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Chapter 2: Introduction

The Function of Wetlands

From colonial times until just recently, wetlands have been regarded largely as nuisances. They have been drained, cleared, filled, inundated, degraded with toxins and nutrients, and exploited for whatever resources could be extracted from them.

Recently we have begun to realize that in their natural state wetlands produce numerous benefits for society, benefits which are either irreplaceable if lost or can only be replaced at immense expense. (See Table II-1.) Broadly, wetlands regulate water flows, storing water and buffering the effects of storms; filter and help to purify water; and provide essential habitat for flora and fauna.

Wetlands provide habitat for many species of fish and wildlife, including migratory birds, endangered species, commercially and recreationally important finfish, shellfish, and furbearers, and many species of wild plants. One-third of the Nation's endangered or threatened species live in or are dependent on wetlands. Between 60% and 90% of U.S. commercial fisheries use coastal wetlands as spawning grounds and nurseries. Wetlands support a major portion of the Nation's commercial fur and hide harvest, as well as sport fishing, hunting, bird watching, and other recreational activities.

As natural regulators of water flows, wetlands provide a cost-effective means of flood control, slowing and retaining water during periods of high runoff. This buffers the impact of storms and reduces shoreline erosion, thereby protecting against the loss of life and property. By holding water and releasing it slowly, wetlands help to recharge groundwater supplies and offset the effects of drought. Moreover, through processes not fully understood, wetlands can moderate local temperature and precipitation.

By filtering out pollutants and trapping sediments, wetlands help to maintain water quality. Indeed, artificial wetlands are now being created as a means of treating sewage. When wetlands are seriously altered or destroyed, rivers, lakes, and streams are subjected to more agricultural and urban runoff. This runoff can flow into sensitive estuaries, harming fisheries, and it can also impair drinking water supplies. The ability of wetlands to assimilate wastes, however, can be exceeded. Degradation of the water quality in wetlands is becoming a serious national problem.

Thus, although wetlands are generally recognized as a vital element in the biosphere, they continue to disappear and be degraded.

TABLE II-1: Substitutes for Wetland Services
The following are a few examples of potential man-made substitutes for wetland services lost due to wetland destruction.

Flood Control: dams, floodways, dikes, levees, floodwalls, diversions, zoning, relocation of property, land acquisition, flood proofing, detention depressions, reservoirs, land treatment measures.

Shoreline Anchoring: riprap, bulkheads, jetties, stream restoration, regulation of boat traffic, zoning of erosion-hazard areas, relocation of property, tax policies, land acquisition, flood proofing, flood forecasting, detention depressions, reservoirs, land treatment measures.

Sediment/Toxic Retention: sedimentation depressions, land treatment measures, dilutional flushing, buffer strip policies, zoning, tax policies, water treatment facilities, dredged removal of contaminants.

Nutrient Retention: same as Sediment/Toxic Retention, plus chemical treatment, aeration/circulation.

Fishery Habitat, Aquatic Diversity: creation of replacement habitat, diversion of fishing effort to unaffected species or non-fishing industries or recreational activities, improvement of habitat (e.g., stream restoration, placement of artificial shelters), stocking, predator management, modification of harvest restrictions, regulation of other limiting factor (e.g., pollutants).

Wildlife Habitat, General Diversity: similar to Fisheries, above.

Ground Water Recharge: artificial recharge pits, reservoir construction, induced recharge, sediment flushing to increase recharge.

Active Recreation: diversion of activities to alternate sites, construction of new sites (e.g., reservoirs, swimming pools), diversion to less water-dependent activities.

Source: The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Fish and Wildlife Service Five-Year Needs Assessment, Dec. 1, 1988, (revised).

The Nature and Extent of the Losses

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that of the 221 million acres of wetlands which existed in the coterminous United States at the time of the Nation's settlement, only 104 million acres (47%) remained in 1985.1 Wetlands constitute only about five percent of the surface area of the lower 48 States. Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, annual wetland losses averaged 458,000 acres, an area about half the size of Rhode Island. Between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s, this loss rate was reduced to about 290,000 acres per year.

