Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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State wetlands law under microscope

St. Paul — Every time there’s an adjustment or tweak to the state’s Wetland Conservation Act, it seems, there’s a loss of wetlands.

Perhaps not in number, but, at least, in functionality. That’s what Gary Botzek believes, anyway.

And it’s why Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, plans to attend at least one of four regional meetings that begin next week and are aimed at taking an in-depth look at state wetland policy and, potentially, making recommendations to update it.

“It needs to be simpler,” he said. “At the same time, we don’t want to be throwing the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.”

The Wetland Conservation Act, approved by the Legislature in 1991, is one of the strongest state wetland protection laws in the nation. It regulates many activities that would affect wetlands, and its goal is no-net loss of wetlands.

It’s a long, complex law, and even state officials admit they sometimes have difficulty in determining the on-the-ground effect of tweaks or changes to it.

The WCA has been a frequent target of legislation, including in recent years. During last spring’s session, for example, there were several proposed alterations to the law (some of which the Legislature passed and Gov. Mark

Dayton signed, despite objections from some environment and conservation interests).

At the same time he signed the bill, Dayton also issued an executive order titled Supporting and Strengthening Implementation of the State’s Wetlands Policy, the result of which is the upcoming series of meetings.

The order stemmed from frustration with the process used to bring proposed legislation into the mix, said John Jaschke, executive director of the Board of Water and Soil Resources, which administers the WCA.

“They weren’t put together with a lot of anticipation about what they might do and how they might work together,” he said.

Though WCA is state policy, it’s also tied to the federal Clean Water Act, and to Swampbuster provisions the Natural Resources Conservation Service oversees.

“We want to make sure we do those things in an orchestrated fashion to the greatest extent possible,” Jaschke said.

While he isn’t sure of what the outcome of the meetings will be – specific recommendations, or more general ones, for example – he hopes a common level of understanding is reached, and says the no-net loss goal will be maintained.

“We do need to take a look at the law now and then because there are ever-changing conditions,” Jaschke said.

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