Focus of the Report

This is the second of two reports to Congress on the impact of Federal programs on wetlands.1 Volume I was submitted to Congress in 1988, and examined how Federal programs have affected wetlands in the bottomland hardwoods of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Plain and the prairie potholes of the Upper Midwest. Volume II focuses on 17 additional study areas, selected because they reflect the broad array of problems facing wetlands nationwide:

  • in the South, Florida's Everglades, coastal Louisiana, the alveston 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.
A map of the study areas for Volumes I and II appears in Chapter 2. (See Figure II-1.)

Volume II is divided into five parts. The four chapters in Part I describe the Federal programs affecting wetlands: agriculture; water development and management; infrastructure, local development, and housing; and resource use, extraction, and development. Parts II through V are organized regionally and examine the 17 study areas.


The Function of Wetlands Wetlands are a vital element in the biosphere and produce numerous benefits for society. They provide critical nursery habitat for many species of fish and wildlife. By temporarily storing large quantities of water, wetlands play an important role in reducing flooding problems and recharging ground water. They help to maintain water quality by filtering out pollutants and sediments, and serve to control erosion by trapping soil washed from nearby uplands. In addition, wetlands are a source of recreation, timber, and other natural products for commercial use. Federal, State, and private conservation actions have slowed but not stopped their disappearance and functional degradation.

The Nature and Extent of Wetland Losses One hundred and four million acres (47 percent) of the original 221 million acres of wetlands remain in the contiguous 48 States, accounting for 5.0 percent of the land area. Annual losses in the period mid-1970s to mid-1980s averaged 290,000 acres. There are approximately 170 million acres of wetlands in Alaska, with less than 0.1 percent lost over the last 200 years. Lost acreage alone, however, does not depict the full extent of the problem. Few wetlands are in pristine condition. Comprehensive studies of the extent of the degradation are only now beginning, however.2

Since the mid-1980s, indications are that wetland losses are slowing. From 1987 to 1990, programs to restore wetlands under the 1985 Food Security Act have added about 90.0 thousand acres to the Nation's wetlands inventory. Other programs to protect wetlands, like the Swampbuster provision of the Food Security Act, have generated support for conserving wetlands. In addition, public education and extension efforts have helped heighten our Nation's awareness of the values of wetlands.

Approximately three-fourths of the remaining wetlands in the continental United States are privately owned. Only about 0.5 percent of these have protective covenants on them. Furthermore, some wetland conversions are not covered by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (the principal Federal wetlands regulatory program).

The most important economic sector absorbing wetlands is the agricultural sector. As of 1985, 75 million acres of the nation's cropland had been developed by draining land. Significant portions of this drainage were conducted with Federal funds, loans, and technical assistance. Figure I-1 depicts land in organized drainage enterprises.



Source: USDA, Farm Drainage in the United States, and Prospects, ERS publications no. 1455, Washington, DC, 1987

Digging channels, depositing spoil, and constructing access roads destroys riparian vegetation and reduces or eliminates beneficial filtering, flood control, and erosion control capacity. Once in place, the channels drain wetlands, increasing the rate of runoff which can cause downstream erosion, flooding, and surges of nutrient-loaded water in sensitive coastal marshes.

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, wetland conversions to agricultural land uses accounted for 54.0 percent of the losses. This is an appreciable change from trends observed during the period mid-1950s to mid-1970s in which agricultural conversion represented 87.0 percent of all wetland losses. This percentage change reflects decreases in wetland acreage lost to agriculture rather than a significant increase in losses from other activities. Urban land use conversions accounted for about 5.0 percent of the wetlands lost from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, while conversions to "other" land uses accounted for 41.0 percent of the losses. A word of caution: the substantial portion of conversions classified as "other" is attributable to wetlands that have been cleared and drained, but not yet put to identifiable uses.

The Economics of Conversion That so much wetland conversion has occurred should not be surprising. The United States started with a great abundance of wetlands. With wetlands in abundance, other uses of the land were seen as more valuable. Land was considered to be more valuable when devoted to the production of market goods rather than left in its natural state, producing environmental services and amenities. Further, the initial conversions did relatively little environmental damage. Thus, even if the ecological functions of wetlands had initially been well understood and appreciated (and they usually were not), it would likely have been deemed to be in society's interest to convert wetlands during the early years of development.

As with all non-market commodities, however, it is difficult to determine the economic value of wetlands, and so there is no price signal indicating that the value of wetlands increases along with their scarcity and that they merit conservation. Therefore, the normal tendency of a private market is to encourage the conversion of wetlands to other uses. Wetlands constitute a classical example of market failure: the wetland owner generally cannot capture the benefits of his resource for his own use or sale. The flood protection benefits of wetlands accrue to others downstream. Many of the fish and wildlife that breed in and inhabit the wetlands migrate, and are captured or enjoyed by others. The ground water recharge and sediment trapping benefits cannot be commercially exploited. For the owner of a wetland to benefit economically from his resource, he usually has to alter it, convert it, and develop it.

The rate of conversion and development was not left to the determination of an unfettered, private market, however. Starting with the Swamp Lands Acts in 1849 and 1850, government actions supported the conversion and development of wetlands. The Swamp Lands Acts ceded millions of acres of swamp lands to the States with the proviso that the States sell the lands and use the proceeds for reclamation. Programs for flood control, drainage, irrigation, and hydroelectric power grew throughout the 20th century. The projects effected massive changes in the nation's hydrologic regime, and made it both technically feasible and financially attractive to develop the land.

Thus, in years past, the conversion and degradation of major acreages of wetland were the result of both concerted public policy and hundreds of thousands of decisions by people attempting to enhance their economic status. It is only recently that we have realized that wetlands have sufficient value in themselves to warrant preserving most of those remaining. In the interim, many of our wetland ecosystems have been heavily depleted and are now highly stressed. Thus, although early conversions may have been viewed as a wise use of resources, most wetlands whose conversion would be most lucrative have long been developed, and those remaining are both less desirable from a commercial perspective and more valuable environmentally.

The Current Federal Role

Today, there are a number of Federal programs designed to protect wetlands, but Federal policy is neither comprehensive nor consistent with respect to wetland use. Indeed, Federal programs affect wetlands in opposing ways. Some Federal programs encourage wetland conversion by reducing the cost, increasing the revenue, and/or reducing the risk of wetland development. Simultaneously, other Federal programs restrict or manage wetland use through a variety of techniques and programs: acquisition and easement; regulation; consultation among Federal agencies to identify and either avoid or mitigate the effects of agency actions; and reduction or withdrawal of Federal financial incentives to develop wetlands.

