Environment wetlands

what’s a wetland anyway?

It’s crunch time in academia and I’m up to my waist in paper writing.

One of the papers I’m writing is on the topic of habitat protection in the wetlands of Louisiana. When writing about wetlands in the United States, it’s important to understand the many definitions of ‘wetlands.’ For example, until the Federal Manual for Identifying and Delineating Jurisdictional Wetlands was created in 1989, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Soil Conservation Service, and the Fish & Wildlife Service all operated under different definitions of ‘wetlands.’ This created all sorts of hijinx as each agency had the power to designate areas as ‘wetlands’ and to affect people’s behavior accordingly.

I found this exert from Edward Schiappa’s article Toward a Pragmatic Approach to Definition: ‘Wetlands’ and the Politics of Meaning quite interesting (it was published in Environmental Pragmatism in 1996). It details the campaign promise of President George H. W. Bush to protect the wetlands of the United States (according to the EPA, the U.S. currently loses an average of 60,000 acres of wetlands each year).

You may remember my pledge, that our national goal would be no net loss of wetlands. And together, we are going to deliver on the promise of renewal, and I plan to keep that pledge…
Wherever wetlands must give way to farming or development, they will be replaced or expanded elsewhere. It’s time to stand the history of wetlands destruction on its head. From this year forward, anyone who tries to drain the swamp is going to be up to his ears in alligators

Bush described the protection of the environment as “a moral issue. For it is wrong to pass on to future generations a world tainted by present thoughtlessness.” Encouraging his audience to judge their actions in light of the verdict of future generations, Bush asked those present to imagine what might be said forty years from now:

“It could be they’ll report the loss of many million acres more, the extinction of species, the disappearance of wilderness and wildlife. Or they could report something else. They could report that sometime around 1989 things began to change and that we began to hold on to our parks and refuges and that we protected our species and that in that year the seeds of a new policy about our valuable wetlands were sown, a policy summed up in three simple words: “No net loss.” And I prefer the second vision of America’s environmental future.”

Of course, politics being politics, the discussion turned to the definition of “no net loss.