Sunday, September 1, 2013

Time Has Come to End the National Wetlands Inventory

The following letter was sent to Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) regarding the need to eliminate the National Wetlands Inventory program of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  I have another US Senator (Marco Rubio) and my local Congressman (Vern Buchannan) but both are more interested in importing bags of tea than in governing so I'm sending this only to Nelson in the hope that he does something.

September 1 2013

Senator Bill Nelson
716 Senate Hart Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Nelson,

The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 (16 U.S.C. §§ 3901-3932, November 10, 1986, as amended 1988 and 1992), required, among other things, that the Secretary of the Interior acting through the US Fish and Wildlife Service … “complete by September 30, 1998, mapping [of wetlands] of the contiguous United States; to produce, as soon as practicable, maps [of wetlands] of Alaska and other noncontiguous portions of the United States;…"

Today is September 1, 2013, almost exactly 15 years since the September 30 1998 end date mandated by the Congress, and the National Wetlands Inventory is still alive and functional in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Given that the final date of authorization provided in legislation by the Congress ended 15 years ago I am writing to inquire why the Congress continues to appropriate funds annually for the Inventory.  I ask this not as a Tea Party wing nut but as a former US Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist who worked for the last 14 years of my career in the National Wetlands Inventory in Washington DC.  The concept of the NWI was a good one when it was conceived in the late 1970s but the program has become mired in “we always did it that way” mindset and quite frankly the mapping program no longer has any relevance.

The EWRA also mandates that “…A digital wetlands database for the U.S. is to be produced from the various maps by September 30, 2004. The Secretary also shall archive and make available for dissemination wetlands data and digitized maps”.  It is now 9 years after the digital wetland database mandate expired and the digital database is nowhere near completion.  The reason for the failure to complete the database lies entirely with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and its former National Wetlands Inventory coordinator who placed emphasis on producing paper maps and hoped that other agencies and entities would pay for the digitizing of those maps.  Bottom line here is that the digital wetland database will never be completed and the Congressional mandate to conduct the work ended 9 years ago.

The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act further directs the Secretary acting through the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to “…produce, by September 30, 1990, and at ten-year intervals thereafter, reports to update and improve in the September 1982 "Status and Trends of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitat in the Coterminous United States, 1950's to 1970's." Currently the wetland status and trends component of the National Wetlands Inventory is the only part of that program that 1) remains relevant, 2) produces information useful to policy makers and  3) and most importantly, is the only part of the program that still has a Congressional mandate with no end date.

The National Wetlands Inventory is funded at about $4 million a year which in the grand scheme of things is not even a blip on the radar screen. Still, scarce taxpayer-generated funds are being appropriated annually by the Congress for a component of a law that expired 15 years ago.  And with the exception of the wetland status and trends component of the program, those funds are producing an outdated product that no longer is of value to resource management decision makers.

I am writing to request that you look into finding a way to defund the National Wetlands Inventory.  If the entire program cannot be eliminated (my preferred alternative) then at least change the wording in the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act to only provide a Congressional mandate for conducting the wetland status and trends component and then ensure that the status and trends component is funded at a level where the US Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t’ have to beg other agencies for money to complete a task mandated by Congress but for which Congress provides insufficient funds to complete.

Thanks for considering my request and one other thing.  I would like to hear back on your views on this topic.  Sending a letter to Interior asking for them to prepare a response will result in a letter being generated by the Fish and Wildlife Service extolling the virtues and values of a program whose day in the sun ended 15 years ago.

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