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Forest Protection Campaign

Source: National Wildlife Federation

Data Analysis

The least sound method for determining the status of the nationís wetlands is data analysis of regulatory and incentive program data. This is due to the weaknesses of the data collected by both regulatory and incentive programs. Army Corps of Engineers regulatory program data quantify the amount of wetlands permitted to be destroyed and the amount of "mitigation" required to replace the wetland functions and values lost. The problem with the Corps data is that they account for all forms of "mitigation," including: creation and restoration of former wetlands (results in actual wetland gains to offset losses), as well as preservation and enhancement of existing wetlands or even upland buffers (none of these results in actual gains of wetlands acreage to offset losses - though sometimes it results in gains in function).

For example, a permit is granted to fill a 10 acre wetland and 20 acres of existing wetlands are acquired and donated to a park district as mitigation. The database would show this as a 10 acre net gain, when in actuality, this results in a net loss of 10 acres of wetlands. Additionally, the data does not account for the fact that even wetland restoration and creation may not result in gains because of the high failure rate of such projects. Incentive programs also rarely distinguish between activities conducted on existing wetlands and those solely designed to restore former wetlands. Several programs may also count the same wetlands acreage since they frequently partner on restoration projects. Vastly improved data tracking is needed for both regulatory and incentive programs. Yet even with better data, wetlands destroyed illegally, unregulated wetlands destruction, and losses due to natural events, such as coastal Louisiana erosion, would not be captured.

Net Loss of Wetlands Functions and Values

To date, there has been no real effort to track net loss of wetland functions. Indeed, the oftrepeated National Wetlands Inventory statistic of 58,000 acres per year of net loss ignores function to a ridiculous extent since the use of this number implies that gaining ponds and lakes can offset the loss of natural wetlands. Even the concept of "no-net-loss" is in some ways misleading as it assumes that we can actually "replace" all the functions and values of natural wetlands by building or restoring former wetlands elsewhere - frequently in another watershed entirely. Study after study shows how unlikely efforts to date to restore wetlands result in fully functioning systems, and to date, there is no plan to ensure that the functions and values restored are in any way equivalent to those lost. In reality, the nation is far away from meeting the nonet- loss goal for wetlands functions and values and it does not appear that there will be a serious effort any time soon to attempt to quantify this enormous net loss.

Redwood Forest
Courtesy of National Park Service