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VIII. Wetland Gains and Losses

Has the WCA achieved its objective of no-net-loss of wetlands on a statewide basis? Despite the impressive wetland gains reported above and the increased public awareness of the importance of wetlands, the answer is “probably not.”  It’s difficult to estimate exactly how far Minnesota is from that goal. Significant wetland losses take place through activities that require no approvals or permits, making them impossible to accurately track. Examples of these types of activities include:

  • Exemptions from the Wetland Conservation Act. The 1996 legislative amendments expanded some of the exemptions, most notably: i) the de minimis exemption, which now ranges from 400 square feet to a maximum of 10,000 square feet per project and which can be deducted from the amount of wetland to be replaced; and ii) several agricultural exemptions for drainage projects to improve land for crop production.  In 1997, local government units made 1,000 exemption determinations upon request by landowners. These exemptions resulted in at least 1,022 acres of wetlands drained or filled.  As noted above, since exempt activities do not require government approval there are unreported wetland losses (i.e., beyond those noted here) that cannot be tracked.
  • Exemptions and nationwide permits not requiring mitigation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Federal Section 404 Program.
  • Non-agricultural wetland impacts approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for farm program participants.
  • Unreported violations of all programs.

As difficult as it is to estimate wetland gains and losses on an acreage basis, it is even more difficult to measure the functional gains and losses resulting from wetland projects. Wetlands are important because of how they function in the hydrologic and ecological systems. However, quantitative information on wetland functions, while even more relevant than total acreage, is not available.


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