NOTE: If these tables do not appear as tables, please click on these links to view them as graphic files.
Table II-2 (4Kb gif) or Table II-3 (5Kb gif)

TABLE II-2: Wetlands Lost and Remaining, 1780s-1980s (lower 48 States)
Status Acreage (millions) %
Original 221 100
Lost 117 53
Remaining 104 47
Source: Dahl, T.E., 1990.
TABLE II-3: Wetland Conversion, mid-1970s to mid-1980s (lower 48 States)
Use after conversion Acreage (millions) %
Agriculture 1.41 54
Urban 0.13 5
Other 1.07 41
Total 2.61 100
Source: Dahl, T.E. and C.E. Johnson, 1991.

How can it be that wetlands are so valuable in their natural state, yet they are being eliminated at such a rapid rate? The answer to the paradox is that although wetlands serve society in multiple ways, the nature of wetland benefits are such that the owners of wetlands usually cannot capture the benefits for their own use or sale. The flood protection benefits accrue to others downstream. The fish and wildlife that breed and inhabit the wetlands migrate, and are captured or enjoyed by others. The ground water recharge and sediment trapping benefits cannot be commercially exploited. Hence, for the owner of a wetland to benefit from his resource, he often has to alter it, convert it, and develop it. Since the vast majority (74%) of the wetlands in the lower 48 States are privately owned, the system of wetlands is quite vulnerable.2 (See Table II-4.)

By far the most important economic sector absorbing wetlands is the agriculture sector. Agricultural development accounted for 87% of wetland conversions between 1954 and 1974. Conversion to agricultural uses accounted for 54% of the losses from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. This is an appreciable change from the previous two decades. However, it should be noted that 41% of the total wetland losses from this period were classified as "other," and a substantial portion of these had been cleared and drained, but not yet put to an identifiable use (Dahl and Johnson 1991). In light of the Nation's persistent agricultural surpluses and subsidies, the continuing, annual transformation of hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands into additional farmland is counterproductive.

Urban development and other commercial activities accounted for 46% of wetland losses in the nine year period 1974-1983, up from 13% in the period 1954-1974. These uses are likely to pose increasing threats in the years to come. As developing regions expand and land becomes more scarce, wetlands emerge as some of the least expensive sites in which to locate. Highways, airports, residential developments, industrial parks, sewage treatment facilities, and shopping centers frequently encroach upon wetlands. Wetlands are also vulnerable to water-dependent developments and activities, including harbors, marinas, and recreational housing. Wetlands contain resources like timber, peat, oil, and gas whose development and extraction can lead to loss or functional impairment of wetlands. Finally, diversion of water poses one of the greatest threats to wetlands. Water is diverted for flood control, for municipal and industrial uses, and to generate hydroelectric power, but diversion for irrigation dominates all other uses. Nearly 85% of all water consumed in the United States is for irrigation.

Much economic growth, of course, is desirable and a wise use of resources. But if a development project can only be made financially attractive by subsidizing it or ignoring its environmental costs, then the project is likely to be unwarranted and wasteful. Examining the economic efficiency aspects of development which affects wetlands has been a cardinal feature of this research project.

The Federal Role

Although there are a number of Federal programs designed to protect wetlands, 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 of use; 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.

NOTE: If this table does not appear as a table, please click on this link to view it as a graphic file.
Table II-4 (5Kb gif)

TABLE II-4: Wetland Ownership, 1985 (lower 48 States)

Acreage (millions) %
Private 70.3 74
Federal 12.5 13
State 10.4 11
Local 1.8 2
Total 95.0 100
Source: Heimlich and Langner, 1986b.

In this report, we focus primarily on the last of these approaches to conserving wetlands. Although more vigorous regulation or increased acquisition would conserve more wetlands, these approaches could be costly. Both the Executive Branch and Congress have shown a preference for attempting to redesign Federal programs which produce unwanted effects on wetlands before engaging in additional land acquisition or regulation to counter the programs in question. This approach has several appealing features:

  • It discourages economically inefficient and environmentally unsound development.
  • It promotes a stronger, more competitive economy by restricting Federal programs which distort market signals and destroy 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.
Restricting Federal financial support for unsound development should stand as the first line of attack on the wetland loss problem. However, this approach cannot be relied upon as the sole conservation technique. In any particular instance, the effectiveness as a conservation technique of restricting financial support for development hinges entirely upon the importance of the Federal support for the success of the developmental activity. In some wetland areas, Government financial support for development is insignificant and will not influence investment decisions. In others, development is so profitable that eliminating Federal subsidies will not significantly reduce the rate of wetland conversion and degradation. Thus, in order to formulate a comprehensive strategy for wetland conservation, other approaches to conservation need to be considered, as well. We provide a brief review of these other approaches, their history, characteristics, advantages, and limitations.

