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April 03, 2006

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Special Report: You Call This a Wetland?

Conservation Editor Bob Marshall reveals that the Department of the Interior's new claim of wetlands growth holds no water.

The Bush Administration announced last week that the nation is no longer losing wetlands--as long as you consider golf course water hazards to be wetlands.


Thursday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton called a press conference to claim our long nightmare of wetlands loss had finally come to an end due to unprecedented gains since 1997  (http://wetlandsfws.er.usgs.gov/status_trends/national_reports/trends_2005_report.pdf) However, she then admitted much of that gain has been in artificially created ponds, such as golf course water hazards and farm impoundments.

The sporting community--from Ducks Unlimited to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership--reacted quickly, and not favorably. Researchers long ago established that natural wetlands such as marshes, swamps and prairie potholes are far more productive than even the best-designed artificial wetlands. And sharp-edged water bodies like water hazards, farm ponds, and even reservoirs offer very little for wildlife.  Putting man-made ponds in the same class as natural wetlands is like ranking pen-raised quail with wild coveys.

The boldness of Norton's claim was particularly galling given the Bush Administration's record on wetlands. President Bush, like other presidents before him, promised a policy of “no net loss” of wetlands, but his administration has consistently supported rollbacks of the Clean Water Act to satisfy industry and development.

In fact, at the same press conference, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported a continued loss of 523,500 acres of natural wetlands during the same time period. So how could the nation have come out ahead if it lost more than half a million acres? Norton didn't try to hide the truth:  The 715,300-acre “gain” was mainly artificial ponds.

While saying the nation's wetlands picture remains “precarious,” Norton added that "even ponds that are not a high quality of wetlands are better than not having wetlands."

Now there's ringing endorsement of the president's program.

Norton's announcement was likely an act of setting the table for more administration assaults on wetlands protections. It was probably no coincidence that three days earlier, the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations that encourage development of companies that build artificial wetlands used by industries that destroy the vital natural habitats. It's part of the wetlands mitigation banking concept--which gives companies permits to drain wetlands, as long as they produce “new” wetlands somewhere else.

Norton may think a water hazard is better than no wetlands but for fish, wildlife and sportsmen, but it may be even worse. That type of public policy provides an excuse for more permits to drain more natural and productive wetlands to be replaced by non-productive water hazards. Those might be good for real estate values along the 18th fairway, but for fish and wildlife that rely on wetlands ecosystems to survive, it's terrible.


Frank Veraldi

I am an Ichthyologist that plans and designs ecosystem restoraiton projects. There is nothing like a natural wetland, or for that matter, any natural system, as opposed to a restored or created system. It is simply impossible to recreated the functions required to support organisms that evolved over thousands of years in these natural systems. It is folly to even consider a manmade feature as a benefit. The bottom line is that we are giving up future drinking water for short term monetary gain.

David Ivester

Since federal agencies have long considered all sorts of artificial wet spots to be "wetlands" worthy of regulation to guard against their loss, why would we expect the agencies to treat those wet spots any differently when the agencies tally up losses and gains?

Pete Landfield

What this article failed to mention was the amount of chemicals and pesticies used by Golf Courses, etc. that inevitably wind up in these so called wetlands. So, let's add poisoned into the equation.

Wayne Orr

I hope all you outraged sportsmen will remember the actions of this Republican administration when it comes time to vote in the next election.

They lie to you just as they lie to all of us. As the scorpion said to the frog, "It's my nature."

Lee Welles

It is painfully obvious that quality of life (from creatures inhabiting the wetlands to the sportsman who enjoy them) takes a backseat to the quality of fundraising!
Campaign financing is at the root of most of these problems. Contribute to candidates that support your views. KNOW for a fact their views! www.vote-smart.com

Steve Evangelou

The correct website mentioned in a previous comment is www.vote-smart.org.


This wasn't an April Fool's joke?


The loss of wetlands further underscores the absolute necessity that is environmental protection. Collectively, we should be long past the mindset that preserving natural habitat is a view shared by fringe elements. There are grave implications for the destruction of the natural environment on several levels. Preserving wild habitat/wetlands etc. should be at the top of this nation's priorities. Sadly, this will never occur until we place into office a body of elected officials who are committed to protecting environmental quality and not beholden to oil or other sinister special interest needs.


This is the same administration that was praised by numerous conservation groups when President Bush hosted them early in his tenure. It appears he blew smoke where the sun don't shine and they are more than happy to fart smoke rings.
I wonder what the take of those in Minnesota who are marching for wetland protection is going to be. This is too serious a matter to be trusted to politicians.


