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Wetland protection as land-use planning: The impact of section 404 in Wisconsin, USA

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The ability of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to act as an effective, efficient, and equitable land-use planning tool was assessed through a survey of Section 404 permits in Wisconsin. In a six-month period of permitting, the 404 program reduced wetland losses in the state by 15%. Several factors were examined that may affect permit decisions; these factors are water dependency, alternatives, project type, wetland type, and public or agency comments. Only the water dependency of the project had a statistically significant effect on permit decisions, although development projects that were perceived to provide public good were more likely to be permitted. Environmental impacts of a proposed fill project were not adequately assessed in any of the permit decisions. Because of the way Section 404 is interpreted and administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers, increasing net benefits and achieving an equitable distribution of those benefits is difficult. The corps does not perform any functional evaluations of wetlands nor do they attempt to measure economic value and environmental impacts. In addition, the 404 review process is, in effect, inaccessible to the public. The de facto interpretations of the Section 404 regulations and a lack of program funding and trained personnel all contribute to the program's ineffectiveness.

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Owen, C.R., Jacobs, H.M. Wetland protection as land-use planning: The impact of section 404 in Wisconsin, USA. Environmental Management 16, 345–353 (1992).

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