CONSERVATION OF SMALL WETLAND AREAS

 

Candice M.T. McCullough, Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Al 36688. E-mail: dcmccullough@yahoo.com.


            The conservation of wetlands is becoming an important issue in today’s society. Many guidelines exist for wetland conservation however, most of these guidelines limit wetland size to 1 acre or larger. Small wetlands tend to be overlooked by conservation rules. Conserving small wetlands is of interest to many people within the Dog River Watershed in Mobile, AL. There are many areas in and around Dog River that contain small wetlands which have no protection from future development. Literature research reveals that conservation of small wetlands is rarely done. There are several groups that provide wetland conservation for residents in the state of Alabama, yet most require at least one acre and the landowner must take the first step. This requires action on the landowners part, and most of them don’t know enough about wetland conservation to do it. This project studies methods for landowners to follow for conserving small wetlands in their area. This information can be passed on to area residents who may be interested in wetland conservation, in particular, those that live along Dog River. Overall, this research provides crucial information on how to accomplish small wetland conservation, as well as, increases public awareness about local wetlands and why they should be protected.

            Keywords: wetlands, conservation, protection

 

 

Introduction


            Wetland conservation is becoming an important issue in today’s society. Many large wetland areas are protected by the government under the Clean Water Act, Section 404. This section states that anyone wanting to alter a wetland must first get approval from the U.S. Corps of Engineers (Corps). Numerous other wetland areas are used as mitigation for large companies and/or factories. Mitigation is the process of exchanging a developed wetland for a protected wetland (The Urban Land Institute, 1994).  However, the Dog River Watershed, in Mobile, Alabama (Figure 1), contains many wetlands that are not protected. Most of these are small areas that do not fit into current wetland conservation project standards. The majority of these small wetlands are owned by private individuals or by development companies. Nevertheless, they deserve to be protected too.

            At this time, conserving large wetland areas is relatively easy to do. Certain guidelines have been set as to what has to be done in order to save these areas. Most of these guidelines include applying for a wetland conservation easement through a land trust or holding company. A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust/holding company that places restrictions on a property. Conservation easements can be used for a variety of purposes, such as: prohibiting development, restricting dredging, etc.  To obtain a conservation easement a land trust will determine whether the property meets certain standards, such as: size, property type, property restrictions, etc. If the application is approved then the property is appraised and inventoried; and easement documents are filed at the courthouse (Alabama Land Trust, 2004). However, most of these guidelines have a restriction on size; they must be at least one acre. Conservation of small wetland areas is rarely done. This is likely due to size restrictions and lack of information available to interested individuals. Residents within the Dog River Watershed have shown interest in conservation and maintenance of local wetlands, in particular, those wetland areas that may belong to them individually.

 


Research


            How does a private individual go about obtaining a conservation easement for their small wetland area? Conservation of large wetlands seems a rather common practice. However, small wetlands are rarely ever protected. Why? Can it be done? If so, how does one go about the process? Does it require funding? And if so, is there money available? These are all questions I propose to answer with my research.

 

 

Methods


            In order to determine how one would protect their small wetland, I first had to determine if it can actually be done and what the procedures are for making it legal. I have performed a great deal of library research, searching for topics such as: wetlands, conservation, easements. I found many books about a multitude of wetland topics, including wetland science and conservation techniques. I conducted online searches for topics such as: wetland conservation, conservation easements, and land trust Alabama. I have also toured Dog River by boat to get an up-close look at the wetlands needing to be protected (Figure 2). Finally, I contacted a local land trust in order to get more detailed answers to some of my questions, especially those about cost.

 

 

Results

           
            The conservation of small wetlands may prove to be an important step in improving the water quality in
Dog River. Yet, published information on wetland conservation yields little in the way of instructions. I have reviewed many documents that claim to be used for wetland conservation; however, none of them seem intended for small wetland areas. Even the Memorandum of Agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Corps, a document that outlines a required approach to wetland mitigation decisions, has a loop hole that leaves out small wetland areas. The memorandum states that the Corps is “not required to defer its consideration of compensation where there would be insignificant environmental losses.  The Southern Environmental Law Center notes that “this basically suggests that small losses of wetlands can be tolerated even if they could be avoided. Unfortunately, small losses can add up to major impacts.” This is especially true when dealing with development along rivers, and Dog River is a perfect example. Unprotected wetland areas along the river are constantly threatened by residential development, despite the fact that they are important, not only to water quality but to wildlife as well (Southern Environmental Law Center, 1990).

