Sportsmen and women across the country have reason for encouragement after the administration initiated steps to restore Clean Water Act protections to many wetlands and streams.

These waters are critically important to waterfowl and other wildlife populations throughout the nation. In addition to recreational opportunities they provide for anglers, hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts, an estimated 117 million Americans also depend on streams for drinking water. Many millions more, including farmers and ranchers, benefit from the groundwater wetlands recharge and the flood protection they provide.

“The Clean Water Act has been a critical safety net for our nation’s wetlands,” former DU President John Tomke said from Milwaukee, Wis., during the press conference where the guidance was released. “It is critical that the CWA continue to provide those protections to the fullest extent possible, while remaining consistent with the law and the rulings of the courts.” Tomke represented DU at the event and was asked to speak to the press.

Ducks Unlimited has long supported the needs of waterfowl and sportsmen, and therefore supports the initiation of an open, transparent process by which long-standing CWA protections can be restored to wetlands important to waterfowl. This process began with today’s release of draft regulatory guidance. The draft guidance seeks to more clearly define which U.S. waters are subject to CWA protections. The guidance is open to comment from the public.

“We are very encouraged to see the release of this draft guidance and support the agencies’ efforts to restore CWA protections,” Dale Hall, DU’s CEO, said. “While we have not thoroughly analyzed it, we are hopeful the draft guidance will go a long way toward reducing confusion about Clean Water Act administration. Administrative guidance is needed in order to restore protections to many wetlands.” These wetland areas include prairie potholes, which are important for maintaining waterfowl populations and the traditions associated with them throughout North America.

Hall emphasized it would be important for the guidance to retain existing exemptions for agriculture and forestry. He said the guidance simply clarifies regulations that already exist and, importantly, does not add additional regulations.

DU’s specific interests center on wetlands that lie in landscapes particularly important for waterfowl during the breeding season, migration and on the wintering grounds. “Unless adequate protection of many of the nation’s wetlands, streams, lakes and headwaters is restored, wetlands and waterfowl will remain threatened,” DU Chief Biologist Dale Humburg, said. “Wetlands are important to waterfowl, but they are also important to those who care about waterfowl, including duck and goose hunters and the millions more who appreciate the spectacle of migration. Without abundant and healthy wetlands, there will not be plentiful waterfowl.”

The confusion regarding the extent of CWA protections resulted from the decisions of two U.S. Supreme Court cases, SWANCC (2001) and Rapanos (2006). Together, these decisions removed protections for as much as 20 million acres of wetlands, particularly prairie potholes and other seasonal wetlands essential to waterfowl populations. Geographically isolated wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region are currently without clear rules that ensure their protection, and since the majority of breeding ducks in the United States come from the Prairie Pothole Region, the habitats for millions of waterfowl may not have CWA protection.

“A team of DU science and policy specialists will analyze the guidance,” Hall said. “We will actively support elements of the guidance that restore CWA protections that had existed for decades prior to the SWANCC decision and that are consistent with the findings of the Court. We will also provide science-based comments to further achieve that objective. We applaud the agencies for taking this step and encourage them to initiate a rulemaking as quickly as possible to foster a public process that eliminates confusion and restores protection to wetlands that are most important to waterfowl.”