This report to Congress focuses primarily on the last of these approaches to wetland conservation. Although more vigorous regulation or increased acquisition would preserve more wetlands, these approaches could be costly. The Administration prefers redesigning Federal programs which produce undesired effects on wetlands to additional land acquisition or regulation. This strategy has several appealing features:
  • It discourages economically inefficient and environmentally unsound development.
  • It promotes a stronger, more competitive economy by modifying Federal programs which distort market signals and hamper initiative.
  • It fosters Federal budgetary savings at a time of large deficits.
  • It conserves environmentally significant wetlands with a minimum of Federal involvement and economic disruption.
Although restricting Federal financial support for unsound development cannot be relied on as the only conservation tool, it should be among the first approaches to the problem of wetland loss. Many Federal programs that affect wetlands are designed and financed in a way that violates the beneficiary-pay principle of public finance. They distort market signals and provide subsidies that have had negative environmental effects. Optimally, these programs should be redesigned in order to present those who benefit from the programs and projects with the full cost of their activities. Volume II takes a broad look at over 35 Federal programs implicated in wetland decline, illustrating the range of effects that Federal activities can have on wetland ecosystems.

Findings and Conclusions

The following discussion summarizes the background information, findings, and conclusions for the 17 study areas. For each area, the principal causes of wetland loss and functional degradation are identified, and recommendations for future wetland protection are listed. It should be noted that the recommendations are selective, with the purpose of giving the reader insight into the direction of the recommended approach to the problems identified. For the complete set of recommendations, the reader should refer to the end of each area chapter in Parts II through V.

