A recently released report by the Environmental Protection Agency fairly and accurately documents the connectivity of wetlands and streams to downstream waters, according to a panel of prominent aquatic scientists who discussed
the report’s findings in a conference call today. These wetlands and streams support a range of fish and wildlife species as well as sportsmen’s ability to access high-quality hunting and fishing opportunities.
Titled “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters,” the EPA report will guide development of a soon-to-be-release rule clarifying the federal Clean Water Act’s role in safeguarding the so-called “waters of the United States.”According to the EPA, the report represents the state of the science on the connectivity of waters in the United States. According to sportsmen, the report and related rulemaking play a key role in conserving the streams and wetlands important to all Americans, especially hunters and anglers.
“The report is a very good synthesis of the science that riparian and floodplain wetlands are, as a category, physically, chemically and biologically connected with rivers,” said Scott Yaich, director of conservation programs with Ducks Unlimited and a participant in today’s call.
“However, with respect to what the EPA calls ‘unidirectional wetlands,’ which includes wetlands as diverse as the prairie potholes of the Dakotas, the Carolina bays of the East Coast and the playa lakes of Texas and the southern Great Plains, their scientists were – not surprisingly – unable to draw a broadly applicable conclusion,” Yaich continued. “Nevertheless, the science that was compiled demonstrates that a great many of these wetlands are connected to and have significant impacts on downstream waters.”
With the September release of this report and the rulemaking, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers opened a new chapter – and in the view of sportsmen a welcome chapter – on the issue of wetlands and streams management. This includes the opportunity to resolve inconsistencies resulting from conflicting Supreme Court decisions concerning what constitutes the “waters of the United States” – and therefore which wetlands and streams the federal government has jurisdiction to regulate – and subsequent agency guidance.
“Overall I was pleased with the depth and breadth of the report in its review of the physical, chemical, and biological connections between headwater streams and downstream water bodies,” said Helen Neville, Ph.D., a research scientist for Trout Unlimited who spoke during the teleconference. “Working primarily in the arid West, I can’t over-emphasize the importance of small, connected and healthy headwater streams for a unique, iconic Western native trout species like the Lahontan cutthroat trout, and I commend the report authors for thorough science review of stream connectivity.”
“The report is correct in saying that the effects of small water bodies in a watershed need to be considered in aggregate,” said Joy Zedler, Aldo Leopold professor of restoration ecology, Botany Department and Arboretum, University of Wisconsin-Madison, who also participated in the scientist forum. “Wetlands are essential to the physical, chemical and biological integrity of watersheds precisely because they work together to cleanse the water, abate the floods, recharge water supplies and store carbon. And we should not forget the ways in which aggregated wetlands serve biodiversity. This is especially true throughout the Prairie Pothole Region.”
Ducks Unlimited, the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited convened the forum to illustrate the importance of the new report in the Clean Water Act’s ability to maintain and restore the integrity of the nation’s waters and wetlands.
“Simply put, the Clean Water Act cannot work well if there is confusion about which waters are protected by its provisions and which are not,” said moderator Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited. “Key to answering this central water policy question is the science documenting the roles played by headwater streams and wetlands – resources that are central to fish, wildlife and our nation’s invaluable sporting traditions – in the health of rivers, lakes and bays downstream.”
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