New Wetlands Mitigation
WASHINGTON, DC(ENS) - The Bush administration has
issued new guidance that details how developers must replace,
or mitigate for the wetlands they destroy.
Environmental News Service
The National Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan lists 17
action items that the agencies will undertake to improve
the effectiveness of restoring wetlands that are impacted
or lost to activities governed by clean water laws. Completing
the actions in the plan will enable the agencies and the
public to make better decisions regarding where and how
to restore, enhance and protect wetlands; improve their
ability to measure and evaluate the success of mitigation
efforts; and expand the public's access to information
on these wetland restoration activities.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), in conjunction with the Departments
of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior and Transportation,
said the guidelines will strengthen the nation's commitment
to achieve the goal of no net loss of wetlands. The guidance
includes a comprehensive action plan to ensure effective
restoration of wetlands that are impacted by development.
"These actions affirm this Administration's commitment
to the goal of no net loss of America's wetlands and its
support for protecting our Nation's watersheds," said
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
Acting assistant secretary of the Army for civil works
Les Brownlee said that "the improvements in the Corps'
regulatory guidance and implementation of the action plan
will enhance effective regulatory decision making in the
permit process and improve the planning of successful
wetland mitigation projects."
Independent evaluations published in 2001 by the National
Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the General Accounting Office
(GAO) reviewed the effectiveness of wetlands compensatory
mitigation for authorized losses of wetlands and other
waters under the Clean Water Act. The NAS concluded that,
despite progress in the last 20 years, the goal of no
net loss of wetlands is not being met for wetland functions
by the mitigation programs of federal agencies.
The new action plan and guidance were developed in response
to the recommendations made in those reports.
A revised Regulatory Guidance Letter leads the list
of action items in the National Wetlands Mitigation Plan.
To advance the goal of no net loss of wetlands, the guidance
letter emphasizes the a watershed wide approach to prospective
mitigation efforts for proposed projects impacting wetlands
and other waters; the increased use of functional assessment
tools; and improved performance standards.
The guidance letter also emphasizes monitoring, long
term management, and financial assurances to help ensure
that restored wetlands result in planned environmental
gains. The guidance letter also provides greater consistency
across the Army Corps' 38 district offices on issues such
as the timing of mitigation activities and the party responsible
for mitigation success.
Conservation groups had mixed reactions to the new wetlands
"The Bush administration has taken a positive step to
improve federal wetlands mitigation policies, but safeguards
that are needed now are still not in place," said Julie
Sibbing, wetlands policy specialist at the National Wildlife
"Mitigation certainly should result in the creation
of real wetlands," Sibbing added. "But that alone is not
enough. At an absolute minimum, we need a no net loss
of wetlands policy that replaces wetlands lost to development
on an acre by acre basis. The new guidelines fall short
of that benchmark."
Jessica Wilkinson, wetlands director at the Environmental
Law Institute, said that while the new guidance echoes
many of the group's own recommendations and findings,
the guidance letter provides little practical guidance
on how to apply a science based watershed approach in
"Without solid guidance on how to effectively protect
wetlands and mitigation for their losses on a watershed
scale, a misapplied watershed approach could lead to a
weakening of current provisions in place to assure replacement
of lost wetland functions," said Wilkinson, the study's
Copies of the National Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan
and the Regulatory Guidance Letter are available at: http://www.usace.army.mil