Florida Everglades

  1. Description and Importance
    • The Everglades hosts a highly diverse spectrum of aquatic birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
    • The Everglades protects the Biscayne Aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for the Miami area, by recharging the ground water, filtering out pollutants, and preventing saltwater intrusion.
  2. Extent and Source of Losses
    • The Everglades originally stretched about 100 miles from the southern end of Lake Okeechobee down to the tidal estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay. At the turn of the century, the Everglades encompassed over 2.3 million acres of wetlands. By the mid-1970s, about 1.1 million acres (48 percent) of the original acreage remained. Much of the remaining wetlands is functionally degraded.
    • An altered water regime, initially designed to support agriculture and increasingly utilized to support residential development, has been a major cause of wetland decline.
  3. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Federal drainage and flood control projects which alter the natural water regime have had the greatest impact on the Everglades. The Federal Government has financed 80 percent of the cost of constructing the Central and South Florida Flood Control Project which provides drainage and flood control for agriculture.
    • Agricultural programs and incentives for residential development have led to the filling of wetlands and increased the pressure for Federal flood control and drainage efforts.
    • Federal funds for highways and airports have helped to establish the infrastructure for expanded residential development.
  4. Agriculture Programs
    • Federal agricultural programs prominent in the Everglades are: construction of a system of secondary canals for farm drainage; below market rate operating and ownership loans; crop insurance at subsidized rates; price supports and import restrictions for sugarcane; and citrus and dairy marketing orders.3
    • The Swampbuster provision of the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended is almost completely ineffective in deterring the conversion of wetlands to sugarcane, because the most important subsidies for sugarcane (price supports passed through sugar processors and import quotas on sugar) are not among Swampbuster's sanctions.
  5. Urban Development and Transportation Programs
    • Tax deductibility of mortgage interest and property taxes, mortgage insurance, flood insurance, and low interest loans for expanding the supply of electricity are the principal Federal programs that support residential development in the Everglades.
    • The Federal Government provides 90 percent of the funds for Federal highway construction and 75 percent of the funds for other roads.
  6. Recommendations
    • To protect the Everglades from further conversion and impaired water quality, activities such as dredging, filling, and subsidization that support existing development and foster new growth would have to be restrained, and regulation of wetland use would have to be more inclusive and vigorous.
    • Tie Swampbuster requirements to price support loans and the maintenance of marketing allotments for sugar. (Marketing allotments are the amounts of sugar that any processor can market within the U.S., and thus receive the artificially high domestic price for sugar.)
    • For almost a year, the Department has been negotiating with the agricultural parties who have challenged the 1991 settlement agreement of the United States' suit of the State for water quality violations. If these negotiations fail to provide an acceptable arrangement for restoring water quality to the Everglades, Congress should consider restructuring the import quotas for sugar in order to promote a solution.
    • Explore the possibility of denying Federal program benefits to industries, regions, or States found in violation of water pollution control standards.
    • Consider having all Federal agencies assess the effects of their programs on wetlands and, to the extent feasible, minimize adverse impacts.
Coastal Louisiana
  1. Description and Importance
    • Coastal Louisiana is heavily endowed with wetlands: 2.5 million acres of marshes (fresh, brackish, and saline) and 637,400 acres of forested wetlands. It contains about 40 percent of the coastal marshes in the coterminous United States.
    • This network of wetlands supports a fishery which accounts for 28 percent (by volume) of the total catch of U.S. fisheries. It also provides winter habitat for one-half to two-thirds of the Mississippi Flyway waterfowl population.
  2. Extent of the Loss
    • Coastal Louisiana contained 4.07 million acres of wetlands at the turn of the century. From 1900 to 1978 Coastal Louisiana lost about 22 percent (901,200 acres) of its wetlands, with 3.17 million acres remaining in 1978. At least 300,000 acres are estimated to have been lost since 1978.
    • Louisiana loses approximately 35 to 37 square miles of coastal wetlands annually. This is one of the Nation's most serious wetland problems.
  3. Sources of Loss
    • A combination of natural and human factors have caused the wetland decline.
    • Natural factors contributing to the loss of wetlands include: subsidence, erosion due to storms, and the rise in sea level.4
    • Historically, sediment deposition from the Mississippi River worked to offset any losses and replenish the wetlands. In the last century, however, dams and levees built along the Mississippi River have altered this process, preventing sediments from reaching the coastal plains.
    • Approximately three-fourths of Louisiana's recent coastal wetland loss takes the form of conversion to open water and is attributable to subsidence, erosion, and canal dredging for oil and gas pipelines. Human factors, particularly levee construction along the Mississippi River, have accelerated subsidence and erosion of wetlands. Other primary causes of wetland loss include spoil disposal and conversion to urban/industrial development. Agricultural drainage and miscellaneous factors account for a small percentage of recent coastal losses.
  4. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Flood control and navigation projects have been the major cause of wetland loss in Louisiana. These projects have been almost entirely federally financed.
    • To a lesser extent, Federal hurricane protection and highway projects have had an impact.
    • A number of economic incentives offered by the Federal Government have served to increase profits and led to increased wetland conversion for: oil and gas development (tax benefits in the form of oil and gas depletion allowances and the expensing, as opposed to capitalizing, of intangible drilling costs); urban growth (flood insurance, mortgage insurance, low income housing, highway construction), and agriculture (price supports, low interest loans, disaster payments). The advent of Swampbuster has greatly diminished agricultural losses, however, and compensatory mitigation is routinely required for urban development in wetlands as a condition for State and Federal permits.
    • As a result of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act of 1990, a task force of State and Federal agencies is preparing a comprehensive plan to address Louisiana's problem with coastal wetland loss. The Act provides for funding to implement wetland restoration projects approved by the task force. Without aggressive action to reverse the trend, the rate of loss of coastal wetlands in Louisiana will doubtless continue.
  5. Recommendations
    • Proceed with construction of two authorized but uncompleted water diversion projects: Lake Pontchartrain and Davis Pond. These projects would restore a small percentage of the freshwater and some sediment lost as a result of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&T). They are an essential first step in reducing the coastal losses.
    • Consider expanding the Corps' Civil Works Program to protect, create, restore, and enhance wetlands in Coastal Louisiana. The Corps now has numerous authorities to construct or modify projects to benefit wetlands.
    • Evaluate the revenue and industry import of eliminating the Federal income tax deductions in wetland areas for oil depletion allowances granted to independent producers and for intangible costs associated with drilling.
    • Consider developing a performance-bond approach for the mitigation of wetland losses. Under this approach, environmental standards are established for permittees to meet. Simultaneously, permittees must post performance bonds sufficient to cover the cost of restoration, penalties, and the Government's administrative costs in the event the standards are not met.
    • Consider establishing stronger mitigation requirements within the regulatory programs, reflecting the quality and functional values of affected wetlands. As a first step in the implementation of the goal of no net loss of wetlands, the Corps and EPA have begun to strengthen the mitigation program.
    • Consider suspending Federal subsidization and support for urban development in environmentally significant wetlands, e.g., funds for low income housing, mortgage insurance, and National Flood Insurance.
    • Consider having all Federal agencies assess the effects of their programs on wetlands and, to the extent feasible, minimize adverse impacts.
Galveston Bay of Texas
  1. Description and Importance
    • This region contains highly valuable marine resources and habitat for waterfowl, and supports the most productive commercial and sports fisheries on the Texas coast.
    • The Bay's wetlands buffer inland areas from storm waves and tidal surges and treat runoff waste from agricultural, urban, and industrial sources.
