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Report: Legal Confusion Leaves Some MT “Duck Factories” in Limbo

March 11, 2010

HELENA, Mont. - Some of Montana's "duck factories" are at risk of shutting down, according to a new report, which features case studies of four wetlands in the state's Prairie Pothole Region - prime duck breeding grounds.

Jim Murphy, wetlands and water resources counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, says these wetlands, including along the Gallatin River, used to be protected under the Clean Water Act, but U.S. Supreme Court rulings changed that. The study finds wetlands have been destroyed, obstructed and in some cases polluted, and wetlands damage isn't only an issue for ducks.

"They also have other values such as flood storage potential, and they help clean nutrients and other run-off that's on the landscape."

Murphy says Congress could clear up the gray areas created by the court rulings, which he says would help the Environmental Protection Agency do its job.

"Now we've got nine-plus years of confusion, and we're starting to see losses pile up - particularly in the realm of enforcement."

One of the court's rulings stated that only wetlands with a close connection to a waterway would be protected. That decision exempted many of the Prairie Pothole puddles and other wetlands throughout the country, as well as seasonal mountain streams. The three other Montana wetlands studied are in Flathead County.

The full report, Post-SWANCAA and Rapanos Jurisdictional Determinations in Montana: Four Case Studies of Waters at Risk, is at www.nwf.org. Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited helped compile the report, which was prepared by the University of Montana.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT