Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: 2010 Wish List for National Wetland Programs

This week President Obama will give his State of the Union address to both Houses of Congress.   There are many grave challenges the Nation faces with respect to the economy, unemployment and the war overseas.  These are the topics the President should address.  So it’s unlikely that the word ‘wetlands’ will be mentioned.  However, if a ‘State of the Wetlands’ speech was being given instead, here are the top five ‘national’ priorities on my list.   (Hold the applause to the end please!)

Accurate Wetland Maps for the Entire Nation.  We need accurate wetland maps.  Most of the GIS and paper maps that exist are based on 1980s imagery and there are large areas of the western U.S. that have never been mapped at all.  This information is needed for so many aspects of wetlands, natural resources, natural hazard, wildlife and fisheries management that all these programs are handicapped.  They don’t have basic information about wetland location and type.  It would cost around $30 million to collect the leaf-off imagery for the lower 48 states.  And $30 million more would be needed every five years to do it again to keep track of the changes.  If the imagery were available, federal, state and local governments could probably find the additional resources to map the wetland polygons and create a GIS wetland data layer for the nation. 

Wetland Carbon Sequestration Credits Here and Abroad.  Not all wetlands are created equally when it comes to storing carbon.  But many wetlands do store significant amounts of carbon now and some kinds could be restored or managed to accumulate much more.  Wetlands are also a significant source of methane, a damaging greenhouse gas, and there is a need to discover if there are ways to manage wetlands to reduce methane emissions.  Many of the most important opportunities to sequester carbon in wetlands exist in wetland types that are found in third world countries.  One of the most difficult areas of negotiation in the recent Copenhagen summit on climate change was around providing equity and incentives to third world countries.  At this point the very significant potential to do this by encouraging sequestration of carbon in wetlands in these countries has not been unexplored.  The U.S. should join other nations to actively sequester carbon in wetlands.

Use Wetland and Watershed Restoration to Protect People and the Environment.  In the coming year there will important opportunities to change national policies to encourage restoration of water resources as a way to secure safe drinking water, reduce natural hazards provide refuges for wildlife migrating to new areas in response to climate change and other benefits.  The national flood insurance program, the Corps’ Principles and Guidelines and other policies are being revised.  Climate change legislation is being considered.  Many of these initiatives are outside of the programs typically watched by wetland professionals, but they have an enormous influence on the placement and types of infrastructure that are built.  These policies should be revised to give priority to projects that provide multiple benefits, i.e. flood protection plus clean water plus wildlife habitat rather than projects designed to benefit only one use.  In many cases this change in public policy would move restoration projects from the bottom to the top of the lists for funding.

Clarify Clean Water Act Jurisdiction.   There have been many articles, discussion papers and other materials posted on the ASWM webpages about Clean Water Act jurisdiction, the problems created by uncertainty and the merits of and opposition to the Clean Water Restoration Act.  ASWM has endorsed the Clean Water Restoration Act in the past and our Association continues to believe that clarification of Clean Water Act jurisdiction is badly needed.  The Corps, EPA, the states and others are using up a lot of resources figuring out if a water body is jurisdictional.  This uses staff time, which is needed to meet with permit applicants, develop good mitigation plans, conduct site reviews and undertake a long list of other activities that will provide important services both to permit applicants, the environment, and the public at large.  

Re-energize the Wetlands Reserve Program.  In September of 2009 National Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White sent a letter out to Regional and State Conservationists directing them to take actions to “ensure that all enrolled lands yield the greatest wetland and floodplain functions.”  It emphasized the importance of the Wetlands Reserve Program and Floodplain Easement program and identified steps that should be taken to “make every acre the best it can be.”  In October NRCS had a meeting with partner organizations to let them know it was committed to increasing annual enrollment in WRP to the maximum 300,000 acres a year allowed under the 2008 Farm Bill.  WRP has languished and nearly disappeared in some high-enrollment states in recent years.  This renewed commitment to supporting the conservation easement programs for wetlands authorized by Congress is important.  Restoration activities can complement and support other actions to provide abundant wildlife and clean water.

In closing, I’d like to state that I firmly believe that these actions will protect resources important to the public good and save tax dollars in the long term.  Good maps will lead to wise, cost-effective decisions.  Storing carbon in wetlands will reduce greenhouse gases and provide income in return for credits.  Using restoration programs to protect people and the environment will lead to less expensive more sustainable and successful projects.   Clarifying Clean Water Act jurisdiction will conserve important water resources and redirect agencies to spend time on activities that will improve permitting programs.  Fully implementing WRP and other voluntary easement restoration programs will maximize the income available to landowners and will hold water resources in trust to benefit the public at large.  Collectively these actions set priorities to better serve the Nation.

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