Land Acquisition

Government land acquisition has long formed the backbone of wetland preservation efforts. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are about 12.5 million acres of wetlands in the lower 48 States subject to Federal ownership, easement, or lease.

Wetlands have been acquired under a number of authorities3 for a variety of purposes, but historically the emphasis has been on protection of wildlife habitat.4 With passage of the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 (EWRA), Congress explicitly acknowledged the full range of wetland functions and benefits, and called for and authorized a more balanced approach to wetland conservation. Under the EWRA's mandate, the Fish and Wildlife Service has recently completed a National Wetlands Priority Conservation Plan to help decisionmakers identify key wetland areas warranting possible federal protection. States purchasing wetlands with Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriations must comply with the wetlands acquisition criteria established in the National Priority Plan. States and private organizations may also use the Plan to coordinate their acquisition programs with the Federal government.

Acquisition will undoubtedly remain an important component of any Federal wetland conservation strategy. However, with the overwhelming majority of the remaining wetlands in private hands, it is unrealistic to expect fee acquisition and easement programs to solve the problem alone or perhaps even to be the major component of a comprehensive strategy. The cost is simply too high, given budgetary constraints and other priorities.


There are numerous Federal regulatory programs which have the effect of protecting or conserving wetlands. All but one of these, however, have this effect indirectly. Their focus is not wetlands, but regulation of an activity which has an incidental impact on wetlands (e.g., water diversion, construction of dams, discharge of pollutants) or protection of a resource which happens to be wetland dependent (e.g., plants or wildlife). Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1977 (CWA) is the only Federal program which addresses wetlands directly and specifically regulates their alteration (Leslie et al. 1990).

Section 404: Section 404 requires that a permit be obtained from the Corps of Engineers before dredged or fill material can be discharged in waters of the United States (including wetlands). On its face 404 appears to provide considerable protection to wetlands. In fact, the protection is limited.

Section 404 of the CWA restricts only the discharge of dredge and fill material in wetlands. It does not restrict the conduct of other activities that may alter wetlands (such as excavation, drainage, clearing, flooding, or constriction of water supply), when those activities do not also involve the discharge of dredge or fill material. This jurisdictional restriction results in sizable portions of the Nation's wetland losses not being covered by the Section 404 program.5 Further, 404 primarily addresses the physical loss of wetlands, and does not cover degradation, such as chemical contamination.6 (Some degradation may be covered under another authority. See the discussion below of CWA, Section 402.)

In addition to the legislative constraints on 404, the program's effectiveness is influenced by the magnitude of the regulatory problem relative to the Corps' resources7 and the manner in which some Corps districts implement the Act (e.g., low priority given to monitoring and enforcement and inability to account fully for developmental impacts, especially cumulative impacts). The criticisms of the 404 process have not come just from conservationists. Developers often criticize the program for delays in processing permit applications, for jurisdiction by more than one agency, and for inconsistent interpretations of statutes. One of the frustrations most frequently voiced has been that the agencies could not even agree on what constitutes a wetland and that the resulting uncertainty has caused costly delays. This problem was addressed on Jan. 10, 1989, when EPA, the Corps, the FWS, and USDA adopted a single method for identifying and delineating jurisdictional wetlands (Federal Interagency Committee 1989). The change proved controversial, however, and Congress directed the Corps to return to using the 1987 Manual. (EPA has joined the Corps in using the 1987 Manual. See Appendix VI-1 for more details.) Despite these problems, the rate of wetlands loss has declined since the advent of the 404 program, and the decline is due in large part to the program.

Several other Federal agencies have roles in implementing Section 404. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have authority to review and comment on permit applications. In addition, EPA is responsible for developing the guidelines for issuing 404 permits, and based on specific environmental criteria, it can veto permits issued by the Corps. EPA can also predesignate geographic areas as unsuitable sites for disposal of dredge and fill material. Historically, EPA has utilized these authorities very rarely. In January, 1989, in connection with the Bush Administration's no-net-loss of wetlands policy, EPA announced its intention to exercise these authorities more fully. EPA shares authority with the Corps for enforcing against unlawful discharges of dredge or fill material into wetlands.

