Crucial Wetlands Report Is Overshadowed by Government Shutdown

We've just lived through more proof that politics is part of the wider ecosystem that determines the health of fish and wildlife habitat. Here's why.

No sooner had President Obama signed the bill ending the government shutdown than groups began putting their calculators to the cost of that terrible bit of politics to the nation's businesses. The figures quickly jumped into the double-digit billions. But while many of those businesses can regain lost revenue, sportsmen and others concerned about conservation will never recover from the impacts suffered. That's because every day we delay addressing the causes of lost fish and wildlife habitat means acres removed forever.

Case in point: As Congress was focused on political brinksmanship, the Obama administration's belated drive for restoring protections to 20 million acres of wetlands and tens of thousands of miles of stream sides removed by the Supreme Court was put on hold. Sixteen days of draining, dredging, and filling were added to the existing 12 years of destruction, since a majority of the justices were convinced by developers that the 1972 Congress never intended to protect wetlands such as prairie potholes that are not directly connected to navigable waterways.

And while the headlines were dominated by the name-calling and finger-pointing over politics, a critical piece of evidence supporting that drive to protect those wetlands got very little notice. The Environmental Protection Agency released its review of all the published science on the issue of whether so-called isolated and temporary wetlands are important to streams and water tables to which they have no surface connection. The consensus was a very loud, hard-to-miss yes.

Helen Neville, a research scientist for Trout Unlimited, said this during a teleconference organized by conservation groups: "Working primarily in the arid West, I can't over-emphasize the importance of small, connected and healthy headwater streams for a unique, iconic Western native trout species like the Lahontan cutthroat trout, and I commend the report authors for thorough science review of stream connectivity."

"The report is correct in saying that the effects of small water bodies in a watershed need to be considered in aggregate," added Joy Zedler, a professor of restoration ecology at University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Wetlands are essential to the physical, chemical and biological integrity of watersheds precisely because they work together to cleanse the water, abate the floods, recharge water supplies and store carbon. And we should not forget the ways in which aggregated wetlands serve biodiversity. This is especially true throughout the Prairie Pothole Region."

Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited, nicely summed up the report's findings: "Simply put, the Clean Water Act cannot work well if there is confusion about which waters are protected by its provisions and which are not. Key to answering this central water policy question is the science documenting the roles played by headwater streams and wetlands&emdash;resources that are central to fish, wildlife and our nation's invaluable sporting traditions&emdash;in the health of rivers, lakes and bays downstream."

Sportsmen should take the time to read the report, as well as the comments by top scientists at conservation Web sites.

And they should send an email to their congress people telling them to support the new effort to restore these protections being pushed by the Administration. Again, politics is part of the ecosystem supporting hunting and fishing. Whether we like it or not.

To find out who your reps arte and how to contact them, go to www.contactingthecongress.org.