Wetlands–An Environmental Issue for Free Marketeers

Conservatives have good reason to question parts of the
environmental movement’s wish-list. Proposals for new energy taxes,
“green jobs” programs, and restrictions on private property use all ask
conservatives to sacrifice long-standing principles in favor of a
nebulous desire to save the planet. When it comes to at least one green
cause, wetlands preservations, however, environmental and conservative
interests appear aligned. Quite simply, governments do far more to
destroy wetlands than free markets ever have, and preserving these
critical areas increases natural disaster resistance.

are areas with shallow, sometimes seasonal, water flow. They host an
enormous diversity of wildlife. Before World War II, almost nobody
built on them. As air conditioning made lots of previously hot, humid
areas attractive, however, the Army Corps of Engineers—with
encouragement from developers—drained millions of wetlands acres, built
new shipping channels, and provided lots of choice building sites.

process of wetlands destruction, lessened but still ongoing, damaged a
lot of wildlife habitat and moved millions of Americans into
hurricane-prone areas. Although improved warning, medical, and
transportation systems have lessened casualty rates since the last
period of high hurricane activity between roughly 1910 and 1940,
rampant building in wetland areas puts plenty of people in areas that
hurricanes often destroy.

Left undisturbed, wetlands also
absorb hurricane-driven storm surges, particularly from small and
medium-sized storms. Building shipping channels through swamps, on the
other hand, increases storm damage. A shipping channel—the Mississippi
River Gulf Outlet (the “Mr. Go”) played a major role in “letting in”
the storm surge that devastated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

national wetlands policy actually encourages destruction to continue in
return for “no net loss.” Every day, developers and governments get
permission to build in hurricane-mitigating coastal wetlands in return
for creating new inland swamps. While the total stock of wetlands has
grown modestly in most areas, current policies tend to help wildlife
more than people.

Conservatives need to get behind efforts
that undo the damage big government has done. The Mr. Go is already
slated for closure, but dozens of other ill-conceived projects likely
create similar threats. Although replacement might make sense in some
cases, future policy needs to focus on maximizing wetlands’ benefits to
people and preserving coastal wetlands.

Not every part of
conservative wetlands policy will line up perfectly with what
environmentalists have traditionally wanted. But wetlands preservation
makes sense.