Programs Protect Nontidal WetlandsOn April 26, an article...


May 22, 1993

Programs Protect Nontidal Wetlands

On April 26, an article in The Sun wrongly attacked one of the most innovative and successful nontidal wetlands protection programs in the nation.

It is incomprehensible to me that, after interviewing representatives from both the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Sun could so completely misrepresent the facts, unless it was purposefully trying to mislead the public.

I would like to set the record straight.

The facts are: In 1989, Gov. William Donald Schaefer introduced innovative and comprehensive legislation designed to protect Maryland's nontidal wetlands.

As a result, we now control all activities that can affect important wetland values.

Ours was the first state law to declare a goal of "no net loss" of wetland acreage and function, even to strive for a gain in wetlands over time. Contrary to The Sun's portrayal of the program, I believe it is an overwhelming success.

Since Jan. 1, 1991, Maryland has not only achieved its goal of no net loss of wetlands, it will post a gain of over four acres through the permit review program alone. In addition, private organizations and other government agencies not associated with DNR's program have created almost 79 acres of wetlands in Maryland since January 1991.

Maryland's protection program has not only significantly reduced nontidal wetland loss, it can document a gain in the acreage of wetlands. The permit process has allowed an average of just over 20 acres per year to be destroyed, compared to the hundreds of acres destroyed annually prior to the start of the state program. Obviously, this is a dramatic decline in the amount of wetlands being lost in Maryland.

DNR would certainly prefer to see construction of a new or restored wetland concurrent with the loss of one due to an authorized project. However, a number of factors can delay a project; collecting information needed to make sure the wetland creation will be successful and waiting for the best time of year to grade or plant a site. In no case do delays reduce the mitigation debt.

Another goal of the Maryland law has been to streamline the review process for applicants. Mandatory time frames for permit review, the opening of field offices in Frostburg and Salisbury, a one-stop permit service center that allows for coordinated reviews among all state and federal agencies, pre-application consultations and site visits, and training workshops all around the state have done much to improve consumer service and educate people about wetlands.

In this process, many people have redesigned their projects to reduce wetland impacts even before applying for a permit.

Torrey C. Brown


The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

____________ The headline for the April 26 article by Tim Wheeler in The Sun Acclaimed state law is failing to halt decline of Md. wetlands") gives the misleading impression that Maryland's Nontidal Wetland Protection Act is ineffective.

On the contrary, over the last two years Maryland's nontidal wetlands program has proven itself to be one of the most effective state programs for the protection of wetlands anywhere in the country. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation continues to be a strong supporter of the program, despite the impression one might get from the article.

Although estimates of the total rate of loss of wetlands in Maryland both before and after enactment of the law are uncertain, wetland losses in Maryland are lower today -- probably by a factor of 20 or more -- than they were before the law came into effect.

Furthermore, the size of the impacts to wetlands that are approved by the Department of Natural Resources is often substantially smaller than what had been originally proposed. Maryland's nontidal wetlands program does protect wetlands.

The issue raised by Mr. Wheeler's article relates not to primary protection of existing wetlands, but to mitigation of the wetland losses.

When destruction of wetlands does occur, federal and state laws require that we mitigate to the extent possible for the destruction. Mitigation usually takes the form of the creation or restoration of wetlands nearby.

Records at the Department of Natural Resources suggest that construction has begun for few required mitigation projects. Nonetheless, the mitigation requirements are still in force; no mitigation requirements have been bypassed. Mitigation projects have just been slow reaching construction.

The process of designing and building mitigation projects can be costly and time consuming, as DNR's own experience with mitigation shows.

As Maryland's nontidal wetlands regulations are currently drafted, DNR has little leverage with which to pressure those who owe mitigation to complete their designs in a timely manner. Predictably, requests for extensions are common, and final designs are often late. DNR is aware of the problem, and is already examining ways to speed mitigation efforts to completion.

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