  2. Extent and Sources of Loss and Degradation
    • From the mid-1950s through the 1970s, the Galveston Bay area lost about 1,110 acres annually to open water. The rate of loss appears constant, except when exacerbated by hurricanes or tropical storms.
    • The cumulative loss and the rate of loss are significant. However, the chief wetland problem in the region is water quality degradation. Pollutants have exceeded the natural assimilative capacity of the area, resulting in a decline in the quality of wetlands.
    • The key factors currently contributing to wetland decline are: industrial development, including oil and gas development and refining; urbanization; navigation channels; flood control and multipurpose water projects; and pollution due to industrial, urban, and agricultural runoff.
    • The Galveston Bay Region is home to the largest petrochemical capacity in the world and the most important supply of natural gas in the nation. The attendant pollution has seriously altered the wetlands.
    • The Houston-Galveston area is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the U.S. Urban runoff adds significantly to wetland loss and functional degradation in the area.
    • Agriculture based on rice and cattle accounted for most of the early loss of the region's wetlands. Although agriculture's influence has diminished, farm runoff and nonpoint discharges together with an altered hydrology due to farm drainage ditches continue to affect these wetlands.
  3. Impact of Federal Programs
    • The major Federal construction activities that impair the area's wetlands stem from multipurpose flood control and navigation projects. These projects not only promote development, but also concentrate and speed contaminants to the bay system.
    • The Federal Government provides incentives for urban development that affects wetlands.
    • Federal programs for constructing and providing technical assistance for drainage ditches have destroyed wetlands in the past, but no longer seem to have a major impact, as a result of program changes in response to Executive Order 11990.
    • Although industrial and urban development receive some impetus from Federal funds, the major Federal activity influencing the region's water quality is regulation. Protecting water quality through the regulatory process presents many problems.
  4. Recommendations
    • Examine the current approach to the regulation of water quality, particularly the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), as it pertains to wetland impacts and develop a more effective system of pollution control. In many areas, degradation of water quality is an even more serious problem than loss of wetland acreage. (See recommendation 3 in Chapter 9 for specifics.)
    • The Galveston Bay National Estuary Program is close to completing a comprehensive study and management plan addressing all Federal, State, and local programs affecting the biological integrity of the Galveston Bay Estuary. All Federal environmental evaluation documents (Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements) should disclose whether proposed projects are in compliance with the forthcoming Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Galveston Bay.
    • Have Federal agencies assess the effects of their programs on wetlands. Where feasible, agencies should minimize the adverse effects of their programs on wetlands. Where this proves infeasible, agencies should be prepared to explain why it is not feasible.
    • Consider suspending Federal programs which subsidize or support urban development projects that destroy wetlands, e.g., funds for mortgage insurance and national flood insurance. (A subsidy-free zone would correct market distortions by such programs. The distortions add to developmental pressures in these wetlands.)
    • Encourage development of integrated crop management approaches to agriculture. High levels of fertilization and pesticide use can be reduced by making different technologies more readily available.
Puerto Rican Coast 5
  1. Description and Importance
    • Puerto Rico has several varieties of wetlands, but mangrove forests, found along tropical and subtropical shores, are the primary wetlands at risk.
    • Mangroves serve several important functions, including: rapid formation of biomass which helps to sustain life in nearby marine environments; habitat for birds, fish and invertebrates; and protection against erosion and wave damage, particularly during tropical storms.
    • Historically, estuaries covered 60,000 acres in Puerto Rico, with about half of the area being mangroves. The most recent estimate of mangroves in 1974 put the remaining acreage at 16,029 acres, about 53 percent of the original total.
  2. Impact of Development
    • In the past, mangrove and upland deforestation resulted from the demand for fuel by households and large sugarcane mills. Drainage for sugarcane and malaria control reduced wetlands in the early 20th century. By the 1940s, canals, dikes, and pumps had altered hydrological patterns.
    • Programs aimed at transforming Puerto Rico from an agrarian to an industrial economy had a significant impact on the region's wetlands during the 1950s and 1960s.
    • Economic development and housing projects, often justified as a way to relieve the chronic 15 to 20 percent unemployment rate, are the greatest threat to coastal wetlands. Development pressure in the form of resorts, marinas, vacation homes, housing projects, and industrial facilities has sharply increased since 1985.
    • Existing regulatory programs and pre-development consultation policies have not stemmed construction in mangroves and coastal wetlands. Abandoned projects and unoccupied buildings attest to the poor planning that has occurred.
  3. The Federal Role
    • Federal economic incentives play a major role in promoting development activities which affect Puerto Rico's wetlands.
    • Most significant seem to be flood insurance, federally insured home mortgages, and flood control projects, followed by transportation projects, grants offered by the Economic Development Administration, tax code provisions allowing the deduction of interest on second homes, and income tax exemptions for companies locating in the islands.
    • Without this Federal support many of the development projects would not have gone forward. Despite subsidies and numerous Federal programs, the unemployment rate remains relatively constant.
    • The Corps' regulatory office in San Juan appears to be understaffed to handle the case load, and penalties are insufficient to serve as meaningful deterrents to continued illegal fills. Further, the Environmental Protection Agency office responsible for Puerto Rico is located in New York, and is equally overburdened.
  4. Recommendations
    • Deny flood insurance and disaster assistance to communities which do not enforce floodplain management ordinances.
    • Revise the flood insurance program in Puerto Rico to take account of the flood control capacity of wetlands and to comply with the program's own regulations requiring protection of mangroves in areas subject to high wave velocity.
    • Strengthen the enforcement program of the Corps of Engineers in response to illegal filling of wetlands.
    • Consider amending the Coastal Barrier Resources Act to provide for automatic inclusion in the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS) of "otherwise protected areas" whose protective covenants are violated.
    • Encourage HUD to require grant recipients to provide documentation of coordination with resource and regulatory agencies and of concurrence by these agencies that grant recipients fulfilled their environmental responsibilities.
California's Central Valley
  1. Description and Importance
    • The wetlands of the Central Valley provide wintering habitat for 19 percent of the wintering waterfowl in the continental United States. They support some of the highest densities of wintering waterfowl in the country. Nationally, they are the highest priority wetlands for preservation of wintering habitat.
    • The Central Valley contains 8 national wildlife refuges and 4 State wildlife management areas, totalling 86,700 acres, much of which is wetlands.
    • These wetlands help to maintain ecosystem productivity by detaining and slowly releasing flood waters, recharging aquifers, stabilizing shorelines, and filtering sediments and pollutants from agricultural activities.
  2. Extent of Loss
    • In the mid-1800s, the Central Valley had an estimated 4.1 to 5 million acres of permanent, seasonal, and tidal wetlands, including freshwater and brackish marshes and riparian areas.
    • By 1939, Central Valley wetlands had been reduced to approximately 619,000 acres. These losses preceded the construction of the Central Valley Project. Losses were primarily the result of agricultural activities, as well as diking and levee construction in the Delta.
    • In the mid-1980s, about 379,000 acres of wetlands existed in the Central Valley, approximately six to nine percent of the original complement. Few of these wetlands remained in their natural state.
  3. Source of Loss
    • The conversion of wetlands to agricultural lands accounts for the loss of over 90 percent of the original wetlands in the Central Valley. To a far lesser extent, these wetlands compete with municipal and industrial development. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that less than 0.8 percent of the wetland losses in the Central Valley since 1939 were due to urban development.
