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Re: E-M:/ wetland replacement not all it's cracked up to be

From my perspective as a wetland consultant for the past 11 years, much of the State-regulated wetland is not accounted for, even in permit applications, making the statistics for wetland mitigation that much more meaningless. A large amount of regulated wetland has been omitted from the permit process, mostly because of consultants' efforts to deregulate wetland and MDEQ/administration failure to hold them to actual wetland boundaries. I can't provide a good estimate of the wetland acreage not accounted for, as it varies widely according to region, consultant, project, and other factors, but I think I can safely say that the total well exceeds that taken by permit. I would guess that it's at least a multiple of 2 or 3.
Most consultants know that you can usually get more wetland impact through delineation games than through permits. These games routinely include: Overly tight delineation across a site ("creative micro-delineation" as I call it); Artificial upland breaks (on paper) where critical to breaking-up wetland into less than 5-acre areas or keeping it more than 500 feet from a lake, pond, or stream; Delineation in August through early November, usually the driest part of the growing season, and MDEQ confirmation in winter (although in most cases, hydrology indicators persist throughout the year, and soil indicators are always present under normal circumstances); Skewed hydrology data and interpretation; Largely unfounded claims of hydrology depletion; and other strategies of "divide and conquer".
Occasionally we deal with delineations and data ranging from technically flawed, to outright lies, to the bizarre. A common technical flaw in Saint Clair County, for example, is that many consultants seem to think that wetland doesn't occur on sand because it typically has a high chroma (bright color) when in fact, the 1987 Army Corps of Engineers Manual (used throughout the U.S. and commonly in place of the MDNR and MDEQ draft manuals) has a special section on sandy soils, which states at one point that, "In particular, soil color should not be used as an indicator in most sandy soils." An outright lie included the revision of a site plan to make a wetland appear as though it was greater than 500 feet from a stream. The bizarre has included a vegetation list in a report of "various shrubs" and a reference to "Lake Macomb" more commonly known as Lake Saint Clair. Another site had "stressed Purple Loosestrife" indicating that, while the wetland was still there, its hydrology was on its way out and should therefore, not be considered wetland. Oh my.
Many developers know that the more consultants you have review a site, the smaller the wetland gets. Obviously consultants want to keep their clients happy, and it just looks bad if you find more wetland than the previous consultant. And if you want to increase your chances for more work, you better find less.
Aside from bad delineation, there are some factors just naturally limit wetland protection. Many large sites have the benefit of requiring a lot of physical effort to observe, especially on a hot day like this. Larger sites with few landmarks can make it difficult to know where you're at, let alone if the ribbons match the surveyed boundaries on the site plan. And sometimes the mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, poison ivy, and other elements seem to conspire for their own destruction.
Some apparently think I'm too picky about wetland, but it is all of these little things that are being used to permanently destroy our wetland resources on a large scale. This is not to mention the many other methods of making wetland go away, including physical manipulation, illegal drainage, politics, lawsuits, Contested Case Hearings, illegal filling, and who knows what else.   
Even if Michigan's wetland law (Part 303 of Act 451 of 1994, NREPA) was perfectly enforced, few realize that much of our wetland in rural Michigan is not regulated. According to State law, only in counties with populations of 100,000 is wetland over 5 acres regulated. Otherwise, the wetland must be contiguous: connected by surface water to, or within 500 feet of, a lake, pond, or stream, or within 1,000 feet of the Great Lakes. Of course, the definition of "lake", "pond", and especially "stream" is open to a lot of interpretation. It would be unusual that a large wetland area in northern Michigan should not be contiguous to a lake, pond, or stream at some point, but technically, if not contiguous, even wetlands of 100's of acres would not require a permit from MDEQ to be impacted.
Also, much of the wetland left after a permit is issued tends to be highly fragmented and isolated from its original hydrologic and ecological context within the landscape. At best, the regulatory process, as legislated, isolates wetland and treats it as largely a one-dimensional resource. In the long-term, this is not a sustainable approach.
In regard to wetland mitigation, some are poorly designed, but from my experience, much of the failure is the result of contractor deviation from the mitigation plan. Few contractors have experience in wetland mitigation, and if it's not drawn on a site plan, don't expect it to get done. I had a mitigation area suffer from a contractor stealing our good topsoil and failing to segregate out topsoil full of Phragmites as I directed. On this same site, there is an area with way too much hydrology because we were denied access to a natural drainage outlet after the development was completed, and another area with too little hydrology because it was designed to accept stormwater from future outlot development that has not taken place. Another mitigation area remains unfinished after two years because of many contractor excuses, the last of which was that his only bulldozer operator quit to go hunting on opening day of deer season. On top of that, they never did any surveying to confirm the elevations I specified in the plan.
Those familiar with the National Wetlands Inventory maps realize that they are not entirely accurate, having been produced largely by aerial photograph interpretation. They tend to indicate a minimum of wetland in flatter areas but are fairly close in hilly areas. The NWI maps have been produced for wetland across Michigan and the U.S.. Even many of these wetlands are written-off by consultants and regulatory agencies. Someday, when we're all done with these regulatory games (one way or another) the NWI maps will tell much of the story. Unfortunately, I think the story will be the general failure of the regulatory process in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
I don't mean to discount the efforts of anyone sincerely working in the regulatory program (including myself), but as some are aware, there are serious problems.
Bill Collins
Huron Ecologic, LLC
-----Original Message-----
From: Dave Dempsey <davemec@voyager.net>
To: Enviro-Mich@Great-Lakes.Net <enviro-mich@great-lakes.net>
Date: Sunday, July 22, 2001 11:53 PM
Subject: E-M:/ wetland replacement not all it's cracked up to be

>Enviro-Mich message from "Dave Dempsey" <davemec@voyager.net>
>Since 1988, Michigan has legally permitted more than 1,600 acres of wetlands
>to be destroyed to make room for houses, malls, schools, roads, condominiums
>and businesses. That's an area larger than 1,322 football fields.
>To offset the loss, state officials have required developers to create an
>average of about 1.5 acres of new wetlands for each acre that is filled.
>But an audit by the agency that regulates them shows the state rarely checks
>whether those wetlands were built. About half are too small, less than a
>quarter work the way they are supposed to and many weren't built, according
>to the Department of Environmental Quality study.
>ENVIRO-MICH:  Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
>and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action.   Archives at
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