COMMENTARY

Wetlands can serve many roles
Economic, aesthetic and cultural benefits can all be carefully derived from this resource, says New Farm reader.

Posted May 12, 2006

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With great interest I read the letter from David Travis of New Jersey regarding productive species adapted to wetlands. David should be aware that work in wetlands is regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act. He may need a Department of the Army permit to clear, fill, or cultivate wetlands for crop production. If he is a farmer receiving USDA subsidies, under the Food Security Act he could lose those subsidies if he brings wetlands into agricultural production. He can learn more about the Clean Water Act at www.nap.usace.army.mil/cenap-op/regulatory/
regulatory.htm
. He can contact his local USDA office for information about their regulations.

Having said that, wetlands serve many vital ecological functions that need to be considered for agriculture to be truly sustainable. They can fit into a farm plan and provide economic, aesthetic, and cultural benefits. The species adapted to wetlands that you described could be part of a permaculture plan to produce food, wood and fiber in a way that doesn't need Corps or USDA authorization. You could get grants or payment for conserving and enhancing the wetlands. Hunting, birding, or other recreation opportunities can be enjoyed by you, your family and friends, or managed and leased for hunting or fishing. Wetlands can sustainably produce timber if managed and harvested properly and sensitively.

Even if you don't benefit financially from a direct use of the wetlands, they are a vital link in the nutrient and water cycle of the area. Wetlands buffer streams and rivers from sediment and pollutants produced by activities on nearby uplands. Wetlands act as a sponge or detention basin that regulate stormwater discharge into streams and reduce flooding and stream flow fluctuation. Wetlands provide habitat for a variety of flora and fauna. Some species such as amphibians depend on wetlands for a critical part of their life cycle.

Please don't underestimate the value of wetlands and please don't break the environmental laws. The laws and the agencies that administer them are not perfect. They will never solve the problem and often make a mess of them but they become necessary when people don't consider the big picture and make wise choices in all that they do. I like The New Farm because it helps us see that bigger picture and make wise decisions. Maybe it will help our society avoid more government regulation! I hope so!

Cody Wheeler
Kansas