Sportsmen Stress Vital Role of Wetlands to Hunting and Angling, Need to Restore Clean Water Act Protections
Washington, DC – This weekend’s selection of the 2012 Federal Duck Stamp art contest winner – whose work will appear on stamps purchased by every duck hunter in America – puts a spotlight on the nation’s troubled wetland ecosystems. The Izaak Walton League, National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Trout Unlimited support restoring Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and other waters that are critical to fish and wildlife populations and our outdoor traditions.
Waterfowl hunters contribute millions of dollars each year to restore and protect wetlands across the country. Since 1934, sales of the Federal Duck Stamp have generated $750 million to conserve 5.3 million acres of America’s wetlands. Ducks and geese rely on abundant, functioning wetlands for nesting and wintering habitat. Wetlands also serve as breeding grounds for many fish and wildlife species, contribute to drinking water supplies for millions of Americans, and filter polluted runoff before it reaches local waterways. The Clean Water Act was designed, in part, to protect such wetlands.
Yet in its “Status and Trends of Wetlands” report issued earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service documented wetland losses across the country between 2004 and 2009:
The United States experienced a net loss of 62,300 wetland acres, reversing small gains made in the previous five-year period. This represents a 140-percent increase in the rate of wetland loss.Approximately 633,000 acres of forested wetlands were lost. According to the Service, these wetlands “sustained their largest losses since the 1974 to 1985 time period.”The prairie pothole region of the upper Midwest and bottomland hardwood habitat along the lower Mississippi River – both critical to waterfowl populations – are losing wetlands faster than other parts of the country.Progress on wetlands conservation in some parts of the country is due to funds and incentives provided by the Farm Bill and other federal conservation programs – programs that are in danger of being significantly cut or eliminated altogether during this year’s budget debate.
These increased wetland losses coincide with the roll-back of Clean Water Act protections. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 eroded long-standing protections for 20 million acres of wetlands and other U.S. waters. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed guidelines that would restore some of the lost Clean Water Act protections. These guidelines put science back at the forefront of decisions about waters Clean Water Act coverage and could be issued in final form in the next few months.
However, while the Corps and EPA are trying to move forward to conserve critical drinking water supplies and wildlife habitat, the U.S. House of Representatives spent the spring and summer moving backward. Members of Congress repeatedly approved riders to appropriations bills barring the Corps or EPA from taking any administrative action to restore Clean Water Act protections. These sweeping provisions blocked action not only in fiscal year 2012 but in any subsequent year. As Congress addresses the fiscal year 2012 budget this fall, these and other riders will be central to the debate.
“While the Duck Stamp celebrates our nation’s wetlands and wildlife, some lawmakers are trying to undermine these precious resources by crippling the Clean Water Act,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, National Wildlife Federation senior manager for wetland and water resources. “Now that duck hunting season in underway, elected officials should stop trying to shoot down environmental safeguards and aim to protect our nation’s rivers, lakes, and streams for communities that depend on clean water for life and livelihoods.”
“As sportsmen look forward to another waterfowl season spent in the marsh, we must not forget the importance of these critical ecosystems – to both our outdoor traditions and our economic health,” said Vaughn Collins, government affairs director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and former chief of the Federal Duck Stamp Office. “According to a new economic study, hunting and angling contribute to more than $1 trillion in economic activity and help support 9.4 million American jobs each and every year. The value of our sporting heritage cannot be overstated.”
“The Duck Stamp art contest juxtaposed with new trends in wetland losses reminds us what’s at stake if Clean Water Act protections continue to erode,” said Scott Kovarovics, conservation director of the Izaak Walton League. “Too much is at risk – water quality, the hunting economy, American traditions – for efforts to restore the Clean Water Act to be sidetracked or derailed.”
Izaak Walton League * National Wildlife Federation
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership * Trout Unlimited
“Clean Water Act Definition of ‘Waters of the United States’,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm
“Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: www.fws.gov/wetlands/StatusAndTrends2009/index.html