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Minnesota Graphic Minnesota Wetland Report

Executive Summary

In 1991, the Minnesota Legislature approved the Wetland Conservation Act (WCA), a far-reaching piece of legislation regulating the draining and filling of wetlands. As part of the full implementation of WCA in 1994, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) began to seriously track the Act’s effects on wetland gains and losses in the state, as well as the effects of other state, federal and local programs. Each year, several significant developments impact wetland monitoring, and new trends begin to emerge.

The numbers collected from 1997 and 1998 support an earlier trend of WCA serving as a deterrent to projects impacting wetlands. Again for these two years, about 75 percent of initial landowner inquires about draining or filling wetlands resulted in project revision to avoid wetlands. This continues to be one of the Act’s most important successes.

Required wetland replacement appears to be stabilizing at around 350 acres per year.  Replacement is required via approved plans when wetland draining or filling is unavoidable.

One significant event during 1998 was the development of a new reporting system to track WCA (and other natural resource program) numbers. Called the Local Government Annual Reporting System (LARS), it requires the local governments that implement the WCA to report data more specifically and completely.  While it will eventually result in better data and more accurate analysis, it created problems comparing pre-1998 data with 1998 data. Several apparent anomalies between past and current data are difficult to categorize as genuine changes or merely results of changes to reporting procedures. Additional years of consistent data collection will allow more careful evaluation of these figures.

Another major development in recent years was the beginning of the Road Replacement Program. Amendments approved to the WCA during the 1996 legislative session switched the responsibility for replacement of wetlands lost to repair or upgrade of existing roads from local governments to the BWSR. Wetland replacement due to road repair required about 106 acres in 1996, 208 acres in 1997 and 168 acres is 1998.  The program requires about $2.35 million in funding per year to meet replacement needs.

Increased attention to the functional assessment of wetlands also received a great deal of attention, both at the state and federal level, during 1997. The Minnesota Interagency Wetland Group developed the Minnesota Routine Assessment Method for Evaluating Wetland Functions (MnRAM), a tool for evaluating wetlands based on function rather than merely size and type. (MnRAM is available on the web at www.dnr.state.mn.us/fish_and_wildlife/wetlands/wetlandscon.html). The federal government developed a similar, although more detailed, functional evaluation method. Both of these new tools reflect the growing agreement that wetland functions, while difficult to assess, provide an accurate and realistic reflection of a wetland’s value.

1997 also saw the completion of the Minnesota Wetlands Conservation Plan (available on the web at www.dnr.state.mn.us/fish_and_wildlife/wetlands/wetlandscon.html), a comprehensive look at wetlands management in Minnesota.  The plan, sponsored collaboratively by a variety of state agencies and funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), used input from a series of meetings throughout the state to determine ways to make Minnesota’s wetland programs more effective and efficient. 

Finally, BWSR and other state agencies continued their ongoing efforts to streamline wetland regulations, both at the state level and between the state and federal governments. One key development was the introduction in January 2000 of a new letter of permission (LOP) process for wetland permitting by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, replacing the old nationwide permitting process. The LOP uses many of the standards contained in WCA, meaning that a project permitted through WCA will generally also be permitted through the Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, landowners can now apply for the Army Corps of Engineers permit at their local government office, where they also apply for WCA permits.

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