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August 24, 2000
by Stuart Lieberman
Sometimes, outgoing Presidents propose laws to advance their legacy. Perhaps with that in mind, the Clinton administration has just announced new proposed rules which will provide additional protection to the nation's wetlands. What is it about wetlands which should make us care?
Wetlands are environmentally sensitive areas. Up until thirty years ago, nobody really cared about wetlands and it was completely commonplace to fill them at will in order develop property.
Then, ecologists learned that wetlands serve important conservation functions. They tend to act as underground water recharge areas for rain water and they also filter runoff off, acting as a natural cleanser. Wetlands also prevent flooding.
Many parts of this country in which wetlands have been excessively filled experience heavy amounts of flooding. Now, in order to address this problem, drainage ditches and other runoff basins have been erected to curtail runoff issues.
According to the EPA, over half of the nation's wetlands have been destroyed since the 1700s. Some states have lost more than 80 percent of their original wetlands.
The new wetlands rules are designed to make it more difficult to fill the remaining wetlands. According to the government, existing "loopholes" have allowed some indiscriminate wetlands destruction to occur. The new rules are intended to plug these loopholes.
Generally, you know wetlands when you see them. They are those marshes and swamps that are located between bodies of water and dry land. Because they are located near water, they tend to be situated on prime property which makes them even more susceptible to filling and destruction.
When it is necessary to fill wetlands, the government often requires that applicants provide what is called "mitigation." Often, mitigation means taking dry land and converting it into a wetlands. While experts often claim that these man-made wetlands are typically not as effective as naturally existing wetlands, some wetlands are always better than no wetlands at all.
Wetlands banks are also cropping up at the federal and state levels, and represent another mitigation alternative. These banks allow developers to purchase the right to fill wetlands. The money from these banks can in tun be used to purchase and permanently preserve wetlands from future development.
Did you know that you can create wetlands in your backyard? According to be United States Department of Agriculture, a mini wetlands in your backyard can store, filter and clean run off from your roof and your lawn. It can also provide an interesting habitat for animals such as butterflies, bees and frogs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that property owners with naturally occurring wet spots or low drainage areas can transform them into wetlands. It is a fun project that is also ecologically important. For more information, go to the Department of Agriculture's web site - http://www.usda.gov/
Should you care about wetlands? Yes, you should care about wetlands because they serve important protective functions. Laws that protect our wetlands from over development need to be encouraged.
We are a county that in many places has been over developed and environmentally significant areas, such as wetlands, have suffered. Laws that promote smart growth and protect sensitive areas need to be supported.
On the other hand, as a lawyer who has sued the government many times for over regulating property to the point where it has become valueless, it is clear to me that wetlands laws must be fairly administered. And where the Government restricts all development to preserve wetlands, Federal and many State Constitutions require that the property owners receive the fair market value for the property.
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