America is Swamped: Study Documents Net Increase In Wetlands

WASHINGTON, DC April 17, 1997 —America is gaining wetlands, according to a new study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The study found that over the last decade the stated national goal of “no net loss” of wetlands has been achieved, and non-regulatory programs have been responsible. “Incentive based programs have been so successful that America is gaining wetlands each year,” according to the study's author, Jonathan Tolman.

Wetland loss due to agricultural conversion, formerly the number one source of wetland loss, has slowed to a trickle. Also during the last decade wetland restoration has exploded. What was once a few thousand experimental acres nationwide has become hundreds of thousands of acres a year. When it comes to restored wetlands the nation is veritably swamped.

The study found that in 1995 the U.S. likely experienced an estimated net gain of 69,000 acres of wetlands. Four federal programs restored 210,000 acres of wetlands in 1995, well in excess of the 141,000 acre estimated annual loss rate. Three largely unheralded programs, the Partners for Wildlife Program, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Wetlands Reserve Program account for nearly 90 percent of the restoration. These three voluntary programs are both more popular and more effective at restoring and protecting wetlands that the Army Corps of Engineers 404 program.

In addition to being more effective, the study also showed that these three programs are also less expensive. The per-acre cost to the Federal government for wetland protection under the 404 program is five times as expensive as protecting wetlands under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan or the Wetlands Reserve Program.

“Compared with the voluntary programs, the Corps of Engineers' 404 program is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” says Tolman, “Not only is 404 a burden to landowners, but it is an extremely inefficient means of protecting wetlands.”

CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy group dedicated to free markets and limited government. For more information, please call Greg Smith at (202) 331-1010 or [email protected].