictions. While environmentalists say that the system does not
adequately

protect
wetland resources. “At issue is
whether

the program has become so complex and expansive that it
cannot either prote
ct aquatic resources or provide for a fair regulatory system” (Zinn and
Copeland).


There are uncertainties
when dealing with areas subject to federal regulation under the
Clean Water Act
, further complicating matters
. These uncertainties are due to a lack

of clarity with
regards to wetlands, in part, due to conflicting Supreme Court and lower court decisions
interpreting the
CWA

and wetland definitions
. Conflict also exists as a result of the scientific
evidence suggesting that all waters need to be regulated to achieve CWA goals
of
restoring and
maintaining quality and integrity of the nation’s waters
.


Kusler et. al.

(
2007)

recommend
s

a number
of poss
ibilities for clarifying jurisdiction rather

than

waiting for the courts to provide clarification on
a case by case basis. One source of clarity comes form the USACE and EPA in the form of
supplementary guidance. A call for more detailed, formal regulation
s with specific criteria and
procedures concerning waters of the US has also been suggested.


The use of Section 404 for wetland protection

has been controversial and the subject of an
excess of court actions and revisions of regulations
. This controversy

is, in part, a result of wetlands
not

being directly mentioned in

Section 404, referring only to “navigable waters.”

The definition of
waters of the United States was later expanded to include wetlands in two 1974
-
1975 court


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decisions,
United States v. Ho
lland
and
Natural Resource Defense Council v. Calloway
. These rulings,
along with Executive Order 11990, Protection of Wetlands
, put

wetlands at the center of
protections efforts (Mitsch and Gosselink, 2000).



Jurisdictional Wetlands and Legal Cases


The scope of the Clean Waters Act’s jurisdiction in regards to wetlands has undergone a
variety of changes as a result of legal cases. From 1972 to 2001, federal district and appellate
courts, along with the US Supreme Court broadly upheld USACE and EPA Cl
ean Water Act
regulations and jurisdictional determinations for wetlands and other waters (Kusler et.al., 2007). A
primary example of this was seen in the 1985 case,
United States v. Bayview Homes, Inc
, (474

US
121, 1985)
.
The courts ruled that jurisdictio
n extends not only to navigable coastal waters, lakes,
streams, and adjacent wetlands, but also to many non
-
navigable rivers, streams, ditches, wetlands
adjacent to such waters, and almost all geographically isolated wetlands and other waters
subjected to
use by migratory birds. Through this ruling the Courts covered a very broad
jurisdictional boundary to achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act.


In 2001, the
jurisdiction

over wetland regulation was
greatly
narrowed as a result of the
ruling in
Solid Wa
ste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) v. United States Army Corp of
Engineers,
(531 US 159, S Ct. 2001)
, which lead to the effective deregulation of many isolated
wetlands
. This
case held
that the intent of Congress in
defining

navigable waters to
in
clude “waters
of the US” was not to regulate all waters and that the Migratory Bird rule applied in
US v. Riverside
Bayview Homes, Inc,
went beyond the intent of jurisdiction under the CWA. As a result of this case,
from 2001 to 2006, federal courts and a
ppellate courts held that water and wetlands were subject
to CWA jurisdiction only if they were
directly
adjacent to navigable waters or tributaries, or had a


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“significant nexus”

to navigable waters based on surface hydrological connection (Kusler et.al.,

2007).


Following a
2006 ruling in
Rapanos v. United States

(
126 S.Ct. 2208, 2006),
jurisdiction

over
wet
lands took

a b
roader approach than seen since the
SWANCC ruling.

Here,

the court upheld
Clean Water Act jurisdiction for wetlands linked to navigable waters through a system of small
natu
r
al drainage

ways and manmade ditches.

Through this case

it was dec
ided that the USACE and
EPA

have jurisdiction over navigable waters and

their adjacent wetlands, and non navigable
tributaries of navigable waters

that are relatively permanent
and any adjacent wetlands. Case
s by
case determinations to decide

significant nexus will be made in concern to waters that

are non
-
navi
gable and not r
elatively permanent (EPA, 2007).


The Supreme Court was strongly divided in the
Ra
panos

decision. Four of the justices, led by
Justice Scalia
issued a plurality opinion, concluding

that regulatory authority should extend only to
“relatively
permanent
, standing, or continuously flowing bodies of water” connected to traditional
navigable waters, and to “wetlands with a
continuous

surface
connection

to”

such
permanent

waters.
This essentially would drastically limit the scope of Section 404 to include o
nly navigable
waters and wetlands continually linked to navigable waters and some
tributaries
.


