During the past century, Oklahoma has lost in excess of sixty
percent of its natural wetlands. These losses have resulted from
increases in agricultural and transportation projects, as well as
the growth of urban areas. Furthermore, wetlands are continually
impacted by a myriad of sources ranging from oil/gas exploration
to reservoir construction.
Wetlands were once thought of as barriers, prohibiting movement
from one place to another and precluding traditional farming practices
on otherwise “useful” land. As a result, many wetlands
were ditched and streams straightened to facilitate drainage and
use for agriculture. The inherent functions and values of wetlands
were largely unknown prior to the 1970’s.
In 1972, legislation was passed by the United States Congress
regulating the discharge of material into wetlands and the waters
of the United States. These regulations are commonly known as the
Clean Water Act. Today, both Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors
Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act protect and conserve
wetlands and waters of the US by regulating the discharge of dredged
and fill material and activities affecting navigation.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) are the agencies responsible for the regulation
and enforcement of the Clean Water Act, and are thereby tasked with
the protection and conservation of our nation’s valuable wetlands.
In an effort to balance wetland conservation with society’s
need for development, the USACE, EPA, and other agencies developed
the concept of wetland mitigation. Within the last decade, wetland
mitigation has been proven to be a key component to the successful
restoration and future protection of wetlands, and is becoming increasingly
important in replacing wetland losses nationwide. With this technique,
credits or acreage is made available to permittees to offset impacts
to wetlands and waters of the US.