Section 402: One other major regulatory program affecting wetlands is the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), authorized by section 402 of the CWA. Its importance stems from the fact that almost anything that enters a watershed either passes through or settles in a wetland. Under this program EPA regulates the discharge of effluents into the Nation's waterways. The program's objective was to attain fishable and swimmable waters by 1983 and zero discharge of pollutants by 1985. Failing to meet these objectives, the Act was amended in 1987 to require the adoption of more effective technologies by 1989.

Prior to the 1987 amendments to the Act, the program focused on "point source" pollution (wastes discharged from discrete and identifiable sources). Yet, "nonpoint" source pollution such as stormwater runoff from agricultural, forestry, and urban areas may contribute as much as half of the nation's water pollution and has become a critical factor in wetland decline (CRS 1987). The 1987 amendments directed States to develop and implement nonpoint pollution management programs and offers Federal financial assistance to support control activities.


Several statutes contain provisions requiring that an action agency sponsoring a development project which could affect the environment consult with the resource agencies (FWS, NMFS, and EPA). Consultation is required in order to assure that environmental values are considered along with the economic benefits which constitute the action agency's traditional mission. Under these consultation authorities the resource agencies have review and comment powers. Their recommendations, however, are purely advisory. An action agency is not obligated to accept the recommendations, although in some cases it must explain the rationale for not adopting them. Environmental concerns often receive perfunctory treatment when the agency that sponsors a project is also the agency that ultimately assesses the competing values associated with the project. This is perhaps understandable given the primary mission of the agency, but it exposes an inherent flaw in the review process.

Two of the major statutes requiring consultation are The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).8 The Coordination Act requires the agencies sponsoring federally constructed, operated or permitted water projects to consult with the FWS, NMFS, and the State fish and wildlife agency regarding the project's effects on fish and wildlife. NEPA requires the Federal official responsible for any "major" Federal action to consult with and obtain the comments of any Federal agency with expertise or legal jurisdiction with respect to potential environmental impacts. It also requires that an Environmental Impact Statement describing the environmental effects and project alternatives be prepared. This document makes information available for public and agency scrutiny. The requirements of the acts, however, are purely procedural, involving no regulatory authority or constraints. That is, after consulting and considering the environmental consequences of a proposed action, an agency may proceed with its project, even though there may be environmental consequences. The history of NEPA suggests that the public review process is generally effective, however.

Two executive orders, both issued in 1977 under the Carter Administration, pertain to consultation and avoidance of wetland impacts. Executive Order 11990 on the Protection of Wetlands provides opportunity for early review of Federal agency plans regarding new construction in wetland areas. It also urges all Federal agencies to avoid supporting, assisting, or financing new construction in wetlands unless there is "no practicable alternative." Executive Order 11988 on Floodplain Management directs Federal agencies to take floodplain management into account when formulating or evaluating water or land use plans. It is applicable to wetlands protection because of the strong interrelationship between wetlands and floodplains.

An executive order represents administrative policy and does not normally have the force of law that comes with delegation of authority by Congress. In particular, there is no private right of action (judicial recourse by non-Federal entities to assure compliance) under an executive order that is intended to improve government management and processes rather than to confer enforceable rights upon persons. The wetland and floodplain executive orders reinforce legislative authorities by directing Federal agencies to exercise leadership and take action to avoid adverse impacts to wetlands and floodplains. Their force derives solely from the executive (the President) and the extent of his commitment to having them enforced. Although there is generally no private right of action under such executive orders, judicial recourse may be available if an agency has promulgated regulations to implement an executive order encompassing enforceable rights, and most Federal agencies have promulgated regulations implementing the wetland and floodplain executive orders.

Restoration and Creation

Restoring and creating wetlands have become increasingly popular as means for mitigating and compensating for the effects of development projects. Their appeal from both an equity and efficiency point of view is apparent: development is allowed to proceed (but only after all and nonmarket...have been taken into account) and environmental amenities remain unchanged (except perhaps for being relocated). If successful, mitigation by replacement is an ideal way for those who benefit from development to bear the environmental costs of their activities. The problem arises with the conditional term "if successful."

