In 1988 and 1992, the Department of the Interior sent two mandated reports to Congress on the effect that federal programs and subsidies have had on wetlands and the environment. These landmark reports identify federal programs which directly or indirectly promote the conversion, destruction, and degradation of important wetland areas. (For a partial list of subsidies found to have affected wetlands: Subsidies Affecting Wetlands.) Many of these programs are designed and financed in ways that violate the most basic principles of economics, distorting market signals and providing subsidies that have negative environmental and economic effects. Too often these programs have prompted development projects which would not have been undertaken in the absence of federal financial support.

Wetland Ecosystems Examined: In addition to examining the federal programs themselves, the reports assess the programs' effects in 19 important wetland ecosystems throughout the nation. The first of the two reports focusses on the bottomland hardwoods of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Plain and the prairie pothole region of the Upper Midwest. Volume II focusses on 17 areas, selected because they reflect the broad array of problems facing wetlands nationwide:

  • in the South, Florida's Everglades, coastal Louisiana, the Galveston Bay of Texas, and the Puerto Rican mangroves and coastal wetlands.
  • in the West, California's Central Valley, western riparian wetlands, and southeastern and western Alaska.
  • in the East, the Delmarva Peninsula (comprising parts of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia), North Carolina's pocosins and other freshwater wetlands, and northeastern New Jersey.
  • in the Midwest, Michigan's coastal and northern forested wetlands, and Nebraska's Rainwater Basin.

Nature of the Recommendations: Redesigning federal programs so that the beneficiaries pay their fair share of the costs would discourage inefficient development and conserve environmentally significant wetlands with a minimum of government involvement and economic disruption. In addition, such programmatic changes would promote a stronger, more competitive economy and reduce the federal deficit.

Although restricting federal financial support for unsound development is an important conservation tool, it is not a substitute for effective wetlands regulatory, restoration, and acquisition programs. Limiting federal financial support will help to protect the remaining resource base, but it cannot mitigate for lost wetlands or restore degraded ones. Further, in some instances, government subsidies are too small to influence investment decisions, and in other instances, development is so profitable that eliminating federal subsidies will not significantly reduce the rate of wetland conversion and degradation. Thus, the reports recommend a comprehensive strategy for wetland conservation, one that includes regulatory measures and acquisition programs to protect our existing wetlands base, restoration efforts to return damaged wetlands to productive condition, and the restructuring of federal financial incentives to discourage unwise development. (Essence of the recommendations.)

Major institutional changes can be very disruptive, and transitions are important in order to minimize this disruption. People make major investments based on federal programs and subsidies, and it is only fair that they be given an opportunity to adjust to significant changes. Not revising the programs and eliminating the subsidies, however, imposes an unfair burden on the rest of society. It is both inefficient and inequitable to ask taxpayers to finance activities which destroy and degrade wetlands and the environment. The reports emphasize the need for appropriate transitions to minimize disruptions that might come from the proposed institutional changes.

Among the major recommendations in the report are:

  • Redesign federal programs to phase out financial support for unsound economic development.
  • Finance new federal projects in a manner which insures that those who benefit pay their fair share of the costs.
  • Strengthen federal mitigation policies to ensure adequate and appropriate compensation for unavoidable, adverse, project impacts on wetlands.
  • Use performance bonds and wetland mitigation banking for more effective mitigation of wetland losses.

Ordering the Reports: The Department has made the second and more comprehensive of these reports available here on the Internet. Published copies of Volume II are available free from:
Publications Unit
National Conservation Training Center
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Route 1, Box 166
Shepherdstown, WVA 25443

or by calling 304-876-7203. Copies of Volume I are no longer available from the Department. However, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) has republished both volumes. Copies may be ordered from:

National Technical Information Service
5285 Port Royal Rd
Springfield, VA 22161

or by calling NTIS at 703-487-4650. NTIS order numbers and prices are: for Volume I, PB 96-143102, $27 and for Volume II, PB 96-143110, $44.50.

Return to Impact of Federal Programs on Wetlands Title Page
Go to Impact of Federal Programs on Wetlands Table of Contents
Return to United States Fish and Wildlife Service
Return to Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance