DAYTON, Ohio (AP) State environmental regulators want more detailed rules for replacing wetlands because they say few developers successfully recreate habitats where displaced plants and animals can thrive.
“We’re not getting the quality back that we have lost,” said Mick Micacchion, a wetland ecologist with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Home to amphibians, mammals such as beavers, deer and a vast number of birds, wetlands in Ohio have been shrinking since the 1790s. Wetland acreage is down an estimated 90 percent in the state because of construction and other development as well as drainage for farms.
Wetlands absorb potentially hazardous floodwaters and act as nature’s kidneys by naturally filtering pollution.
One of the goals of the federal Clean Water Act is to require states to replace lost wetlands. But the Ohio EPA said many of the replacement wetlands aren’t adequately duplicating the resources that have been lost.
A report from the EPA last year assessing 1,000 acres (404 ha) of replacement wetlands found that 25 percent didn’t qualify as wetlands but were “shallow, unvegetated pond” and that 18 percent of wetland area was of good quality.
The EPA said rules governing the construction of these replacements need to become more detailed and specific to create healthier natural environments where wildlife can potentially thrive.
The revision of Ohio EPA wetlands-replacement guidelines could mean higher costs for developers. The agency is assessing the financial impact and is required to disclose the figures before new rules are enacted.
A draft of the new rules could be finalized later this year after more input from developers, environmental groups and government agencies.
Vince Squillace, executive vice president of the Ohio Home Builders Association Inc., said his organization opposes such changes.
“They’re expensive and would harm future development in the state of Ohio,” he said. “The proposed rules would be very difficult to comply with.”
The Clean Water Act has led to the creation of at least 4,000 acres (1,168 ha) of replacement wetlands since the late 1980s, Micacchion said. Agency records show that it approved permits for construction projects that eliminated 123 acres (49 ha) of wetlands from July 2005 until June 2006, the latest figures available.
The EPA study found that wetland replacements often don’t provide enough habitat for plants and animals. Some work as short-term, stopover spots for waterfowl, but the waterfowl soon move on because there’s not enough food or shelter, Micacchion said.