In the Rapanos decision,
Justice Kennedy was not in
agreement

with the plurality’s opinion
and offered forth his opinion of utilizing a significant nexus test.
This test requires that additional
information be gathered to determin
e

whether the specific wetland have a significant
ecological
connection (
nexus) to the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of navigable waters.

Using this
test,

most all wetlands

and waters regulated by the USACE would continue to be regulated, but on
the other hand some tributaries and ditches may loose jurisdiction if significant nexus is not shown
.



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In regards to significant nexus, a variety of principles must be taken into
account before
deciding jurisdiction. First, all waters may have a significan
t

nexus to navigable waters under certain
circumstances.
For example, under certain circumstances, such as flood, virtually all waters have
the potential of carrying toxins to nav
igable waters, making the navigability and non
-
navigability
, or
seasonal and perman
ent terminology useless in terms of pollution and
the
integrity of the nation’s
waters.
Also, entire landscape or watershed contexts need to be considered. One solitary wet
land
may play only a very reduced role in preserving water quality of
navigable

water, but the collective
value of many wetlands within a watershed may greatly contribute to water integrity.
And finally,
the USACE and EPA should consider how
existing

and potential future, cumulative threats to waters

will affect significant nexus (Kusler et.al., 2007).



Wetland Mitigation


The Clean Water Act, along with other federal wetland policies of the past decade have
strongly emphasized restoration of wetland

areas. Much of this restoration is accomplished through
mitigation efforts. Mitigation is described as actions that avoid, minimize, reduce, rectify, or
compensate for t
he adverse impacts of developme
n
t
.

On the regulatory si
de, a one acre

to one acre
repl
acement
ration
of wetlands lost with restored wetland
s

or new wetland
s

is consistent to the
national policy of no net loss. But in actuality,
replacement is typically required at a higher ratio
than 1:1, in an effort to increase the amount of wetlands acre
s in the United States and regain most
wetland functionality (Lewis, 2001).


Mitigation banking seems to be an approach that is commonly used to compensate for
impacts to wetlands. A mitigation bank is a wetland, stream,

or other aquatic resource area

th
at has
been restored, established, enhanced, or preserved for the purpose of providing compensation for
unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources permitted under Section 404 or

similar regulations (EPA,


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2008
)
.
The value of a bank is defined in “compensatory

mitigation credits.” The
se credits can then
be available for sale as

long as the credits are certif
ied under an ecological assessment to meet
required ecological function.


There are a number of reasons why wetlands enhancement and creation is viewed as
controversial. The theory of creating new wetlands or enhancing
degraded

wetlands seem sound,
but there is a distinct lack of scientific research that documents the success or

failure of mitigated
wetlands in restoring functional values to ecosystems. It is strongly questio
ned as to

whet
h
er an
artificially created wetland can function as effectively as a natural wetland. Due to the complexity of
natural wetlands it is difficult

to reproduce the biological, hydrological, and geological condition
that allows a wetland to function in a natural sta
t
e (OEP, 1988).

Another issue of concern with
mitigation is the type of wetland destroyed vs. the type of wetland created.
Although wetla
nds may
have several functions, not all wetlands serve the same functions. Mitigation efforts primarily focus
on the construction of

one type of wetlands, fresh,

open water ponds, while other types of
wetlands continu
e

to be lost and not replaced at alarmi
ng rates. Until it is shown that
environmental engineering can provide wetlands that are
indistinguishable

from natural
wetlands,
there is a penalty associated with mitigati
o
n. “In fact, mitigation through replacement will probably
always be to varying ext
ents inadequate, in which case the most
reliable

means of no net loss may
be just to originally thought: protection of wetlands as we find them”

(Lewis, 2001
).



Efforts to Prevent Wetland Loss on Agricultural Land:
The Role of the United States Departmen
t
of Agriculture


Agriculture has historically played a significant role in the alterations and loss of wetlands in
the United States.
As a result of an exemption found in the Clean Water Act §404 (f), wetlands on


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13




agricultural lands
were suffering, and
acted as the source of mu
ch conflict

between the United
States Department of Agriculture

(USDA)
, and the Corp of Engineers and Environmental Protection
Agency
.

As

stated in the statute:


The discharge of dredge or fill material from normal farming, silvic
ulture, and
ranching activities such as plowing, seeding, cultivating, minor drainage,
harvesting for the production of food, fiber, and forest products, or upland soil
conservation practices.. is not prohibited or otherwise subjected to regulation
under t
his section.




The passage of the
1985 Food Security Act’s “Swampbuster” Provision

(16 USC 3801
-
3862)
provided further protection for wetlands, that were once deemed as exempt under the Clean Water
Act.
Main features of the Food Security Act (FSA) 1985 an
d its subsequent amendments included
definitions for wetlands, definitions of agriculturally us
e
d or altered wetlands, and establishment of
punishment

for alterations of wetlands (also known as “swampbusting”).