As we have seen, wetlands have numerous functions, and replicating nature in all its variations and complexities is not just difficult, it is probably impossible. Most natural wetlands are the result of lengthy geologic and hydrologic processes, and require more or less continuous supplies of water, a balanced regime of sedimentation and erosion, and periodic events (floods, fires, droughts) to interrupt successional sequences (Kusler 1989). Although restoring disturbed wetlands is usually easier than creating new ones, success in restoration/creation depends upon how exacting we are in our demands for replacement. (For excellent overviews of this topic see Kusler 1989 and National Academy of Science 1992.)

Reducing Federal Incentives for Wetland Development

The basic philosophy behind this approach has already been discussed above. The idea that the Federal Government should behave more consistently and avoid promoting development in environmentally sensitive areas that it is simultaneously trying to protect may not have had its origins with the Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982 (CBRA), but CBRA gave a great boost to wider application and adoption of the concept. CBRA made any new development projects in designated areas ineligible for most federally financed assistance programs. In the intervening years there have been several other significant pieces of legislation which have attempted to correct Federal financial incentives which distort resource allocation to the detriment of wetlands and the environment. Among these are:

  • The Food Security Act of 1985 with its Swampbuster provisions and restrictions on crop yields eligible for support payments;
  • The Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 amended Swampbuster, adding to the list of programs for which a violator becomes ineligible, and made it more difficult for farm operators to add to base acreage (the acreage eligible for price and income support payments);
  • The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 with its provisions for increased cost sharing and emphasis on the benefit principle for financing government programs;
  • The Tax Reform Act of 1986 which eliminated those provisions of the tax code which encouraged conversion of wetlands to farmland at a time of agricultural surplus;
  • The Colorado River Floodway Protection Act of 1986 which eliminates all new federal expenditures and financial assistance which promote development within the designated floodway; and
  • The Central Valley Project Improvement Act of 1992 which requires reforms in water pricing and marketing and mandates a series of mitigative actions, financed by water and power users, to help restore the environment in the Central Valley.
In requesting this study, Congress asked for a comprehensive review of conservation alternatives. But mindful of budgetary constraints and a growing resistance to expansion of Federal programs, Congress asked that particular attention be paid to examining and developing ways to apply the CBRA concept.

Assistance for Federal Program Managers in Determining Impacts on Wetlands Given the large number of widely dispersed Federal activities, how can program managers determine the effect which their programs are having on the nation's wetlands? Two kinds of wetland information are available to aid managers with this problem:

  • detailed wetland maps for assessing potential, site-specific impacts of projects, and
  • national estimates of the current status and trends (i.e, losses and gains) of wetlands to evaluate the effectiveness of existing Federal programs and policies and to identify national or regional problems.

Both types of information are available from the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI). See Appendix VI-1 for detailed information.

Focus of the Report

This is the second of two reports to Congress on the impact of Federal programs on wetlands. 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: 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 (Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oklahoma), and Western and Southeastern Alaska; in the East, the Delmarva Peninsula (comprising parts of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia), the North Carolina pocosins and other freshwater wetlands, and northeastern New Jersey; and in the Midwest, Michigan's coastal and northern, forested wetlands, and Nebraska's Rainwater Basin.

To select the study areas, the Department surveyed Fish and Wildlife Service field personnel, asking them to identify important wetland areas which had been significantly depleted or were under stress. The 19 study areas addressed in both Volumes I and II were identified in the survey process. They reflect the broad array of problems facing wetlands nationwide.

Volume I deals with two of the most critical areas in great depth. The analysis therein is based on original research using statistical techniques to assess the impact of seven, key Federal programs. By contrast, the descriptions of the 17 study areas in Volume II are based largely on existing research, in part because comparable statistical information is unavailable. (See Figure II-1 for a map of the study areas for Volumes I and II.) 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.


Study Areas Map

Organization of this Volume

This volume is divided into five parts. Part I describes the Federal programs affecting wetlands. It is subdivided into four chapters (chapters 3 through 6). Chapter 3 recounts the agricultural programs which have reduced the risk of farming and increased the economic feasibility of converting wetlands to croplands, e.g., such as price and income supports, disaster relief, and crop insurance.

