Demagoguing wetlands!


Author: Reed Hopper

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently issued a report to Congress called "Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009." The report contains a preface by Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, that states: "Findings from this study indicate that between 2004 and 2009, wetland losses outdistanced wetland gains."

The problem is, it’s not true.

Findings from this study actually indicate that "[t]he difference in the national estimates of wetland acreage between 2004 and 2009 was not statistically significant."

The report did cite an estimated decline of 62,300 acres of wetlands, but that is less than one tenth of one percent of the estimated total of 110 million acres of wetlands in the lower 48 states and is well within the margin of error for estimating wetlands. The drafters properly characterized it as statistically insignificant.

But rather than emphasize the "good news" that overall wetland acreage is holding steady, Secretary Salazar chose to fudge the results to imply a serious concern. This is how one manufactures an environmental crises. Secretary Salazar’s spin on the report was picked up at the Spokesman-Review with a blog post entitled "Wetlands declining, report confirms." That post was picked up by Google Alerts, which in turn …. Well, you get the idea. It will soon become a "fact" that a government report has established drastic declines in wetlands justifying more regulatory control of our natural resources. This was surely the Secretary’s intent.

After his misleading statement that "wetland losses outdistanced wetland gains," the Secretary reminded Congress that he had signed a letter in 2009 emphasizing the importance of the Clean Water Act to wetland protections. It so happens that government agencies are now on th verge of issuing new guidelines that would unconstitutionally expand the scope of the Clean Water Act to cover virtually all waters in the United States. No doubt the Secretary is hoping the report of "declining wetlands" will bolster public support for this unprecedented expansion of federal authority.