Sportsmen's Group Voices Concern Over SCOTUS Wetlands Ruling
Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Conservation and sportsmen's groups are voicing concerns that wetlands areas are now in jeopardy of being drained and developed or otherwise eliminated, based on the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The decision has major implications for North Carolina, where 17% of the state is made up of wetlands.
The high court ruled that federal Clean Water Act protections don't apply to wetlands unless they're connected year-round to a navigable body of water.
John Gale, vice president for Policy and Government Relations at the nonprofit group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said it leaves 80% of U.S. wetlands vulnerable to pollution and development.
"There's a degree of uncertainty for the quality of those waters going forward," said Gale. "Without any backstop or safeguards in place, you have to consider an erosion of the best waters that have the highest water quality standards are now in jeopardy of being lost or polluted."
Supporters of this decision say it's a victory for private-property rights. The Environmental Protection Agency was sued by an Idaho couple who were prevented from building on their land due to the presence of wetlands.
The U.S. Geological Survey says North Carolina once had 11 million acres of wetlands, with most lost over the centuries to farming and development.
Scientists say wetlands are invaluable in terms of biodiversity and help with climate resilience. They stabilize coastlines and offer protection against extreme weather events, according to the Global Center on Adaptation.
However, Gale suggested that these benefits could be threatened by the court's decision - which he predicts also will have a negative impact on wildlife.
"It's something that Fish and Wildlife and local communities should be worried about too," said Gale. "Wetlands are incredibly important to providing and filtering clean water. They provide buffers against storms and flooding."
About 70% of the state's rare and endangered plant and animal species depend on wetlands for their survival.
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