Source: National Wildlife Federation
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.