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Sierra Club Conservation Policies

Wetlands

The Sierra Club advocates a consistent public policy to preserve and restore the hydrologic, biologic, and aesthetic values of wetlands as public assets. We place highest priority on the protection of existing natural wetlands. Because our goal is to reverse, not merely slow, the trend of wetlands destruction and degradation, we also support restoration of degraded wetlands. Wetlands protection should be promoted further by increased public understanding and enjoyment of wetland values through compatible uses.

In order to increase the quantity, diversity, quality and productivity of the nation's wetlands:

  1. Public incentives to wetlands degradation should be removed, including tax benefits for development or conversion, financial assistance (e.g., disaster insurance) for building or rebuilding in flood-prone areas or on hydric soils, agricultural commodity supports for surplus crops using inefficient and environmentally damaging means of production, government-financed water resource development, irrigation, drainage, channelization, infrastructure construction, and other direct and indirect subsidies.
  2. Public incentives for wetland protection should be extended, including tax benefits, transfer of development rights to upland areas that are not adjacent to wetlands, conservation easements, and other permanent protective designations for privately owned wetlands.
  3. Public and private agencies and trusts should acquire wetlands for preservation, management, research, and education. This effort should entail a program for identifying prime endangered wetlands and their designation for acquisition and protection. Preference should be given to their preservation as multipurpose ecosystems, rather than dedication and manipulation for limited purposes (e.g., waterfowl or aquaculture production). Publicly owned wetlands must be guaranteed full and permanent protection.
  4. We support establishment and strengthening of federal, state, and local programs for planning, management, and regulation of human activities that affect wetlands. Agencies whose charge is the protection of natural resources and the environment should be designated as having the lead or an equal-partner role in these programs. These programs must be adequately funded and staffed to provide ongoing inventory, research, surveillance, enforcement, and education. Provision must be made for public participation in all phases of these programs, as well as for full accountability by the public agencies.

    All proposals for development activities in wetlands should be considered to be environmentally significant and therefore must be subject to an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement, and public review. Public and private use of wetlands must be subject to the same standards and conditions and must not involve obliteration or significant alteration of wetlands that would degrade their natural functions. Filling, excavating, grading, discing, draining, removing natural vegetation or blocking off its light source, creating turbidity and siltation, channeling, altering inflows and exchange, unregulated releasing of contaminants, and other direct or indirect disruptions should be prohibited.

    Alternatives to mosquito and other pest control systems which fill, contaminate, or otherwise significantly impede wetland functions, or interrupt the aquatic food chain, should be encouraged. The use of wetlands for water pollution control must be carefully regulated, monitored, and maintained with active public oversight to ensure that limits are not exceeded and that the wetland's health is protected. Advanced identification of wetlands should be fully utilized to avert damage in these areas (e.g., estuaries, bottomland hardwood forests, isolated wetlands essential for fish and wildlife).

    Unauthorized alteration, dumping of solid waste, and release of contaminants into wetlands must be discouraged through rigorous enforcement, severe penalties, and complete restoration requirements, as well as improved public education. "After-the-fact permits" must be subject to penalties and restoration requirements as well as a thorough environmental review with opportunity for public comment and mitigation requirements.

  5. Nationally, a commitment to the rebuilding and restoration of wetlands should be undertaken in order to improve their capacity to perform their ecological functions of pollution, erosion, and flood control and support for fish and wildlife. Research, education, and action programs should be initiated with funding from public revenues and private monies. The responsibility for coordinating restoration sites and activities, including the beneficial uses of dredge spoil, should be assigned to the appropriate agencies charged with environmental and natural resource protection. Publicly financed restoration activities should in the first instance benefit publicly owned wetlands, but insofar as all wetlands constitute a public asset, public incentives and technical assistance should be extended to private landowners to encourage wetlands restoration.

    Provision must be made for citizen participation in the development, oversight, and evaluation of publicly sponsored restoration activities, including site selection. Restoration activities should emphasize re-establishment of indigenous vegetation, elimination of the causes of degradation (e.g., inflow of contaminants, levees and drainage structures, solid waste), and leaving the natural wetlands to heal and manage themselves.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 2-3 1987


Guidelines

They were developed by the Club's Coastal Committee to help interpret and implement the policy.

At this time, not all of the goals and objectives of the Sierra Club's agenda for wetlands protection have statutory or regulatory force. In the event that a permitting agency does not impose the strict limitations outlined in Item 4 above, the Sierra Club believes that the following conditions should be sought by its members in order to prevent an undesirable situation from becoming worse:

In order to fulfill the purpose of these prohibitions, development projects must be designed and executed to avoid long-term disruption of wetland functions and values (e.g., directional drilling or the use of hovercraft must be given preference over the dredging of access canals). Every permit for development involving temporary alteration of wetlands must be accompanied by conditions, enforceable by contract and performance bonds, to guarantee full restoration of functional values (e.g., removal of temporary structures or fill, replacement of natural sediment and vegetation). Public and private projects must be subject to the same standards and requirements even if this increases construction costs.

