Conservation Update: Clean Water Finding Few Friends in Washington

When it comes to wetlands protections, it's hard for sportsmen to find any heroes in Washington these days. We have a House majority that spent last year shouting its opposition to restoring protections to 20 million acres of vital wetlands stripped by the Supreme Court, and vows to continue that assault this election cycle. And we have a president who makes a lot of noise about helping--but then doesn't follow through.

So as Congress returns to work this month, sportsmen's conservation groups find themselves fighting on two fronts in the battle to restore protections to those temporary and isolated wetlands. Here's the situation:

When the GOP blocked attempts to correct those court rulings with the proposed Clean Water Restoration Act, conservationists were cheered when the Obama Administration stepped in last spring sending its agencies a proposed new wetland "guidance"--spelling out which wetlands they could protect. This wouldn't put protections back on everything, but it would help.

The next step would be the start of a legally required "rule-making process"--a series of hearings in which the administration laid out how the agencies could go about protecting those wetlands outlined in the guidance.

One year later nothing has happened.

That proposed guidance has never been made official--even after an extended comment period (which, by the way, wasn't legally required). And the rule-making process has never started.

So now we're entering an election cycle, one that promises to be especially nasty with some on the GOP side already (and incorrectly) blaming regulations for the high unemployment rate. Sportsmen's groups expects the going to be especially tough.

The real fear is that the Obama Administration and congress people who had been acting as friends before the campaigns start will back off if they see supporting protection could cost them votes. You can expect the well-financed special interests opposed to these protections--the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, energy sectors and agriculture--to pour money into the issue trying to convince voters--and the candidates seeking their support--to oppose the regulations.

"The push back on this has been enormous," said Steve Kline, working the issue for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. "We don't expect any let up this year. We're really facing a deadline if the administration doesn't get moving on this."

Sportsmen can help by firing off letters and emails to their congressional reps--as well as the administration. You can find out how at www.contactingthecongress.org.