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Swamped With Cash

Political campaign contributions and the assault on America's wetlands laws

Wetlands Protections: Removed by Redefinition

March 1, 1996

Swamped With Cash: Wetlands Protections: Removed by Redefinition

Field tests of the wetlands definition in H.R. 961 and S. 851 yielded dramatic results. In every state, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would immediately and permanently remove protection for a significant percentage of remaining wetlands:

  • For the lower 48 states, the two bills would eliminate Clean Water Act protections for a minimum of 73 million acres of wetlands--a minimum of 71 percent of all remaining wetlands in the country (see Figure 2, Table 2, and Table 3.)
  • In 22 states, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would eliminate federal protections for at least of 80 percent of existing wetlands.
  • In all but 7 states, H.R. 961 and S. 851 would remove at least half of all wetlands from eligibility for Clean Water Act protection.

It should be noted that these loss estimates represent a minimum, or lower bound, of the wetlands acreage that would be affected by the two bills. In some states, including many New England states, the evaluation teams provided a range of estimates for the acreage that would lose protection under HR. 961 and S. 851. The acreage figures cited in this report use the lowest value in the range as the "point estimate" for the acreage of wetlands that would lose protection. (See Note 2.)

Proponents of H.R. 961 and S. 851 have argued that the two bills would only affect "drier" wetlands systems--areas that an average person might have difficulty identifying as wetlands. Federal field tests show otherwise. When asked to describe the types of wetlands that would lose protection under the two bills, field teams mentioned, among other wetland types:

  • Sweetbay and red maple swamps, bottomland hardwood wetlands, and swamp hardwoods;
  • Many bogs and fens;
  • Riparian (river-related) wetlands;
  • Vernal pools, including rare vernal pool systems in California;
  • Carolina bays;
  • Non-tidal marshes, inland fresh marshes, coastal high marsh, saltmarsh;
  • Floodplain wetlands; and
  • Wet prairies, wet meadows, and saturated mountain meadows.

While not all of these wetlands are flooded or saturated year round, they are recognized as wetlands both by scientists and by the general public. Furthermore, they provide significant wetlands functions and values, including, in many cases, maintenance and improvement of water quality.

Sidebar 1: What the field teams had to say about H.R. 961 and S. 851.

Sidebar 2: What the field teams had to say about wetlands and water quality.