Chapter 4 examines water resources development and water management programs, many of which supply irrigation water for agricultural use. Navigation, flood control, drainage, and hydroelectric power generation are other examples of water projects that adversely affect wetlands.

Chapter 5 discusses an interrelated set of Federal programs that stimulate the development of infrastructure facilities (such as highways, airports, sewage treatments plants), of commercial and industrial activities, and of housing. With the pressures of population growth, these programs are having a proportionately greater impact on wetland loss and degradation than in the past.

Chapter 6 examines a number of Federal programs designed to promote the development and use of specific resources such as timber, rangeland, oil and gas, or peat. Each of the Federal programs is described according to their primary purposes, the financial incentives they offer for converting or impairing wetlands, their wetlands effects, and Federal efforts to reduce those effects.

Parts II through V examine the 17 study areas located in the South, West, East, and Midwest respectively. Each study area is introduced with a description of the physical location, the characteristics distinguishing the wetlands, and what is known about the original acreage, status and trends of wetlands located there. The introduction is followed by a general discussion of the factors that have contributed to the loss and degradation of wetlands in the study area. Next is a more detailed examination of the key Federal programs affecting wetlands in the area, followed by an assessment of the status and prospects for the wetlands. The question underlying the analysis is: can reducing Federal financial incentives which distort resource allocation and induce conversion significantly curb wetland loss and degradation? If not, what other strategies or mix of strategies...acquisition, regulation, consultation, restoration or creation...would serve to stem the loss? Clearly, this is an ambitious task. The report is exhaustive with respect to programs which distort resource allocation, but does not cover all those programs which conserve wetlands.9 The recommendations section comes next, followed by a short reference section.10

Table II-5 indicates which Federal programs play a role in wetland decline in each of the study areas. Because of data, time, and resource limitations, not all the programs listed in Table II-5 are discussed in depth in each of the area chapters. However, the table summarizes the basic framework for the report to Congress and provides a ready reference for noting the scope of both the programs and the areas where they have an impact.

For a variety of reasons completion of this report has been delayed a number of times. Although the text has been carefully reviewed and updated prior to publication, revising the budgetary numbers promised to be a time-consuming task that would have further delayed issuance of the document. Thus, in a number of instances the budgetary numbers used to describe the magnitude of programs are dated.


Committee on Environment and Public Works. 1985. Oversight Hearings on Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. May 21, June 10, July 15 and September 18, 1985. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC

Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. 1987. Summaries of Federal Environmental Laws Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, Report No. 87-226 ENR, (April 15), Washington, DC, 83 pp.

Dahl, T.E. 1990. Wetlands Losses in the United States, 1780's to 1980's. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC, 13 pp.

Dahl, T.E. and C.J. Johnson. 1991. Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States, mid-1970's to mid-1980's. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC, 28pp.

Federal Interagency Committee for Wetland Delineation. 1989. Federal Manual for Identifying and Delineating Jurisdictional Wetlands. Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Soil Conservation Service, Washington, DC

Frayer, W.E., T.J. Monahan, D.C. Bowden, and F.A. Graybill. 1983. Status and Trends of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats in the Conterminous United States, 1950's to 1970's. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO., 31pp.

Heimlich, R.E. and L.L. Langner. 1986a. "Swampbusting in Perspective." Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, Vol. 41, (July-August), pp. 219-224.

Heimlich, R.E. and L.L. Langner. 1986b. Swampbusting: Wetland Conversion and Farm Programs. Natural Resource Economics Division, Economic Research Service, USDA, Economic Report No. 551, Washington, DC, 34 pp.

Kusler, Jon A. 1990. "Views on Scientific Issues Relating to the Restoration and Creation of Wetlands." Issues in Wetlands Protection: Background Papers prepared for the National Wetlands Policy Forum, Michele Leslie, Edwin H. Clark II, and Gail Bingham, eds., The Conservation Foundation, Washington, DC

Larson, J.S. and J.A. Kusler. 1979. Preface in Wetland Functions and Values, The State of Our Understanding, P.E. Greeson, J.R. Clark, and J.E. Clark, eds., American Water Resources Association, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Lehr, J. 1983. "Increased Irrigation Efficiency Will Ultimately Silence the Water Short Blues of the Wasteful West." Ground Water, vol. 130, (March/April).

