Thursday, July 21, 2011

Regulations Beat Restoration

Is It Illegal to Restore the Bay?
...what if, in the context of restoration, one’s intention is to increase the ecosystem benefits of a project without doing it in precisely the one-to-one, in-kind ratio demanded by a strict metrics-based accounting?

Turns out these aren’t just hypothetical questions. Certain stream- and wetland-restoration methods that have been studied by the University of Maryland have shown to have the capacity to trap and treat sediment and nutrients, and create high quality habitat for wildlife.

These projects involve permanently connecting eroded or incised streams to their surrounding floodplains. In virtually all cases, this involves temporary impacts to streams or adjacent wetlands with the goal of enhancing and improving the quality of the overall resource, both in terms of the metrics of record, but also in terms of less tangible factors, such as increasing fish spawning habitat.

Nevertheless, the regulatory comments on these projects come back as though they were development projects, impacting natural resources so that a Wal-Mart parking lot could be built upon them, rather than capping old agricultural sediments trapped in a stream valley with a rich, biodiverse wetland so that they can no longer wash down to tidewater with each rain event.

Additional evidence that our current regulatory framework is more properly aimed at slowing the decline of the resource, rather than facilitating its recovery, could not be clearer than in the case of rare, threatened, and endangered plants.

Any entry-level gardener can go to Home Depot or the nursery down the street and buy a suite of noxious, invasive plants, such as English ivy or purple loosefstrife to drop into their flower beds and colonize the surrounding woods and wetlands.

But, heaven forbid you want to try to bring back a rare, threatened, or endangered native plant species. Should you be so enterprising as to try, you will need a permit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) just to possess or transport them. Best not to bother even trying to “re-introduce” them.

DNR currently has no guidelines or standards in place to review such permits. The system is turned on its head...
So it turns out environmentalists aren't any happier to be regulated than the Captains of Industry.  They feel that they are doing the Lords work, and shouldn't have to answer to the mere secular leaders that ordinary property owners and businessmen must answer to.  But any project to deliberately alter the environment that has the likelihood of altering the ecology beyond the property owners boundaries should be scrutinized.  Just because you think what you are going to do is an improvement is no guarantee that it truly is.  As they say, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" (or as my grandfather used the say, the skulls of unbaptized babies).

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