    • In the Central Valley, there are 15 Federal and 25 State and private dams with capacities of 75,000 acre-feet or more. Water development and management (flood control, drainage, irrigation, and storage for a variety of purposes) has permitted the growth of an agricultural economy that accounts for an estimated six percent (by value) of the Nation's agricultural output.
    • Water development and agricultural activity have altered the remaining wetlands so that they, like agriculture, depend on managed water regimes.
    • Prior to passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992 (CVPIA), publicly-held wetlands had no reliable source of water of acceptable quality, delivered on a timely basis.6 In many areas, wetland managers have come to rely on irrigation drainwater to support wetland resources. Drainwater is often contaminated with pesticides, leached salts, and trace elements.
    • Population in the Valley is expected to grow from 4.5 to 7.5 million by the year 2010. Increasingly, the region is attracting new businesses and industries. Large numbers of people are electing to live there and commute to work in the Bay area. This growth competes with wetlands and other uses for water.
  4. Impact of Federal Programs
    • The major Federal factors causing wetland decline in the Central Valley have been subsidized water development (flood control, drainage, storage, and distribution), technical assistance, and research, along with farm price and income support programs.7
    • In the Central Valley, about 1.15 million acres which receive federally subsidized water are planted in surplus crops like rice and cotton.
    • Among agriculture programs, the income and price support programs have probably had the greatest impact on the wetlands, but the legislative reforms in the 1985 and 1990 Farm Bills significantly reduced the influence of these programs. The distorting effects from a number of other agricultural programs (e.g., marketing orders) remain, however.
    • In the absence of water subsidies there would have been far less agricultural development in the Valley.
    • Historically, water development and agricultural programs have been among the most important factors leading to wetland decline, groundwater depletion, and degradation of the water quality in the Central Valley.
    • The CVPIA dramatically alters the way in which water and the environment are managed in the Central Valley. The Act institutes a number of water pricing reforms, establishing an increasing block rate structure and imposing user fees to pay for protection and restoration of the environment. The CVPIA directs the Secretary to provide reliable, clean water supplies to publicly-owned wetlands and refuges, with water deliveries growing over time to meet specified wetland restoration and enhancement goals.
    • The CVPIA will not solve all the wetland problems in the Central Valley. The Act primarily addresses the water needs of publicly-owned wetlands, which account for less than one-fourth of the Valley's wetlands.
    • The CVPIA also addresses the issue of drainwater contamination by requiring that amended or renewed CVP contracts contain provisions requiring contractors to comply with State and Federal water quality standards for agricultural drainwater.
  5. Ineffectiveness of Swampbuster
    • Normally, in an area where participation rates in Federal agricultural programs are high, one would expect Swampbuster to significantly reduce the attractiveness of converting wetlands to agriculture. This is not so in the Central Valley.
    • Swampbuster is likely to be almost completely ineffective in this region, because Sec. 1222(a) of the Food Security Act of 1985 provides an exemption for "artificial wetlands," and almost all the remaining wetlands in the Central Valley fall into this category.
  6. Recommendations
    • On future construction, eliminate the interest subsidy for irrigation in Reclamation law, as well as the use of hydropower revenues to repay a portion of irrigation capital costs. The subsidies were designed to encourage settlement of the arid west by small family farmers. Today the goal of populating the west with small family farms is obsolete. Consideration should be given to amending the law to reflect changed social, economic, and environmental conditions.
    • Consider charging persons who alter Central Valley wetlands the full cost for water from the CVP.
Western Riparian Wetlands
  1. Importance
    • Western riparian areas and wetlands have great significance for certain functions (such as wildlife habitat) because of the arid climates in which they are found.
    • They slow flood waters; aid in erosion control through shoreline protection and dissipation of the energy force of currents; trap sediments; and improve water quality by filtering pollutants from upland sources.
  2. Extent of Loss
    • Nationwide, 60 to 75 percent of riparian wetlands have been converted to other uses, whereas in the West estimates are that some riparian areas have declined by as much as 90 to 95 percent.
    • Surveys of the riparian areas remaining within western public rangelands are incomplete, but thus far the evidence indicates that most are not in healthy, fully functioning condition or functioning, but vulnerable.
  3. Sources of Loss and Degradation
    • Poorly managed livestock grazing is among the leading factors responsible for riparian wetland degradation in the West.
    • Water projects (multipurpose reservoirs, small hydroelectric projects, and small diversions for irrigation) are a leading cause of riparian wetland loss. Both the construction of the projects and the way in which they are managed and maintained have significant effects on riparian areas.
    • "Vegetation management" in connection with water projects (mowing, burning, clearing, or spraying of plants in riparian and upland areas) ranks behind grazing and water projects as a factor responsible for western riparian wetland decline. Historically, the practice was much more prevalent than it is now. Vegetation management is conducted to maintain floodways, expand pasture and cropland, and help control the Rio Grande River in order to maintain a constant border between the United States and Mexico. At one time vegetation management was practiced extensively to conserve water for irrigation and municipal use. Recent studies have cast doubt on the extent of the water conservation benefits associated with vegetation removal. As a result, the Bureau of Reclamation is not currently using vegetation management to salvage water.
    • Timber harvesting and associated road building as well as mining and sand and gravel extraction affect wetland acreage and water quality in the region.
  4. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Federal involvement accompanies each of the activities discussed above: livestock grazing; water projects, such as multipurpose dams built primarily for irrigating the arid west; agricultural programs that subsidize certain crops; small hydroelectric facilities; small diversion projects; "vegetation management;" below-cost timber sales; and special tax provisions for mining.
    • Federal land management and water resources development agencies have not adequately protected riparian areas because of conflicting developmental responsibilities, e.g., grazing, agricultural irrigation, electric power development, and resource extraction.
    • The grazing programs conducted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service have been criticized for exceeding the carrying capacity of some parts of the range, especially in riparian wetlands.
    • In 1988, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that ranchers have generally resisted efforts to improve riparian areas and have effectively opposed restrictions on their livestock's access to riparian areas. GAO also noted a Federal agency bias towards ranchers and against riparian area protection at the management level (GAO/RCED-88-105).
    • BLM has acknowledged deficiencies in its program. In order to address these problems, BLM has adopted a formal riparian policy, and has completed an analysis of the resources needed to implement the new policy. The analysis provides a blueprint for future riparian wetland management; it outlines goals, strategies, and funding requirements. BLM has already begun implementation of its new policy, and has set a goal of restoring 75 percent of the riparian wetland areas under its jurisdiction to proper functioning condition by 1997.
    • The Forest Service is implementing a national strategy for protecting, restoring, and managing riparian ecosystems, as well. The program includes the assessment of riparian condition, modification of existing Land and Resource Management Plans, and restoration of riparian functions and values throughout the Nation Forest System.
    • As one of its principal resource management initiatives, the Administration intends to make major revisions to regulations and policies governing rangeland management. The Department anticipates publishing proposed rules in 1994. Principal items addressed in the proposed rule are: increasing the grazing fee; incorporating newly developed stewardship responsibilities as terms and conditions of all permits and leases; making an applicant's history of compliance with grazing statutes and rules a paramount consideration for renewal of permits or granting of new leases; imposing a surcharge on revenues from subleasing; and providing for expeditious enforcement of field manager decisions regarding violators.
    • The Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), and the Soil Conservation Service all construct multipurpose water projects that alter water regimes and produce major changes in water flows that affect riparian areas and the species that depend upon them. Although there has been modest improvement in recent years in the manner in which these projects are financed, they remain heavily subsidized.
