U.S. Wetlands Protection Lagging, Study Says

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Lack of Oversight

Another problem is the lack of oversight. From 1993 to 2000, federal regulators required that developers create or restore about 1.8 acres of wetlands for every acre they destroyed. However, the report's authors found little evidence that trade-off was being achieved, in part because the Army Corps of Engineers and other regulatory agencies lacked the resources to ensure compliance.

"There is often not enough staff time to do so, so follow-up is erratic," said Victoria Alvarez, a senior planner with the California Department of Transportation and a co-author of the report.

The report recommends sweeping changes in the way the nation oversees wetlands. A key suggestion is requiring developers to create or restore wetlands in places that will best serve an entire watershed, rather than adjacent to a project.

This could have consequences throughout the Bay Area, if the guidelines are adopted by regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

"I think this points us in an improved direction for the kinds of mitigation we require," said Jeff Blanchfield, chief planner for the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which must approve any proposal to fill the bay.

"Having a watershed viewpoint rather than having the mitigation be as close to the site as possible, which has generally been the practice nationally and in the bay, makes sense for the overall health of the region," Blanchfield said. The report singled out the Army Corps of Engineers for criticism. It said the Corps, which oversees wetlands restoration projects, lacked the information necessary to gauge the success—or shortcomings—of its programs.

The Corps issued a statement acknowledging that it lacked such information. The statement said: "We can neither confirm nor deny whether we are meeting no net loss."

Copyright 2001 San Francisco Chronicle

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