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

The Compleat Wetlander: American Wetlands Month: A Time to Celebrate?

May is American Wetlands Month.  It has been since 1991.  The purpose of American Wetlands Month is to celebrate the importance and value of wetlands.  In many parts of the country it is a great time of year to get out and enjoy wetlands.  The local plants are growing, flowers are blooming and many birds and animals are starting families.

Around the country there are numerous American Wetland Month celebrations.

General Information is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency American Wetlands Month Wetlands Education: http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/outreach/education_index.cfm

The U.S Geological Survey has a webpage highlighting important research conducted to help scientists and wetland practitioners understand wetlands.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has suggestions about activities to undertake during American Wetlands Month: http://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2009/Wetland/index.htm

There are sites with state information about American Wetlands Month such as those in Wisconsin and Nebraska.

There are also local events.  Take, for example, the state of Oregon, where the city of Eugene has plans  http://www.myeugene.org/2011/04/22/eugene-events-celebrate-american-wetlands-month/ as well as restaurants like Newman’s in Cannon Beach http://newmansat988.com/blog/tag/american-wetlands-month/.

Sadly while wetlands are worth celebrating, there are reasons to be very concerned about their future.  Changes to the Farm Bill threaten millions of acres of wetlands but it’s not the only piece of legislation that, if passed as introduced, would threaten wetlands.

In Congress, S. 2122 and H.R. 4304 – “Defense of Environment and Property Act of 2012” removes wetlands from the Clean Water Act, prohibits use of a significant nexus test and requires double compensation of any regulatory action that diminishes the value of a property.

Less direct, S. 1389 and H.R. 3347 – “A bill to exempt any road, highway, or bridge damaged by a natural disaster, including a flood, from duplicative environmental reviews if the road, highway, or bridge is reconstructed in the same location.” This exempts the reconstruction of any road, highway, or bridge that has been damaged by a natural disaster and reconstructed in the same location from environmental regulations.  This is cause for concerns because if infrastructure is built back exactly like what was lost, it may remain vulnerable to future floods.  If it is not, then the changes can have a profound negative impact on aquatic resources. (These and other bills before Congress can be found at: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php)

Many bills get introduced into Congress that do not pass.  Nevertheless given decreasing federal budget and opposition to environmental regulations and in particular wetland protection in Congress, it is likely that the responsibility to protect, conserve and manage wetlands and other aquatic habitat will fall increasingly on the shoulders of state, tribal and local government.

Here there are also challenges.   Legislation passed by states may also lead to the loss and destruction of wetlands. Wisconsin passed Act 118 this past February which weakens some portions of the Wisconsin statutes that protected wetlands. http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lc/publications/im/IM2012_05.pdf

But there are also resources available to help states evaluate opportunities to improve conservation of state wetland resources.  The Association of State Wetland Managers website has extensive information about state wetland programs http://aswm.org.  In addition the National Conference of State Legislatures has added information on wetland programs to their website: http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/env-res/wetlands.aspx.

Financing state wetland programs is often a significant hurdle. The UNC Environmental Finance Center has created two new resources for the Sustainable Finance for State and Tribal Wetland Programs project. Both are available on the project website, http://www.efc.unc.edu/projects/wetlands/.   The first resource is an interactive reference guide on federal grants available for wetland programs. The second resource is a page of information about how state and tribal programs fund one specific core element, regulatory activities, with a particular emphasis on permit fees.

Celebrating wetlands is important, but it is not enough.  If wetlands are valuable, then actively engaging in finding ways to protect and conserve them is important as well.  One way is to share ideas and concerns with elected representatives including members of Congress and State legislators.

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