Developing a Voluntary Restoration and Protection Program for Wetlands
Restoration and Protection
Wetland restoration is the manipulation of a former or degraded wetland's physical, chemical, or biological characteristics to return its natural functions. Restoration practices include:
- Re-establishment, the rebuilding a former wetland; and
- Rehabilitation, repairing the functions of a degraded wetland (US EPA, 2007a).
Wetlands protection is defined as removing a threat or preventing the decline of wetland conditions (US EPA, 2007a).
Restoration and protection efforts can be either regulatory or voluntary. Regulatory restoration and protection (a component of compensatory mitigation) results from federal, state, tribal, or local laws and regulations that prohibit, condition, or compensate for permitted impacts to existing wetlands. Voluntary restoration and protection refers to activities not required by statutes or regulations.
Both regulatory and voluntary wetland restoration play a role in states and tribes broader implementation of Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act programs.
Whether as a stand-alone effort or as a complement to a state/tribal regulatory program, voluntary restoration and protection efforts help stem the loss and create a gain in natural wetlands and their associated functions. Voluntary restoration and protection is the subject of this core element, with particular focus on restoring or protecting natural wetlands to maintain or attain a high level of overall wetland function/condition. Many states and tribes rely on voluntary restoration and protection activities as a basis for their wetlands programs.
Goals and Benefits
Wetland restoration and protection is important to maintain critical wildlife habitat, help meet state and tribal watershed goals and contribute to economic well-being. To achieve these goals, a number of states have invested in programs that help implement, support or coordinate local restoration efforts.
States and tribes enjoy numerous benefits of restoration and protection due to the many functions that natural wetland systems perform.
- Wetlands provide critical habitat, breeding grounds and sources of food for shellfish, fish, birds, amphibians and other organisms.
- Wetlands play a crucial role in many state and tribal fishing economies.
- Wetlands are also preserved to provide feeding and resting grounds for migratory birds and to create habitat corridors for wildlife populations.
- These services generate state and tribal commercial, recreational and aesthetic benefits as well.
- Wetlands also control erosion, limit flooding, moderate groundwater levels and base flow, assimilate nutrients, protect drinking water sources and buffer coastal areas from storm surges.
- States may pursue wetland restoration to improve water quality and comply with Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollutant allocations in impaired waters and watersheds.
States and tribes can pursue any or all of the following objectives as they develop voluntary restoration and protection efforts:
- Clearly and consistently define restoration and protection goals throughout state or tribal territory;
- Protect wetlands from degradation or destruction;
- Restore wetland acres, condition and function; and
- Track progress over time, document results and modify practices as appropriate.