Protecting Inland Wetlands

October 02, 1990

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to stop protecting non-tidal wetlands could deal a serious blow to Maryland's own commitment to these environmentally sensitive areas. They provide a natural filtering system that catches pollutants and other dangerous wastes from flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Nevertheless, the decision by the corps frees 750,000 acres of state inland wetlands from the regulatory process.

The Department of Natural Resources should act to protect Maryland's inland wetlands. Its dedication to the preservation of coastal wetlands -- those lying along the bay and its tributaries -- is long established. Yet the decision by the corps to cut back severely on the program is a considerable loss to environmentalists.

This land is held mostly by farmers, many of whom want to develop it, or sell the land to those who do. Not surprisingly, the Fairness to Landowners Committee, which represents 6,000 members, cheered the decision by the corps.

The state adopted its definition of non-tidal wetlands to coincide with the corps of engineers' earlier stance. Now the DNR will fall in line with the decision by the corps to exclude acreage that has been drained and farmed sometime in the last five years. The DNR does not have to follow the corps' decision, though, which was dictated in large part by landowner pressures.

Around the country, complaints have come largely from Midwestern farmers who see huge amounts of low land washed out by rains that later returns to cultivation. Such land is easily farmed when drained, and it may never have any legitimate use as wetland. In Maryland, however, the terrain of the land and its relation to the many creeks and rivers that flow into to the bay make inland wetlands far more environmentally sensitive. This delicate eco-system must be protected, if not by Washington then by Annapolis.

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