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WETLANDS

What was once referred to as swamp land and dismissed as a dangerous eyesore is now considered to be a valuable asset for habitat maintenance. In fact, in 1989, former President Bush 41 declared a "no net loss" policy, meaning that if wetlands are destroyed, say, in a development project, then their loss must be offset by saving, restoring or creating a comparable amount of wetlands elsewhere.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Issues Wetlands Report

June 2006 - - The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-645) requires the Fish & Wildlife Service to produce national wetlands status and trend reports for the Congress at ten year intervals. The current report has just been issued: Status & Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous U.S. 1998 to 2004. The reports concludes that, "for the first time net wetlands gains, acquired through the contributions of restoration and creation activities, surpassed net wetland losses." On Earth Day 2004, President Bush announced a wetlands initiative that established a federal policy BEYOND "no net loss" of wetlands.

In addition to sustaining various flora, fauna and folk, wetlands support healthy fish populations by providing clean water, food production, spawning and nursery areas and refuge. Wetlands are "nature's kidneys" because they filter and purify our streams, rivers and waterways.

Supreme Court Considers Wetlands

Octorber 2005 - - The Supreme Court will rule on the government's authority to regulate wetlands and control pollution. The ruling could have implications for government authority in regulating construction in obviously environmentally sensitive areas and land that is not adjacent to water. The 1972 Clean Water Act involved in the Supreme Court cases draws its regulatory authority from the part of the Constitution that gives Congress power to regulate interstate commerce.

Justices will review a pair of cases involving projects in Michigan, one that is one mile away from a lake, and a second that is some 20 miles from a navigable river. The cases are Rapanos v. United States, 04-1034, Carabell v. Army Corps of Engineers, 04-1384, and S.D. Warren Co. v. ME Board of Environmental Protection, 04-1527.

The Army Corps of Engineers regulates work on wetlandsroughly 100 million acres of wetlands in the United States.

Florida Everglades

Despite the enactment four years ago of the federal Everglades Restoration Plan, America's largest wetland is most certainly not being restored. President Bush 43 pledged to restore a million acres of former wetlands across the country over the next five years, improve the quality of another million acres and save a million more acres of "at risk" wetlands. The U.S.has been destroying wetlands at a rate of 56,000 acres a year and the "no net loss" policy has not stopped wetlands from disappearing. The Army Corps of engineers and federal wetlands managers have been unable to do anything about it.

In 2000, Congress overwhelmingly passed the $7.8 billion Everglades restoration package that was less of an environmental triumph and more of a water-supply project for the sugar industry and Miami. President Bill Clinton signed the plan into law and President Bush reached an agreement with his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, "to make sure enough fresh water would go to the Everglades." This restoration project intends to let South Florida's waters flow in the traditional route - from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades Agricultural Area and Everglades National Park, and into Florida Bay just above the Keys. The Army Corps of Engineers was given a mandate by Congress to develop a restoration plan, but it instead came up with what it called a "re-study," which outlined all sorts of new water works.

While some of these projects would provide the Everglades with more water, the idea of restoring the area's original 40-mile-wide shallow flow that meandered over what is now sugar cane fields is being compromised. Big Sugar is exerting considerable influence over the Corps' plan. Florida's sugar industry farms nearly a million acres of the Everglades below Lake Okeechobee. Moreover, the sugar industry costs taxpayers nearly $2 billion a year in the form of tariffs on foreign sugar and subsidies to domestic growers. The result is that Congress is going to spend billions and the Everglades might not be adequately restored.

Interchurch Group Lends Weight to Coastal Restoration Campaign

Citing a biblical mandate to keep water clear, one of Louisiana's oldest interfaith groups called on its 15 member denominations, districts and dioceses to take on stewardship of Louisiana's wetlands and waters as a moral responsibility. The Ezekial 34 Initiative of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference is named for the biblical prophet Ezekiel, who threatened woe to shepherds who do not take care of their flocks. The interchurch group is urging Louisiana residents to learn about wetlands and water restoration efforts, and help organize and participate in such work. It also wants its members to press for more government money for wetlands restoration and urge political candidates to support the issue. 

The groups passed a resolution signed by all 25 of its board members including all seven Roman Catholic bishops, both Episcopal bishops and representatives for 12 other denominations plus Church Women United in Louisiana. The denominations range from the fundamentalist evangelical Church of Christ to the liberal, works-oriented United Church of Christ.  Joining them were members of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.  

Board members of the interfaith conference, created in 1970, have been board members for the coastal coalition since it was formed in 1988.  The interfaith conference notes that Louisiana has 40 percent of the nation's wetlands and that the coastal wetlands are being lost at a rate of about 24 square miles a year. It goes on to say that the loss of wetlands threatens livelihoods and economies that depend on the wetlands and makes storms and floods more dangerous.