Wetlands – An Environmental Issue for Free Marketeers

February 2nd, 2009 at 10:00 pm | 3 Comments |

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Conservatives have good reason to question parts of the environmental movement’s wish-list. Proposals for new energy taxes, “green jobs” programs, and restrictions on private property use all ask conservatives to sacrifice long-standing principles in favor of a nebulous desire to save the planet. When it comes to at least one green cause, wetlands preservations, however, environmental and conservative interests appear aligned. Quite simply, governments do far more to destroy wetlands than free markets ever have, and preserving these critical areas increases natural disaster resistance.

Wetlands are areas with shallow, sometimes seasonal, water flow. They host an enormous diversity of wildlife. Before World War II, almost nobody built on them. As air conditioning made lots of previously hot, humid areas attractive, however, the Army Corps of Engineers — with encouragement from developers — drained millions of wetlands acres, built new shipping channels, and provided lots of choice building sites.

This process of wetlands destruction, lessened but still ongoing, damaged a lot of wildlife habitat and moved millions of Americans into hurricane-prone areas. Although improved warning, medical, and transportation systems have lessened casualty rates since the last period of high hurricane activity between roughly 1910 and 1940, rampant building in wetland areas puts plenty of people in areas that hurricanes often destroy.

Left undisturbed, wetlands also absorb hurricane-driven storm surges, particularly from small and medium-sized storms. Building shipping channels through swamps, on the other hand, increases storm damage. A shipping channel — the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (the “Mr. Go”) played a major role in “letting in” the storm surge that devastated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Current national wetlands policy actually encourages destruction to continue in return for “no net loss.” Every day, developers and governments get permission to build in hurricane-mitigating coastal wetlands in return for creating new inland swamps. While the total stock of wetlands has grown modestly in most areas, current policies tend to help wildlife more than people.

Conservatives need to get behind efforts that undo the damage big government has done. The Mr. Go is already slated for closure, but dozens of other ill-conceived projects likely create similar threats. Although replacement might make sense in some cases, future policy needs to focus on maximizing wetlands’ benefits to people and preserving coastal wetlands.

Not every part of conservative wetlands policy will line up perfectly with what environmentalists have traditionally wanted. But wetlands preservation makes sense.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • HHomer

    Conservative and conservation should go hand in hand. I fail to see anything conservative about supporting uncontrolled building on sensitive habitats.

  • HollywoodBill

    Not all wetlands are in hurricane country. There is a huge one on the “fashionable” westside of Los Angeles, on one of the sights of an old WWII Hughes Aircraft factory. Together, the real estate developers and the conservationists came up a plan that works for all. The results, Playa Vista, a planned community with Wetlands intact. It is exciting to see natural wildlife, particularly unusual birds in their natural habitat. Playa Vista is a welcome change from LA’s sprawl. Huge green areas in a highly desirable location makes the locale even more desirable. The conservationists win. The developers win. Everybody plays, everybody wins..

  • jdipeso

    Great post. Wetlands are a form of capital that returns numerous benefits, including flood control and taking the edge off storm surges. Another benefit of wetlands is water filtration. Water is transitioning from a largely Western to a national issue (ask anyone in the Atlanta metro area). Protecting natural wetlands should be part of our strategy to ensure adequate supplies of clean water.