    • Subsidized irrigation water is used to grow crops that are eligible for Federal agricultural subsidies, including price and income supports. The production of wool and mohair is also subsidized with price and income supports.
    • The Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps, the IBWC, and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) have all conducted extensive vegetation management programs. The Bureau no longer engages in this activity for water conservation. The ASCS continues to subsidize vegetation management on private lands; the Corps uses it to maintain the water-transport capacity of floodways; and the IBWC maintains 50,000 acres devoid of native vegetation in its efforts to control the location of the Rio Grande.
    • Because of the arid climates in which they are located, Western riparian areas frequently have a proportionately greater significance than wetlands and riparian areas elsewhere in the United States. Yet riparian areas in the West often do not qualify technically as wetlands for purposes of regulation under section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
  5. Recommendations
    • Fund Federal water projects affecting wetlands in accordance with the benefit principle of public finance, i.e., each beneficiary should bear the cost (including interest costs and any wetland opportunity costs) of generating his benefits.
    • Consider eliminating Federal financial incentives for the construction of small water diversion projects. The resulting irrigation is a private activity; there are no public benefits for which taxpayers should be responsible. Further, the subsidy conflicts with other conservation goals, including protection of riparian wetlands.
    • Re-examine the use of Federal funds for "vegetation management" associated with water projects.
    • Consider having all Federal assistance programs comply with the conservation, mitigation, and reporting requirements contained in the Electric Consumers Protection Act (ECPA). ECPA requires that a project: must not have significant adverse effects on the environment; cannot adversely affect a wild or scenic river; and must comply with recommendations made by the resource protection agencies, or the sponsoring agency must explain why this is not possible in terms of the primary agency mission.
    • As part of its technical review of wetland delineation issues, ask the National Academy of Sciences to examine the feasibility of developing delineation procedures for western riparian areas.
Southeastern Alaska
  1. Description and Importance
    • About 4.9 million acres (25 percent) of the 18 million acres of land in Southeastern Alaska are classified as wetlands.
    • The region is environmentally rich, containing: the Tongass National Forest; 21,000 miles of tidal shoreline; over 2500 important anadromous fish streams, which support an internationally renowned salmon fishery; and a wide variety of wildlife.
  2. Extent and Source of Losses
    • Urban development and logging are the principal sources of wetland loss and functional degradation in the region. Wetland effects of logging can result from clearcutting, construction of logging roads, and the building and use of transfer sites for transporting logs by waterways. Once vegetation reestablishes itself in a logged area, there may not be any reduction in wetland values, but in the interim erosion can produce environmental effects.
    • The direct loss of wetlands has been small. Only about 2300 acres of Southeastern Alaska's wetlands have disappeared as a direct result of logging. However, the logging has produced some erosion and subsequent siltation of wetlands and streams.
  3. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Large-scale logging in the Tongass began in the 1950s, when the Forest Service attracted two companies with fifty-year timber contracts. The principal output is pulp for shipment to the Orient.
    • The major incentives to log the Tongass stemmed from mandatory harvesting provisions in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA) and the price-setting policies utilized by the Forest Service.
    • ANILCA stimulated logging by mandating that the Forest Service make 4.5 billion board feet (bbf) available for sale and harvest from the Tongass every decade. In 1990, Congress passed the Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA) which rescinded this mandate and ordered that competitive prices dictate the level of harvesting.
    • The TTRA ended the non-competitive nature of the pricing practices on the Tongass, terminated some timbering subsidies, and mandated that logging be conducted in a more environmentally sound manner.
  4. Recommendations
    • FY94 appropriations for the Forest Service mandates a habitat protection study for the Tongass National Forest. Depending upon the results of this study, consider expanding the buffer-zones (like those required in the Tongass Timber Reform Act) to cover all streams which can affect the water quality of anadromous fish habitat.
Western Alaska
  1. Description and Importance
    • The landscape of western Alaska is very diverse. It ranges from the rugged fjords of Prince William Sound to the rolling, treeless terrain of the Bering Sea coast, from the vast taiga muskeg of the interior to the flat expanse of the tundra underlain by permafrost that constitutes the Arctic coastal plain.
    • About 47 percent of an estimated 355 million acres of lands in western Alaska is classified as wetlands.
  2. Extent and Sources of Loss
    • The major causes of wetland loss in western Alaska are from oil and gas development on the North Slope, placer mining along the rivers and streams of the interior, and urban development and development of transportation corridors.
    • Less than one percent of the wetlands in western Alaska have been lost as a direct result of oil and gas activities, mining, and urban development.
  3. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Two provisions of the Federal tax code specific to the oil and gas industry have helped to make development in Alaska more lucrative: the oil and gas depletion allowance and the expensing, as opposed to capitalizing, of intangible drilling costs. Since 1975, only independent producers have been eligible for the depletion allowance. There are very few independents operating in Alaska. Further, oil development has been so profitable in Alaska that neither of these tax provisions is likely to have significantly altered the nature of the industry or its impact on wetlands.
    • To the extent that there is a subsidy to placer mining, it derives from the absence of any fee for access to hard-rock minerals on public lands. Largely through increased enforcement efforts, placer mining operations in Alaska are beginning to comply with water quality regulations.
    • The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is located just east of Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope. The petroleum industry has shown considerable interest in ANWR. In 1987, then Secretary of the Interior Hodel recommended to Congress that the coastal plain of ANWR be opened to full petroleum exploration and development. Environmental organizations have made the prevention of leasing and development in ANWR a central feature of their agenda. The Administration is on record as opposing leasing in ANWR.
  4. Recommendations
    • Consider having mine operators submit mining plans prior to initiating mining activities. This allows resource managers and regulatory authorities time to review plans, reduce potential effects, and increase the likelihood of post-mining reclamation.
    • Consider developing a performance-bond approach for the mitigation of wetland losses. Under this approach, environmental standards are established for permittees to meet. Simultaneously, permittees must post performance bonds sufficient to cover the cost of restoration, penalties, and the Government's administrative costs in the event the standards are not met.
    • Strengthen the mitigation requirements within the regulatory programs to ensure adequate compensation for project impacts to wetlands.
    • Expand the joint industry-government efforts to develop more effective methods for restoring and rehabilitating damaged and functionally degraded wetlands. Recent cooperative efforts in both the petroleum and mining industries have shown promise.
Delmarva Peninsula
  1. Description and Importance
    • The Delmarva Peninsula is bounded by the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Chesapeake Bay on the west. Due to the flat topography, runoff has been slow, forming a rich network of wetlands connected by perennial or intermittent streams.
    • These wetlands intercept and filter agricultural runoff and provide food and habitat for a great diversity of species.
  2. Extent and Sources of Loss
    • Between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s, the average annual wetland loss in Delaware was 1600 acres, in Maryland 1000 acres, and in Virginia 3000 acres.
    • Inland wetland losses stem primarily from agricultural activities. Drainage for agriculture and channelization of streams to carry surface water to Chesapeake Bay tributaries account for over two-thirds of the freshwater wetland losses. Creation of stock ponds and filling for urban development account for much of the rest.
    • The loss of coastal wetlands is caused primarily by draining and filling for urban development.
  3. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Federal agricultural programs have had a major impact on the decline of inland wetlands and have promoted conversion of shallow wetlands to ponds for migratory waterfowl and cattle. Pond development is often conducted with State and/or Federal financial and technical assistance.