Leslie, Michele, Edwin H. Clark II, and Robert B. Reed. 1990. "Overview of Existing Regulatory Programs." Issues in Wetlands Protection: Background Papers prepared for the National Wetlands Policy Forum, Michele Leslie, Edwin H. Clark II, and Gail Bingham, eds., The Conservation Foundation, Washington, DC.

Long, Michael M., Marilynn Friley, David Densmore, and June De Weese. 1992. Wetland Losses within Northern California from Projects Authorized under Nationwide Permit No. 26. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, Calif.

National Academy of Science. 1992. Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Natural Resource Law Institute. 1988. A Guide to Federal Wetlands Protection Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Anadromous Fish Law Memo; Issue 46. Lewis and Clark Law School, Portland, OR.

Office of Technology Assessment. 1984. Wetlands: Their Use and Regulation. Congress of the United States, Washington, DC

Tiner, R. W., Jr. 1984. Wetlands of the United States: Current Status and Recent Trends. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Mass.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 1988. Wetlands Acquisition Criteria and Guidance: National Wetlands Priority Conservation Plan, Washington, DC (May), 51 pp.

U.S. General Accounting Office. 1988. Wetlands: The Corps of Engineers' Administration of the Section 404 Program. Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Committee on Public Works and Transportation, House of Representative, Washington, DC

Zinn, J.A. and C. Copeland. 1982. Wetland Management. A Report prepared by the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division of the Congressional Research Service for the Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate, 97th Congress, 2d Session, Washington, DC (July), pp. 149.


1 In Alaska, most of the original wetland acreage remains. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that in the last 200 years, 200,000 acres (0.1%) of the 170 million acres of wetlands in Alaska have been lost.

2 Most wetlands in Alaska are in Federal or State ownership or management (85%).

3 The acquisition of lands (either through purchase or donation), especially wetlands, for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System is authorized by legislation such as the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956 and Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. Funding for acquisition of refuge lands (including waterfowl production areas) is authorized by the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, Wetlands Loan Act, and Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965. For a complete discussion see Volume I, Chapter 2, especially Appendix II-1 and Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Quality, 1986.

4 About 25 percent of the Federally owned wetlands are in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Most of the rest are administered by the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.

5 Section 404 also provides exemptions for normal ranching, farming, and silviculture practices. However, if these practices convert wetlands into non-wetlands, Section 404 has a "recapture" provision, voiding the exemption and requiring a 404 permit.

6 Except where the discharge of fill or dredged material involves chemical contamination.

7 To reduce the regulatory load, section 404(e) allows the Corps to issue nationwide permits (general authorizations to proceed with the proposed activities without individual review by the Corps or the resource agencies) for certain activities deemed to have minimal effects on the environment. The Corps has specified 36 types of activities under nationwide general permits. Some nationwide permits require that the Corps be notified prior to commencement of the activity, and general permittees are expected to follow certain mitigative practices in order to minimize environmental damage. A sizable portion of the Nation's wetlands remains vulnerable to loss or degradation under the nationwide permit program. For example, nationwide permits for isolated waters and waters above the "headwaters" applies to an estimated 17 million acres of wetlands in the contiguous United States. These areas are not subject to individual permit coverage unless adverse impacts are expected to be more than minimal (Natural Resource Law Institute 1988). The Fish and Wildlife Service has examined wetland losses in California from projects authorized under Nationwide Permit No. 26 (Long, et al. 1992).

8 For a comprehensive discussion of the major legislative and administrative authorities under which the FWS works to protect wetlands see Volume I, Chapter 2, Appendix II-1. With two exceptions, Appendix II-1 addresses the major authorities for wetland protection used by the FWS and most other resource agencies. The exceptions are the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (addressed elsewhere in Volume I as well as in this volume) and Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (discussed above).

9 Conservation programs are dealt with in somewhat more detail in Volume I, but even there the discussion is limited.

10 Each area chapter is based on a more detailed background study available from the Office of Policy Analysis, Department of the Interior. These studies are cited along with any other sources that were specifically noted in the chapter or that supplemented the information provided in the background reports.

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For more information on the impact of Federal programs on wetlands,
contact Jon H. Goldstein by email at or
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