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The Compleat Wetlander: Trends in Wetlands: Lesson learned from the Politburo

“How perfect is the Hound at smelling,
Who never leaves or forsakes his first scent,
But follows it through so many changes and varieties of
other scents,
Even over and in the waters, and into the earth!”
–The Compleat Angler

Many people attend college and get a degree in an area where they never end up working—in my case it was U.S.-Soviet cold war relations.  But despite the fact there is no longer a Soviet Union, the education I received has been surprisingly relevant.  Not because working in wetlands resembles the cold war, but because politics are politics.  What made studying about the Soviet Union unique was the overwhelming lack of information.

While I was getting my degree, I was lucky enough to get an internship at what was then Multi-lateral Affairs office in the State Department.  Some days there were not a lot of assignments suitable for an inexperienced intern so I read the reports that came in from the “country desks” around the world.  Almost none of it concerned activities inside the closed, secretive world of the Soviet Union.   Everyone had to infer a lot from a little.  For example the arrangement of Politburo members viewing annual parades was used by everyone—including the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency– to identify changes in the power hierarchy at the highest levels of government.

The good part about the absence of information was that with a little industry even a very junior scholar could quickly gather and understand all of the information that was available.  And most importantly, I learned to track not what was said on any given day—but how it changed from yesterday or last week or last year.  Sometimes the changes in the message were more important than the message itself.

In the world of wetlands it seems there is often too much information.  But one of my barometers is the annual Wetlands Law and Regulation Conference by the American Law Institute – American Bar Association (ALI-ABA)  Each year this fall conference provides attendees with information about the latest developments in wetlands law.  For 2009 it is scheduled November 5 in Washington, DC and I will be one of the speakers.

Much of the agenda is pretty standard from year to year—wetland permitting, changes in federal guidance, recent court cases, etc.  However, the content changes and therein lies some important insights on trends.

Litigation in the past year has highlighted areas of shared responsibility between Section 404 and 402 of the Clean Water Act.  The new mitigation rule directs Corps offices to pursue a watershed approach and voluntary restoration programs provide some unique opportunities to use information and develop broader partnerships.  Continued concerns over the Carabell/Rapanos decision have made Congress, states, and many interest groups more aware of how permitting dredge and fill activities are relevant to implementation of other parts of the Clean Water Act.   This year also brings presentations on federal legislation and non-regulatory practices.    Historically Section 404 operated independently of other parts of the Clean Water Act.  That trend is ending and another for greater integration and coordination is already underway.

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One Response to The Compleat Wetlander: Trends in Wetlands: Lesson learned from the Politburo

  1. Thad Souphom says:

    Enjoyed reading this, very good stuff, thanks . “If it was an overnight success, it was one long, hard, sleepless night.” by Dicky Barrett.

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