    • The Small Watershed Program (PL-566) has had the greatest effect on the Peninsula. It provides technical assistance and construction money to local watershed management groups for small watershed protection, flood prevention, and agricultural and nonagricultural water management projects. Improving agricultural productivity on existing lands and creating incentives for agricultural expansion have been among the program's principal goals. Historically, this was accomplished mainly by building drainage channels. The program has been instrumental in changing the hydrologic regime and the ecology of the region. Although the PL-566 program is evolving and becoming more environmentally sensitive, it continues to be a matter of concern in some areas, including Delmarva.
    • Swampbuster may reduce some agricultural conversion. However, much of Delmarva's cropland is devoted to corn for the poultry industry. Poultry producers are often integrated operations which grow their own corn and do not participate in the commodity programs. The effectiveness of Swampbuster to restrain wetland loss is diminished by the lack of participation.
    • Federally insured mortgages, tax deductions for second homes, and flood insurance have offered indirect incentives to urban development.
    • The interaction between these Federal programs adds to the cumulative wetland losses in the Delmarva area.
  4. Recommendations
    • Deauthorize the PL-566 small watershed projects authorized before 1980 or substantially modify them to effect more environmental sensitivity and mitigation. Small watershed projects undertaken after 1980 are subject to much more stringent environmental constraints.
    • Eliminate Federal funding and technical assistance for the conversion of freshwater or tidal wetlands to ponds for waterfowl, sediment control, or cattle.
The Pocosins of North Carolina
  1. Description and Importance
    • Found in the southeastern Atlantic coastal plain, pocosins are nutrient-poor, forested or shrub wetlands that evolved over the past 10,000 years due to blocked drainage and peat accumulation.
    • These wetlands serve as the last refuge for many upland and floodplain species requiring large blocks of habitat.
    • They stabilize estuaries by controlling the rate of freshwater flow, thereby regulating salinity. Much of the State's commercial fishery depends on this estuarine regime.
  2. Extent and Source of Loss
    • Originally, North Carolina is estimated to have had 11.1 million acres of wetlands of which 2.5 million acres were natural pocosins. As of the 1940s, about 90 percent of the original acreage remained.
    • Since the 1950s, forestry and drainage for agriculture have caused a fairly steady decline. Between 1973 and 1983, North Carolina lost 1.2 million acres of wetlands, and stood out among all southeastern States with the highest net loss of wetlands.
    • By 1980, only about 695,000 acres (31 percent) of the original 2.5 million acres of pocosins remained in their natural state. A third of the original acreage had been totally converted, and 36 percent had been partially altered or was scheduled for development by the owners.
  3. Status and Prospects
    • Intensive, softwood plantation forestry, peat mining, and agriculture represent the major threats to North Carolina's remaining freshwater and forested wetlands. The severity of the threats depends largely on market conditions.
    • The area has lost two-thirds of its wetlands and has numerous government programs operating within its environs which distort incentives in favor of conversion and development. Nevertheless, the Pocosins is less threatened than most of the other study areas examined in this report. This is due largely to: market economic conditions which make conversion (at least temporarily) unprofitable, legislative reforms in the 1985 and 1990 Farm Bills which significantly diminished the incentives in Federal agricultural law to convert wetlands to cropland, and a revitalized regulatory program.
    • The current low price of oil has dampened the interest in developing peat for methanol or for generating electricity. However, demand is likely to change under certain conditions: if prices for alternative fuels rise; air pollution regulations increase the costs associated with power generation from coal; the demand for farmland increases; or the price of land with wet soils declines.
    • The depressed agricultural economy has reduced wetland conversions. However, commodity markets are cyclical, and the eventual recovery will increase the pressure on wetlands.
    • The forestry industry is also depressed, but long-term, worldwide expectations are for a growing scarcity of wood and increasing timber prices.
  4. The Federal Role
    • Federal economic incentives for forestry, agriculture, flood control, peat mining and transportation have encouraged the conversion of freshwater wetlands in North Carolina.
    • Silviculture benefits from cost sharing and tax concessions for replanting. Prior to the 1986 Tax Reform Act, 60 percent of forestry capital gains were exempt from taxation. The 1986 Act eliminated this provision.
    • Prior to 1985 and the advent of Swampbuster, the principal agricultural benefits that affected wetlands in the region were price and income supports, crop insurance, and low interest production loans.
    • Small watershed projects (multipurpose dams, stream channelization, drainage, and flood control) directly altered the region's hydrology and made conversions feasible.
    • Incentives for peat mining include Government guarantees for some uses of the product, federally sponsored research, and special tax deductions.
    • Wetland impacts have been systematically underestimated by highway planners, and there has been less than complete mitigation for the effects of highway construction. In an effort to address the latter problem, the State has recently funded a mitigation bank.
    • The 404 program has had a turbulent history in the Pocosins during the last decade, resulting in a disrupted and poorly implemented program. Many wetlands were filled or significantly altered without permits. Following judicial action and administrative changes, the problems seem well on the way toward resolution.
    • Until recently, low participation in agricultural programs limited Swampbuster's effectiveness. The nature of farming in the Pocosins has changed dramatically in recent years, however, and as a result, Swampbuster's effectiveness should increase.
  5. Recommendations
    • A number of Federal subsidies and tax concessions for forestry, agriculture, peat mining, and water resource projects were identified as affecting wetlands in the Pocosins. Consider restricting these subsidies and tax concessions where the development results in wetland destruction. (See recommendations section of chapter 16 for specifics.)
    • Establish a uniform Federal mitigation policy, ensuring adequate compensation for unavoidable adverse project impacts on wetlands and acknowledging the quality and functional value of the affected wetlands. The Corps and EPA issued a Memorandum of Agreement on Mitigation for the 404 program in February, 1990. The Corps/EPA guidelines serve as a starting point for a Federal policy. Consider expanding the use of performance-bonds in the wetland regulatory program.
Northeastern New Jersey
  1. Description and Importance
    • In an area subject to severe flooding, the region's wetlands serve as natural storage areas.
    • The wetlands filter pollutants from urban runoff that might otherwise enter aquifers and surface waters which supply drinking water.
    • These wetlands offer habitat for wildlife and migratory waterfowl in a region where habitat is increasingly scarce.
  2. Extent and Sources of Loss
    • The original acreage is known to be much larger than the present stock, but historic data are too incomplete for an accurate estimate. In 1976, there were 69,173 acres remaining in the six-county study area.
    • Agriculture posed the initial threat to wetlands in Northeastern New Jersey. Subsequently, it was displaced by low density housing and by highway, airport, landfill, and port facility construction which often took place in wetland areas away from population centers.
    • Today, highway construction, commercial and industrial building, higher density residential development, and flood control efforts are the major activities affecting wetlands.
    • The driving force behind current expansion is the growth of the New York metropolitan area's population and economic activity, as well as the propensity of some firms and individuals to relocate at a distance from the crowded and costly central city areas. The State of New Jersey is the most densely populated in the country.
  3. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Federal financial support for highway construction and flood control have made development technically feasible and less costly and, as a result, have encouraged commercial and residential growth.
    • However, given Northeastern New Jersey's location on the outskirts of the nation's largest metropolitan area, much of the region's suburban development ultimately would have occurred in the absence of Federal incentives. The Federal incentives expedited the growth.
  4. Recommendations
    • Finance new Federal flood control and Federal-aid highway projects in a manner that reflects the distribution of benefits between regional and national interests.
    • Consider requiring that a mitigation plan accompany proposals for the authorization of new projects. To the extent practicable, all Federal agencies should mitigate fully and concurrently for wetland alterations stemming from construction of Federal or federally supported facilities.
