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BWSR unveils state wetland report

Posted on December 27, 2012

St. Paul — The Board of Water and Soil Resources has released the final version of a report that evaluates wetland regulation and conservation policies in the state. The report is the result of an executive order issued earlier this year by Gov. Mark Dayton.

The report suggests changes to the state’s wetland policies – some of which will require legislative action – though they aren’t sweeping in nature.

“I think it’s definitely moving in the right direction,” said Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.

Said John Jaschke, executive director of BWSR: “BWSR recognizes the critical value wetlands provide for water storage, water quality and habitat. Improving wetland policy will acknowledge the vital purposes they serve.”

Wetland policies in general, and changes to the state’s Wetland Conservation Act specifically, are frequent topics at the Legislature. Dayton issued the executive order last session, when WCA changes were on the table. There was disagreement over whether the changes would simply streamline regulations, or weaken them.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake and chair of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee, said he doesn’t yet have a position on the report. But he intends to have BWSR give his committee an overview.

He said it will serve as a good starting point for wetland policy discussions.

“It gives us some background knowledge so that maybe we don’t start way out in outer space,” Dill said.

BWSR officials say the report, and the recommendations contained within it, are about making adjustments so the state’s wetland policy works better. The state’s Wetland Conservation Act, in place since 1991, has undergone a number of tweaks and adjustments since then.

And even if the regulatory agencies and lawmakers make all the changes recommended in the report, wetlands will continue to be a major topic at the Legislature, Dill said.

“I don’t think there will be a session in the near future that wetlands and wetland policy will not be discussed vigorously,” he said.

Still, some conservationists wished the report’s recommendations went even further. Some wanted talk of a net gain of wetlands, rather than the state’s no-net-loss policy. Others, for example, wanted to see it tackle agricultural drainage more aggressively.

As it is, the report makes three agricultural drainage recommendations, including: “Assess the extent to which wetlands on agricultural lands are being lost or degraded and that are not subject to compensation requirements under existing programs.”

Other recommendations include:

  • Increase state funding by $2 to $3 million to support local government capacity to effectively work with landowners via early project reviews to avoid and reduce wetland impacts while allowing desired development.
  • Reduce regulatory redundancy and overlap between the state Wetland Conservation Act and Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act.
  • BWSR should conduct a study to estimate future costs for wetland bank monitoring, maintenance, and compliance and the associated public risk.
  • Consider combining monitoring and maintenance responsibilities of wetland banking with other similar monitoring efforts.
  • Clarify the state policy goal of no net loss of wetland quantity, quality, and biological diversity applies to state wetland-protection programs on a statewide basis for activities subject to their regulations.
  • The statewide no-net-loss goal should recognize that there are areas, such as northeast Minnesota, that may be able to tolerate some loss of wetlands without affecting watershed ecological integrity, while other areas of the state already face a significant deficit of wetland resources. Focusing wetland restoration efforts in areas of greatest need is consistent with the public interest in regards to biological diversity.

To read the full report, visit the BWSR website at www.bwsr.state.mn.us

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