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Water: Wetlands

Why Develop a State Wetland Conservation Plan?

February 1993


This document was developed under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant number X-818-547 with the Terrene Institute. Points of view expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Terrene Institute or EPA, nor does any mention of trade name and commercial products constitute endorsement of their use.

What is a State Wetland Conservation Plan?

A State Wetland Conservation Plan or Strategy (SWCP) gives a state a framework to protect, restore, and create wetlands. An SWCP is not meant to create a new level of bureaucracy. Instead, it improves government and private sector effectiveness and efficiency by identifying gaps in wetlands protection programs and finding opportunities to make programs work better.

Through SWCP development, States can achieve their wetland management goals, such as no net loss of wetlands, by integrating both regulatory and cooperative approaches to wetland protection.

Although each State is unique and requires a specifically tailored strategy, an SWCP should generally include these components:

1. Statement of need, goals, and objectives
2. Inventory and assessment of wetlands resources
3. Evaluation of existing and needed protection mechanisms
4. Strategy development and implementation plans
5. Plan approval
6. Monitoring progress.


1. Statement of needs, goals, and objectives

Identify and initiate discussions with appropriate private and public groups to seek their involvement and support. Draft a statement defining the overall purpose of the plan or strategy and the general problem or need. Include goal(s) to achieve, at a minimum, an equivalent to "no overall net loss" of the State's remaining wetland resource base. Other goals and objectives may set more specific directions or time horizons.

2. Inventory and assessment of wetland resources

Characterize the State's wetlands resources using available or easily obtainable information including data from mapping, monitoring, permitting, and local wetland characterizations or plans.

3. Evaluation of existing and needed protection mechanisms.

Identify public and private laws, programs, policies, and institutions available to protect wetlands. Assess programs and identify gaps in protection. Identify opportunities to increase efficiency and effectiveness or to forge new approaches for protection and restoration.

4. Strategy development and implementation plans.

Identify and establish mechanisms to carry out specific actions including target dates and responsible groups. Consider tools for change such as executive orders, legislation, administrative agreements, and other policy mechanisms.

5. Plan approval.

Work with EPA when receiving financial assistance to outline and implement expectations through a cooperative agreement. Establish process for plan approval within the State.

6. Monitoring progress.

Establish procedures to monitor and implement the plan or strategy. Establish a process to amend agreements in the SWCP based on changing conditions and monitoring results.

Why is a SWCP Advantageous?

A large number of land and water-based activities impact wetlands. These activities are not addressed by any single Federal, State, or local program. While many public and private programs and activities protect wetlands, these programs are usually limited in scope and not well coordinated. Neither do these programs address all of the problems affecting wetlands.

With an SWCP, a State can take a thorough look at its wetland problems and develop a comprehensive plan to address these problems. An SWCP can help to integrate programs to provide more comprehensive protection including such as: regulation, mapping and monitoring, restoration, planning, acquisition, incentives/disincentives, education and outreach, and research.

The process can also help to avoid duplication; identify problems that need addressing; maximize budgets, staff, and expertise; tap or combine unused resources; and reach beyond the limited scope of most regulatory programs.

Why Should My State Undertake an SWCP?

States are well positioned between Federal and local governments to take the lead in integrating and expanding wetlands protection and management programs. They are experienced in managing federally mandated environmental programs under the Clean Water Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act. They are uniquely equipped to help resolve local and regional conflicts and identify the local economic and geographic factors that may influence wetlands protection.

States can also work directly with local governments and private and nonprofit organizations to promote private stewardship of wetlands through a variety of cooperative approaches. These include planning, education, technical assistance, tax incentives, easements, and zoning techniques such as transfer of development rights.

What Progress Have States Made in Developing SWCPs?

Currently -- States are at various stages of developing SWCPs and have received financial assistance from EPA.

  • Michigan, for example is developing an SWCP or "Wetland Conservation Strategy" with the assistance of a 12-member advisory committee. The strategy will focus primarily on non-regulatory aspects of wetlands management to complement Michigan's regulatory program. Initiatives will be developed for wetland water quality, reclamation of valuable wetland functions, coordination of existing wetland protection and management efforts, and wetland education and outreach. The agencies and organizations to actively protect wetlands as well as restore wetland functions and values to areas where wetlands have been altered or lost.

  • California is further along in its planning. The California Resources Agency is developing specific elements of its SWCP, and a governor's advisory committee will provide comments throughout the process. The California Resources Agency began by holding a workshop entitled "Components of a California Wetlands Strategy: Lessons from Other States." This meeting examined other States' wetland management programs to provide options and practical advice before undertaking an SWCP. California plans to inventory its wetlands, identify crucial restoration, and take a crucial role in overall wetland regulation.

  • New York will work towards a "no net loss/net gain" goal under its SWCP. New York will assess the extent of its wetlands and survey existing wetlands. It will then determine whether to add, eliminate or establish consistency among programs. The SWCP will try to better utilize existing opportunities and focus more on non-regulatory initiatives rather than traditional regulatory programs. Because one purpose of an SWCP is to integrate wetland protection into other programs, wetland issues and references to the SWCP were integrated into the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan and the State's Open Space Plan. New York is including a comprehensive public participation component to solicit public involvement and generate support while developing its SWCP.

How is EPA Helping States Develop SWCPs?

Following the National Wetlands National Policy Forum recommendation that all states develop SWCPs, EPA adopted the goal to voluntarily help all States develop SWCPs by 2000. EPA provided financial support, technical assistance, and guidance; it offers financial assistance through its State Wetlands Protection Grants. States can obtain additional grant assistance for certain wetland projects through EPA's Clean Water Act Section 319(h) Project Grants and the Near Coastal Waters Program.

EPA assists States in other ways as well. It helped the World Wildlife Fund develop a guidebook for States entitled Statewide Wetlands Strategies to assist States with SWCPs. The guidebook provides practical information on the following topics:

1. Creating a statewide wetlands strategy
2. Organizing a strategy development process
3. Mechanisms for protecting and managing wetlands (includes examples of Federal, State, local, and private programs and their integration)
4. Wetlands data sources and collection methods Appendices
-- Developing a monitoring and evaluation plan
-- Measuring no net loss
-- Wetland contacts

In many cases, EPA is also providing States with technical assistance and help in the planning process.

How Can I Get More Information?

  • To find out more about the SWCP process, contact the appropriate EPA Regional Office for your State, or the Wetlands Strategies and State Programs Branch, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wetlands Division (4502F), 401 M Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460.

  • To order the Statewide Wetlands Strategies guidebook contact Island Press 1-800-828-1302.

  • To inquire about State Wetlands Protection Grants, contact the appropriate EPA Regional Office or the Wetlands Strategies and State Programs Branch, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wetlands Division (4502F), 401 M Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460.

  • To inquire about the Clean Water Act Section 319(h) Non point Source Grants contact the appropriate EPA Regional Office or The Non point Source Control Branch, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Assessment and Watershed Protection Division, 401 M Street, SW, Washington, DC 20460

  • To order EPA publications or inquire about other wetlands issues, contact the EPA Wetlands Information Hotline at 1-800-832-7828.

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