Development activities that involve significant alteration or destruction of wetlands must have extensive public review to demonstrate that no practicable alternative exists that would have less environmentally damaging impact, and should be restricted to use for water-dependent public facilities. No development project in a wetland area should result in a net loss of either wetland acreage or wetland values; therefore, all permits must be contingent upon adequate mitigation plans, with full opportunity for the public to review and comment on alternative mitigation plants. Compensatory mitigation is not an acceptable alternative to eliminating or minimizing avoidable damage.

The objective of a mitigation plan should be the long-term and incremental gain in a comprehensive range of wetland values, through at least a 2:1 replacement of acreage of the disturbed wetland. The following conditions should be met:

  1. The cost of the entire mitigation process must be borne by the applicant, and long-term responsibilities and evaluation criteria for the success of the mitigation project should be specified in the permit conditions. These conditions must be enforced by contract and performance bonds to ensure the implementation and completion of the mitigation project.

  2. No mitigation plan should be considered unless the authorizing agency has committed the requisite staff, expertise, and resources for long-term monitoring and enforcement. These responsibilities may be delegated to a third party under contract and accountable to the authorizing agency, but funded entirely by the applicant. Similarly, the agency should contract for planning and implementation with funding provided by the applicant.
  3. Mitigation should address all temporary and long-term negative impacts of the development project -- direct, indirect, cumulative, and synergistic.
  4. Mitigation activities generally should be confined to restoration of degraded wetlands or previously functioning wetlands, provided that sites are available within the authorizing agency's jurisdiction and that they meet the needs of a comprehensive restoration plan. Preference should be given to restoration of the same wetland type within the same hydrologic system (drainage basin or waterway) as that to be altered, and should take into consideration the most critical and endangered wetland types in the local regional setting.

    Under no circumstances should an applicant be allowed to destroy part of a wetland area in return for "improving" another part of the same area, or to gain mitigation "credits" for restoring a wetland he/she has degraded. Creation of wetlands in upland areas is generally undesirable, particularly at the current level of scientific and technical understanding. Wetland mitigation should not result in the loss of their biologically valuable habitats; the destruction of adjacent habitats and communities should be avoided.

  5. Based on detailed hydrological and biological assessment of the wetland and its surrounding watershed, an adequate buffer should be provided to assure the future protection of the restored or created wetland. At least 300-500 feet should usually be recommended. Access to and uses of the restored wetland should be restricted as a "temporal buffer" until regeneration is assured. If the wetland is located adjacent to water, a buffer area should extend at least as far in the adjacent shallow water.
  6. Preferably, the mitigation should have been completed and shown to be at least 75% successful before work may begin in the development project. At a minimum, the mitigation project must have been implemented to a point where reasonable assurance of success has been established before the development project may be commenced. Two growing seasons should be the minimum time to determine the success of the mitigation project.
  7. The restored or created wetland must be protected by legal mechanisms, such as a special zoning designation, deed restrictions, or covenants, to ensure their continued existence and projection. Created wetlands should be subject to all of the legal projections of jurisdictional wetlands.
  8. Mitigation must result in a net gain in wetland acreage and in the full panoply of wetland functions (e.g., trading of flood control at one site for habitat improvements at another cannot be counted as a net gain in wetland functions).
  9. Complete, consistent, and accurate documentation of the development and the mitigation projects must be collected and retained by the authorizing agency as part of the permanent public record. This is particularly important because of the experimental nature of wetland restoration and creation. This record should include details of the site evaluation before and after the development disturbance (inspection reports, maps, photographs, and analyses), all biological, hydrological, and engineering designs and plans, site monitoring data, and evaluations of the development and mitigation projects by other federal, state, and local agencies. In addition, names, addresses, telephone numbers, and affiliations of all personal who have a working knowledge of the projects should be retained.
  10. Donation or preservation of another wetland is not acceptable alone as mitigation for the loss of the project wetland, as this still constitutes a net loss in wetland acreage and values. The overall mitigation plan must provide for restoration and/or creation of wetlands.
  11. Mitigation banks should be integrated into a comprehensive program for wetlands restoration under the authority of a "resource" agency. Provision must be made for public participation in all phases of the mitigation bank, including planning, operation, and education; conditions 1-11 should be applied.

Glossary

Wetlands: Lands that are transitional between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems wherein the water table is usually at or near the surface and the land is covered periodically by shallow water; those lands must have one or more of the following attributes:

  1. At least periodically, it supports predominantly hydrophytes;
  2. Its substrate is predominantly undrained by hydric soil; and/or
  3. Its substrate is nonsoil and is saturated with water or covered by shallow water at some time during the growing season of each year.

Wetland values/wetland functions: Generally understood to encompass:

  1. Environmental quality values (water quality maintenance, aquatic productivity, microclimate regulation, etc.);
  2. Fish and wildlife values (fish and shellfish, waterfowl and other birds, and furbearers and other wildlife); and
  3. Socioeconomic values (flood control, erosion control, water supply, fishing and hunting, aesthetics, research, and education, etc.). Wetlands vary in the values they bestow, depending on local variations in hydrology, soils, vegetation, and topography.

Development: Human activity that impacts or disturbs wetlands.

Mitigation: Compensation for unavoidable alteration that counterbalances the damage or destruction of the natural wetland ecosystem (including habitat and hydrology).

Restoration: Rehabilitation of a natural wetland ecosystem after disturbance by human activity.


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