Wetlands are ecosystems that make up some of Florida’s most biologically rich habitat. In addition to supporting birds and other wildlife, wetlands help improve water quality and provide flood control benefits. In recognition of these important functions, the federal government has an established policy of “no net loss of wetlands” to ensure that the total acreage of wetlands across the country does not decrease. But determining which water bodies qualify as protected "wetlands" under this policy has proven challenging. The Trump Administration has announced a plan to repeal and replace the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule that determines which wetlands and streams are protected under federal law.
Decisions in two U.S. Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 created confusion about what water bodies are considered wetlands and therefore protected under the Clean Water Act. President Obama developed the WOTUS Rule to eliminate this confusion and protect sensitive wetlands. Audubon scientists have documented a significant increase in wetland losses across Florida since these Supreme Court decisions.
In fact, for every one acre of wetland restored from 2004 – 2009, two acres were destroyed. Specific types of wetlands, such as shallow, seasonal wetlands, are disproportionately affected. In Florida, the total acreage of wetlands has decreased by about 44 percent over the past 150 years. At the same time, there has been a 90 percent loss in wading bird populations.
These massive losses of wetlands require an urgent and large scale response. The vast and diverse benefits that wetlands provide must be considered in any federal rulemaking that impacts wetlands protections. Any revision of the WOTUS Rule must protect wetlands and wildlife.