This is simply more proof to conservationists and sportsmen that this administration does not have our interests at heart. I'm tired of being lied to so blatantly. It's time for a change now before there is no place left to fish, to hunt, to camp, or to simply enjoy the natural world.

Nan Garrett

Yes, yes, this is indeed horrible. But then down here in Georgia, where the democrats have pretty much run the state until recently [now they actually have to share power with the republicans, of course, with any third parties left out in the cold] they classify golf courses as agricultural for purposes of watering bans - meaning golf courses are exempt from watering bans - when we have drought conditions. And what agriculture does golf courses provide to Georgia? Well, 'green' as in greenbacks.

Undecided Voter

Why should the current administration care about national wilderness reserves, they own there own reserves for hunting, much like the King of England once did.

Somehow we have a choice between having guns with no game [R] or game with no guns [D].

I say we let the sportsman hunt on the greens, I am sure that would clear things up quickly.

Mark Weaver

As long as government continues to act in the corporate interest instead of the public interest, our environment will continue to deteriorate. Saving the environment is just not usually the most cost effective and/or profitable way to go. Doesn't matter if it is the Dems or Reps are in control, if corporate America is controlling them.

Angel Colberg

This is corporate greed at it's worst. The wanton destruction of wetlands can now be justified by building golf courses, and it is our own leadership that is condoning it - nee encouraging it!! Im fully convinced that this administration had no intention of fulfilling any of it's promises to it's electorate and instead chose, from day one, to line their own pockets during their tenure in office. Preserving our natural heritage is obviously not something that concerns them the slightest bit. First ANWR and now this...it's disgusting how we treat this beautiful country in the name of profit.

Declan Moran

It will be interesting to graph the losses of the last few years. I think the point is that just because you see a republican with a gun doesn't mean he supports your interests in respect to a clean and productive enviroment. Bush and Cheney have their own stocked fish ponds and enjoy shooting canned quail, so why the hell do they need to protect the rest of the wild when its only the little people that use it.

PS If only golf wasn't like crack cocaine for these corrupt politicians maybe things would be a little better.

PPS This goes out to repubs and dems, theres no favoritism here, I hate them both equally...

Nan Garrett:

I'm afraid that you've been fooled by far right propaganda into beliveing that if democrats are in power, that you'll have "no guns." Sure, the dems support more regulation of gun ownership, such as the brady bill and closing the gun show loophole, but that is a far cry from the concept that they want to take away your guns. And the regulations that they have supported don't affect hunters, they are aimed at handguns and assault rifles.

Seth Kaufman

Sounds like Gale Norton has been reading Ronnie Reagan's playbook. Ketchup wasn't a vfegatable and water hazards aren't wetlands.




What's the use of having the right to own a gun if you can't hunt anywhere.

Bottom-line, Republicans like money and could care less about the environment or the things that we enthusiasts enjoy. Think about that the next time you try to label Democrats as soft or anti-American.

Ole Ullern

That story (of golf water hazards named as "wet-lands" to cover-up loss in natural wet-lands)only demonstrates the artificiality of the whole Bush-administration. Unreal. They probably believe Disneyland should have a seat at the UN.

Julie Zuber

The only green this administration cares about is
money. We must elect democrats in this mid-term election to put a check on this president. Since congress hasn't performed their oversite responsibilities, we now see the military speaking out. This is totally backward and a huge wakeup call. If only we could get people to pay attention.

Geoff McBride

If the choice is between "having guns with no game [R] or game with no guns [D]." I'll take the game with no guns any day even though that isn't the issue started here. This latest assault by the current administration of idiots shows just how stupid they think the American people are. I'm a golfer and Canadian Geese (Canadian Pigeons IMO) won't go in those "wetlands" BTW..Gale Norton is/has retired and I'm sure Bush's next appointee will classify pot holes as wetlands. We've got it good now.

K L Johnson

Who will be the last oxy-MORON with a "Sportsmen for Bush" bumper sticker?


It reminds of the Reagan years, when they tried to consider ketchup a vegetable for school lunches.

Major Bradley Bourn

Not surprised Gale Norton tried to spin this as a positive, considering her record.
I'm ready to give a good tar and feathering to a few deserving individuals. Anybody with me?
If Gale Norton, the EPA, and the Forest Service are classifying a golf course water hazard as a wetland, then can I set my duckblind there next fall?

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