           These unprotected areas could potentially be saved. Certain guidelines exist for applying for a conservation easement. Although, this is easier said then done. I have made attempts to contact the only local land trust, The Coastal Land Trust, and have yet to get any feedback. No one seems to know exactly who to contact or if they are even still operating. I contacted the Alabama Land Trust (they may prove to be an interested party) and received a many answers from them. In particular, answers about how conservation easements work and how much they cost. I have found a few grants available for individuals and/or non-profit groups that will aid in funding the conservation easement process. 

 

 

Discussion


            Overall, conservation easements could prove to be a viable option for protecting the remaining wetlands in the Dog River Watershed. In order to do this, information about conservation easements and their benefits must reach landowners living along
Dog River. Educating both city and county officials for the area would also be an important step. Once interested parties are ready, a land trust must be contacted and the conservation easement process has begun. The only other step to consider is the availability of upfront funds. Money is needed for the appraisal and for document reporting, depending on the extent of the project this could cost anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 dollars (Whitney, 2004). There are some federal grants available to aid in funding a conservation project but fundraising may also prove a valuable source of income.  There are also tax benefits to be had once a conservation easement is in place. The value of a conservation easement can be considered a charitable donation on taxes. Plus, in most situations a conservation easement reduces the value of a property and therefore reduces the yearly property taxes.

            Another option for the Dog River Watershed in particular, is for the Dog River Clearwater Revival to become a land trust. All that is legally required for a land trust is non-profit status. Their current involvement with water related issues would make them an ideal candidate. However, this solution may not be needed if an interested land trust can be found.  In order to facilitate the conservation easement process a list of important resources can be found in Appendix A. 

 

Conclusions


            In order to save more wetlands, one must first determine how to do so. Reducing wetland loss was identified as a major goal for the Dog River Clearwater Revival. This project provides crucial information on how to accomplish that goal. This research supplies details on how a local citizen(s) would go about protecting/conserving a small wetland area that they privately own, or that is publicly owned. It also provides some information on funding for conservation projects, as well as, names of holding companies and/or land trusts who may take on local wetlands. This project, if published, may also increase public awareness about local wetlands and why they should be protected.

 

References Cited


“Frequently asked questions”.
Alabama Land Trust. Online. Available: www.AlLandTrust.org/faq  Accessed: 02/05/2004.

 

Southern Environmental Law Center. 1990. A Citizens’ Guide to Protecting Wetlands in Alabama. North Carolina and Virginia.

 

The Urban Land Institute. 1994. Wetlands: Mitigating and Regulating Development Impacts. Second Edition. Washington, D.C.

 

United States Environmental Protection Agency. 1999. Catalog of Federal Funding Sources for Watershed Protection.

 

Whitney, Lyle. A conservation planner with the Alabama Land Trust. Personal interview. April 22, 2004.

 

 

Appendix A

Land trusts
The Alabama Land Trust
111 Pelham Rd S
Jacksonville
AL  36265-2504

Phone: (256) 782-3737 Fax: (256) 782-3739
Area of Operation:  All of Alabama and the
Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee
Founded: 1994
e-mail: PentecostM@allandtrust.org
www.AlLandTrust.org
The Coastal Land Trust
710 S Mobile St Apt 18
FairhopeAL  36532-1140
Phone: (251) 928-1655 Fax: (251) 928-1659
Area of Operation:  
Mobile and Baldwin Counties, Alabama/Mobile River Delta
Founded: 1990

Community Action groups:
Dog River Clearwater Revival
c/o Linda Stefan
1953 River Road
Mobile, Alabama 36605
Phone: (251) 460-7573 (Mimi Fearn-President)
Website: http://www.usouthal.edu/geography/fearn/DRCR.htm
Alabama Rivers Alliance
2027 2nd Avenue North, Suite A
Birmingham, Alabama 35203
phone: (205) 322-6395
toll free: (877) 862-5260
fax: (205) 322-6397
Email: alabamariv@alabamarivers.org
Website: http//www.alabamarivers.org

Funding:
The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Catalog of Federal Funding Sources for Watershed Protection, is a wonderful source of funding options for both private individuals and non-profit groups. A few examples that may be considered are, The Coastal Grant Program or the Wetlands Program Development Grants. This information can be accessed online at http://cfpub.epa.gov/fedfund/.

Useful Websites:
Land Trust Alliance  www.lta.org
Alabama Land Trust  www.allandtrust.org
US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  www.epa.gov