September 04, 2013
Wetlands Guidance? That’s Crazy Talk, Apparently
By Bob Marshall
The most memorable definition of “crazy” goes something like this: Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result.
Which brings us to the greater conservation community and its recent renewed request to the Obama Administration: Please release your new guidance on wetlands, now covered by the Clean Water Act, in response to Supreme Court decisions almost a decade ago that removed protections on 20 million acres – including the prairie potholes and 5,000 miles of stream sides.
Given the definition above, this request certifies conservationists as crazy because they have been making the same plea repeatedly over the last two years – and the response really hasn’t changed. Oh, there’s been a lot of head nodding, quiet assurances, and even some back-room promises. But the guidance still isn’t out.
For those who haven’t read this space in the last six years, here’s a refresher:
In 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that Congress never intended for the Clean Water Act to protect isolated and temporary wetlands, as every administration had been doing since the CWA passed in 1972. The ruling caused an uproar because those wetlands are among the most critical for many species, particularly waterfowl, which depend on the isolated, and temporary prairie potholes complexes for nesting. The ruling also meant stream sides essential to healthy trout populations could be left open to destruction everywhere.
Congress could fix the problem simply by passing a bill saying it wanted those wetlands included in the CWA. But despite all those members who love sportsmen at election time, they voted with developers and agricultural interests who hated the CWA, so bills that would restore protections never made it out of the House.
The impacts of this failure have become even larger considering the severe cutbacks in conservation programs currently underway by Congress.
Conservationists thought they had a champion in Obama, whose administration supported the protections and moved to reduce the impacts of the decisions by issuing new guidance to federal agencies on exactly what they could protect. It wouldn’t return things to the way they had been, but it would help a lot.
That action was ready to go three years ago, but has repeatedly been delayed. At first conservationists understood the politics involved: Facing election during tough economic times, the president didn’t want to give opponents a chance to say he was choosing ducks over jobs.
But the election was nearly a year ago. Obama won. But wetlands are still losing.
So, for the second time, a coalition of sportsmen’s groups have joined fish and wildlife biologists in urging the president to have his administration release the guidance that could limit the damage being done.
It’s the right thing to do environmentally. And it makes sense politically, because it’s as opportunity for the president to show what many camouflage-wearing voters have been saying for six years: He may not be a hunter or angler, but he’s a better friend to conservationists than his predecessor.
Or, maybe they’re just crazy.