Environment | Opinion

David Ganje: Wetlands management remains a mess in the United States

David Ganje

Wetlands mismanagement – American style
By David Ganje
For The Native Sun News Today

Wetlands play a role in the ecosystem and provide benefits for both people and wildlife.

Society’s idea of wetlands management includes protecting water quality, storing floodwaters, retaining groundwater during dry periods, and providing food. Wetlands are also a source of biodiversity and serve as a habitat for species of fish and wildlife.

It is estimated that one hundred years ago, the U.S. had over 221 million acres of wetlands. Today, the number is 107.7 million acres. The decline in the wetlands is linked, in part, to modern agricultural production. The government estimates that there are 6.4 million acres of wetlands in the prairie pothole region of South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. While I wrote about current languishing federal legislation addressing wetlands in a prior opinion piece, this article discusses the bureaucratic management of wetlands by the USDA.

The U.S. is not the old super-bureaucratic Soviet Union, nevertheless the U. S. has a myriad of federal bureaucratic agencies, departments, services, divisions and offices, particularly within the USDA. For the convenience of the reader (and myself) I refer to all USDA related offices or divisions as simply ‘USDA’ instead of using the alphabet soup abbreviation for the particular office within the USDA. I must read bureaucratic gibberish for a living. And some of the wetlands’ stuff boggles the mind.

Let me set the stage. The USDA has been involved in the wetlands management since 1977. Farmers, ranchers and landowners who own wetlands are incentivized to preserve the wetlands on their property by receiving government benefits. Beginning in 1990 and continuing through 1996, the USDA created maps to show “wetlands determinations,” or more specifically what was and was not a wetland.

So that we don’t get lost in the timeline, I am going to refer to the maps created during this time as the “pre-1996 maps.” In 1996, the USDA completed several internal studies and concluded that the pre-1996 maps were not accurate and should not be used.

Between 1996 and 2013, the USDA moved to a more comprehensive system to determine what is and isn’t a wetland. This new system was far more accurate than the pre-1996 maps because it relied on several different techniques, such as onsite evaluations, maps, aerial photography, and soil samples.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Wetlands mismanagement – American style

(David Ganje of Ganje Law Offices practices in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law and can be reached at davidganje@ganjelaw.com. His website is Lexenergy.net)

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