    • Acquire critically important and vulnerable wetland complexes either by direct purchase of land or easements or by cost sharing with the State of New Jersey or local municipalities. Although this region's wetlands serve a number of functions, most critical economically is the flood control benefits derived from undeveloped wetlands. A long-term wetland acquisition plan should be undertaken as a primary aspect of a coordinated flood control program.
Michigan's Coastal Wetlands
  1. Description and Importance
    • Michigan's mainland coastal shoreline stretches for 2300 miles; coastal island shorelines add another 1000 miles. The coastal wetlands are found at river mouths, in sheltered bays, along shallow shorelines, and behind barrier beaches.
    • These wetlands offer habitat for wildlife and birds and are an important source of recreation.
  2. Extent and Sources of Loss
    • The original coastal wetland acreage is unknown. Currently, the onshore coastal wetlands and the offshore vegetated wetlands each cover a little over 100,000 acres.
    • A study of five representative areas revealed an average coastal wetland loss of 59 percent between 1900 and the mid-1970s. Losses ranged from 50 percent to 77 percent in the five selected areas.
    • Early losses were due to drainage for agriculture and mosquito control. Today, a host of activities related to urban development are responsible for the loss. Residential development is the most important factor. Other factors include construction of highways, flood control structures, recreational facilities (marinas, harbors, and boat launches), navigation channels, and industrial sites. Upstream water projects also have an impact on coastal wetlands.
  3. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Residential and recreational development constitute the greatest threats to Michigan's coastal wetlands. There are numerous Federal programs which subsidize these activities. While the impact of each program is likely to be small, the combination of Federal grants, loan guarantees, insurance, tax incentives, infrastructure, and flood control programs may have significant implications for coastal wetland areas.
    • Regulatory programs are generally effective in controlling large projects which individually would impose significant environmental damage. The cumulative effects from numerous smaller projects are not well-addressed, however.
  4. Recommendations
    • Have Federal agencies assess the effects of their programs on wetlands. Where feasible, agencies should minimize the wetland effects of their programs. Where this proves infeasible, agencies should be prepared to explain why it is not feasible.
Michigan's Northern Forested Wetlands
  1. Description and Importance
    • Most of Michigan's forested wetlands are found in the upper peninsula and the northern lower peninsula.
    • These wetlands serve a variety of important functions, including: providing habitat for many species; reducing flood peaks within watersheds; acting as natural filters; controlling erosion; and recharging and discharging groundwater supplies.
  2. Extent and Sources of Loss
    • The original acreage of forested wetlands in northern Michigan is unknown. Currently these wetlands total 3.3 million acres.
    • Forest Service data indicate a 14 percent loss in Michigan's forested wetlands between 1960 and 1980.
    • In the late 1800s, these regions underwent heavy logging. Since that time, the forests have regenerated.
    • Attempts to clear and drain forested wetlands in the upper peninsula for row and cash crop agriculture have proved economically infeasible because of the short growing season, poor soil quality, and an inability to achieve sufficient drainage.
    • Wood products companies are conducting drainage research in the hope of making the area accessible to timber harvesting.
    • In the future, peat mining and the development of vacation homes could have an increasing impact on these wetlands.
  3. Impact of Government Programs
    • The State Government promotes Michigan's forestry industry through research, planning, technical assistance, worker training, and property tax relief.
    • The Federal Government offers low interest loans and cost sharing for reforestation and a number of conservation activities. Also, several provisions of the tax code allow special expensing, rapid amortization, and investment credits for forestry activities.
    • Although the impact of these programs on the drainage of forested wetlands is unknown, none of the programs has conditioned eligibility on avoiding wetland effects.
  4. Recommendations
    • Have Federal agencies assess the effects of their programs on wetlands. Where feasible, agencies should minimize the wetland effects of their programs. Where this proves infeasible, agencies should be prepared to explain why it is not feasible.
Rainwater Basin of Nebraska
  1. Description and Importance
    • The Basin occupies about 4,200 square miles. An impervious, clay subsoil resulted in a perched water table and a dynamic wetland complex of temporarily, seasonally, and semi-permanently flooded wetlands.
    • The Basin's wetlands provide spring, migratory habitat for five to seven million ducks and geese, as well as breeding and nesting habitat for resident shorebirds, waterfowl, and other water-associated species.
  2. Extent and Source of Loss
    • Historically, nearly 4,000 individual wetlands occupied about 95,000 acres. Approximately 34,000 wetland acres remain, but virtually all of these have been modified to some extent.
    • Between the 1960s and the 1980s, shallower, more easily drained wetlands declined by 74 percent, deep wetlands declined by about 47 percent, and the intermediate wetlands declined by 20 percent. These losses significantly altered the composition of wetlands in the Basin.
    • The loss of Rainwater Basin wetlands has forced water-associated birds to concentrate in fewer wetlands. This condition increases the incidence of disease and death. Since 1975, approximately 200,000 birds have died of avian cholera in the Rainwater Basin, due at least in part to overcrowding.8
    • Most wetland conversion in the Basin has been to agriculture. In addition, these wetlands are vulnerable to siltation and to contamination by agricultural chemicals from adjacent cropland and rangeland. Chemicals applied directly in irrigation water concentrate in adjacent basins.
  3. Impact of Federal Programs
    • Much of the conversion in the Basin has been conducted with Federal assistance through cost-sharing programs for water management. Although these programs are now restricted, there are some exceptions in the law. For example, cost-sharing and technical assistance continue for soil and water conservation measures, such as land leveling, terracing, and irrigation water recovery systems. These measures can indirectly contribute to wetland losses or degradation. No one exception leads to a significant loss of wetlands, but collectively the exceptions degrade and diminish the stock.
    • The agricultural commodity programs (price and income supports) have distorted market signals, and prior to the advent of Swampbuster in 1985, induced the conversion of more wetlands to agriculture than was economically efficient.
    • In recent years, the farm program participation in Nebraska has been high. Thus, if fully enforced, Swampbuster should prove successful in discouraging wetland conversions in the Basin.
    • Collectively, the Federal subsidies have kept more land in agricultural production than was efficient, and the runoff from this land continues to degrade wetlands.
  4. Recommendations
    • Consider precluding the use of Federal financial and technical assistance on any soil and water conservation project that indirectly results in the destruction or functional degradation of wetlands.


1 The requirement for this report appeared first in the FY85 appropriations act for the Department of the Interior, but was amended by the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 (PL99-645, section 402).

2 In 1988, the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) of the Environmental Protection Agency was initiated to provide improved information on the current status and long-term trends in the condition of the Nation's ecological resources. EMAP has a wetlands component. Its first interpretive report, describing the conditions of coastal wetlands, is scheduled for completion in 1996.

3 Marketing orders are Government-sanctioned rules between producers and handlers to establish production and commodity standards and exert an influence on market price. See discussion in chapter 7.

4 Of course, any future sea level rise may be due in part to global warming, and hence, related to human activity.

5 Although the text focuses on Puerto Rico, the problems and trends apply to the Virgin Islands, as well.

6 Most wetlands in the Central Valley are managed for wintering waterfowl habitat which requires a large volume of water in the late fall.

7 Widespread conversion of wetlands occurred in the Valley long before Federal water development. Farmers diked the floodplains for cultivation, but their efforts were only partly successful. The process of reclaiming the lands and developing the area took many years and required extensive Federal assistance.

8 R. G. Stutheit, Work Plan S-87, Mortality and Disease Investigations, W-15-R-44, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, 1988.

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For more information on the impact of Federal programs on wetlands,
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