The provision was
designed to discourage furt
her conversion of wetlands
, in the form of drainage, dredging, of other
manipulations for the purpose
of agricultural

commodity production, including commodity
supports, crop insurance, and disaster payments. Benefits are withheld for the year in question
and
all subsequent years until the wetland is either restored or mitigated

(NRCS, 2003)
.


Two additional
incentive based
agricultural

programs have been developed by the United
States Department of Agriculture to aid in
voluntary
wetland preservation and restoration. The first
of such programs is the Conservation Reserve
Program,

also enacted in the 1985 Food Security Act.
The Crop Reserve Program (CRP) made cropped wetlands eligible
to be retired from crop
production for a period
of ten years.
Incentives for participating in this program include an annual
payment based o
n

an acre rental rate that is determi
ned from the dominant soil type,

a Wetland
Restoration Incentive payment equal to 25 percent of the cost of restoring hydrology

to the site,


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14




and cost
-
share assistance for eligible practice put in place to enhance the wetland (FSA, 2004)
.

The
CRP has been extremely effective in preventing the erosion of almost 700
million

tons of top soil
annually, and as a result improving water c
onditions through reduced
sedimentation
, as

well as
reducing

pesticides

and fertilizers in runoff.


In addition to CRP, landowners have the options of enrolling wetland acres into the Wetland
Reserve Program (WRP).

The WRP is another voluntary incentive p
rogram, created under the 1990
Farm Bill, to encourage wetland restoration and protection in agricultural areas. It
authorizes
the
purchase

of
30 year

or perpetual conservation land easements from landowners, and provides cost
share assistance on practices

that enhance or restore wetland quality and integrity.
Land owners
retain co
ntrol of access to these areas, and

may utilize the land for haying, grazing, and recreation
activities if no impact to the wetland occurs
. L
andowners also retain
the right to
sell the land


(NRCS, 2007)
.


A recent news release form the USDA (2008), highlighted the benefits of CRP and WRP. A
study indicated that the USDA programs have
benefited

more
than

5 million acres of wetland and
adjacent grassland

habitat in the Prairie P
othole Region alone. The study quantified how the
establishment and management of these are
a
s have greatly improved water quality by improving
nutrient and sediment control and increased the ability of intercepting and storing water that can
contribute to
downstream water flooding. The

CRP and WRP were hailed as bei
n
g

the nation’s most
successful wetlands conservation programs administered on private land.


Wetlands as Critical Habitat Under the Endangered Species Act


Wetlands are
regarded

as
highly

productive ecosystems, and as a result are rich in plant and
animal species. Animals are attracted to wetlands because they provide food, water, cover, and
nesting sites. Wetlands provide critical habitat for wildlife, and wetlands exceed all other land
types


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15




in wildlife productivity. It is estimated that in the United Sates approximately 150

bird species and
over 200 spec
i
e
s of fish depend on wetlands for a crucial part of their survival (Flynn, 1996).


Coupled with the vast destruction
of wetlands and t
he degr
adation of remaining wetlands, there
has been a marked decrease in many populations of animal,
fish,
plant, and invertebrate species
that depend on these systems for survival.
At leas
t 95 plant, 5 mammal, 22 bird, 4 reptile,
3
amphibian, and 22 fish

species

listed as endangered or threatened depend on wetland habitat for
survival
(Flynn, 1996)
.



Th
e Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires the federal
government

to designate “critical
habitat” for any species listed under the ESA.

Under Section 3 (5)(A) of the Endangered
Species

Act,
critical habitat for a
threatened

or endangered species is described as the specific areas within the
geographical area occupied by the speci
es at the time of listing, if

the habitat contains physical
or
biological features essential to conservation, and those features may require s
p
ecial management
considerations or protection; and also includes specific areas outside the geographical area
oc
cupied by the species if the

area is determined as essential
for conservation.

Critical habitat
designations must be based on the best scientific information available, in an open public process.
Before designating critical habitat,
careful

consideration must be giver to the economic impacts,
impacts on national sec
urity, and other relevant impacts resulting in an area being specified as
critical habitat. The Secretary of Commerce may exclude an area from critical habitat if the benefits
of exclusion outweigh the
benefits

of designation, unless excluding the area wil
l result in the
extinction

of the threatened or endangered species.



Outlooks and Implications for Preserving Wetlands


Global climate change has the potential to play a central role in impacting wetland
ecosystems on both coastal and interior regions.
O
ne of the major impacts of possible climate


Page
16




changes on wetlands is the effect that sea level rise will have on coastal wetlands. Estimates of sea
level rise over the next century range from 50 to 200 cm.

If this rise in sea level is not matched by
an equiv
alent accretion of sediments, a gradual
disint
egration

of coastal marshes due to increased
inundation, excessive erosion, and salt
water intrusion are predicted (
Mitsch and Gosselink, 2000).


Th
e Mississippi River Delta is a coastal region that is
suffering from a
n

extremely high rate of
wetland loss. This is, in part, because of a lack of sediment being transported by the Mississippi
River. The Mississippi River is carrying only about 20 percent of the sediment load it did prior to
the
construction

of
dam
s

and other
hydrologic

structures put in place on upper reaches of the
Mississippi River and conjoining tributaries (Julien and Vensel, 2005).

To
further worsen the
problem, the

flow of the river is entirely contained within a levee system, so the
river borne

sediment no longer reaches wetlands
.
A river with a limited sediment load makes the restoration of
coastal wetlands challenging given
the
few resources to work with (Rapp, 2008).
Another issue
effecting coastal wetland in this area is the loss

of the barrier islands fronting the Mississippi River
delta. These islands act as a buffer to reduce the effects of ocean waves and currents; there rapid
loss is leaving
Louisiana

wetlands and New Orleans vulnerable and exposed to the full forces of
wave
action, salinity intrusion, storm surges, and tidal currents (USGS, 1995).


In addition to the effects of climate change on coastal wetlands through sea
-
level rise
, the
change in climate is predicted to affect the health and distribution of inland wetlands

(Mitsch and
Gosselink, 2000). In temperate and boreal areas, climate change will affect precipitation patters,
affecting runoff and groundwater inflows to wetlands. A decrease in precipitation and increase in
evapotranspiration will result in less frequen
t flooding of existing wetlands. In other regions,
increases in precipitation will increase the length and depth of inundation, compromising
depressional
wetlands

and unique flora and fauna.



Page
17





Wetlands can
affect

other issues
related

to global warming. Wet
lands
p
lay an
integral

role in
atmospheric carbon
sequestration
, and the destruction of wetlands also has the potential to
unleash a “carbon bomb”

(Zabarenko
, 2008).

Amazingly

enough, wetlands comprise approximately
6 percent of the Earth’s surface area and contain
nearly
771 billion tons of carbon dioxide
(amounting to 20 percent of the Earths carbon dioxide supply and roughly the same amount that is
currently in the atmospher
e
)
. With this in mind, there is the thought that continued destruction of
wetlands will only wo
rsen the atmospheric carbon dile
mma

that may lead to global climate change.
Zabarenko (2008) includes that it may be too late t
o

protect wetland permafrost
i
n th
e Arctic
region,
b
ut that wetlands in tropical and temperate regions should be at the fore front of
conservation, also urging that it is far easier and cheaper to maintain wetlands than to try to rebuild
them later.


An

addi
t
i
o
nal

role that wetlands may pl
ay in combating the effects of increased carbon
dioxide emissions and a potential globa
l warming

include carbon sequestering. A 15
-

year study
conducted by the US Geologic Survey and the University of California
-
Davis examined the potential
of common wetla
nd vegetation, such as rushes and cattails, to sequester greenhouse gases and
rebuild sinking islands in the Sacramento
-
San Joaquin Delta (
Lawrence, 2008).

The results have
proven successful in both capturing carbon dioxid
e and in rebuilding the islands. S
oil under the 15
-

acre test site has risen 1 to 2 feet since the project start date as a result of the slow build up of peat;
and the amount of CO2 being captured exceeds
sequestration

levels of any other systems. These
results provide insight that could b
e
useful

in restoring wetland habitats
, combating excessive
atmospheric carbon levels,
and also in reclaiming coastal wetlands that have been lost as a result of
subsidence or
a
rise in sea level.




Page
18





In conclusion,
wetlands play a vital role in the
ecological functions that many take for
granted. They play a dynamic role in stabilizing water supplies, cleansing

polluted water, protect
ing

shorelines from erosion,

recharging

aquifers, and protect
ing coastal areas f
r
om

intense storm
surges
.

There is no
doubt that the loss of these unique habitats do
es

impact everyone and without
further conservation
future impacts could prove to be substantial. Through legislation such as the
Clean Air Act, Endangered Specie Act, and USDA programs created under the Food
Security Acts the
losses of wetlands have been dramatically reduced and in general we are seeing a no
-
net loss of
wetland acres. Many view these policies as inadequate and in dire need of alteration, and the most
widely professed idea by environmentalists
urge us to conserve the natural wetlands instead of
focusing on mitigation efforts. Until the initiative is taken to further protect these dynamic areas,
current policies will have to suffice.




















Page
19




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