Michigan Land Use Institute

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Options for Strengthening Wetland Protection

Voluntary initiatives

March 1, 1997 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Wetland protection laws are designed to ensure that damage by human activities is minimized. Voluntary initiatives are a positive way for citizens and landowners to contribute to the health and quality of Benzie County's wetlands.

Consider taking the following steps:

*Establish a vegetative buffer or greenbelt of native plants around wetlands.

*Modernize and maintain septic systems to ensure that seepage will not pollute wetlands and groundwater.

*Build fences around wetlands to prevent damage from pets and livestock.

*Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides to eliminate the chance that nutrients and chemicals will contaminate wetlands. If such products must be applied, use organic or least-toxic alternatives.

*Prevent wetland disturbance when planning property divisions.

*Tell your neighbors about the value of wetlands, and encourage them to support wetland protection.

Guidebooks, government programs, and private consultants can assist landowners in identifying wetlands and developing effective protection plans. The Michigan Land Use Institute has a list of such resources, available free upon request.

Legal Protections

Landowners who wish to voluntarily establish permanent protections for their wetlands may consider donating them to a government agency or to a land conservation organization, with the condition that they be protected.

Landowners also can choose to attach deed restrictions or conservation easements to property that prohibit development of wetlands.

*Deed restrictions limit subsequent owners of the land from certain stated actions.

*Conservation easements are legal agreements that allow a landowner to retain private ownership while donating certain rights to a government agency or to a land conservation organization. Such easements sometimes can provide tax benefits.

The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is a local resource for Benzie County residents interested in conservation easements. For the address and telephone number, see pages 11-12.

The Role of State Government

Many of the wetland fills occurring in Michigan are permitted by the Department of Environmental Quality. Or, they are the result of activities like ranching, oil and gas development, and agriculture, which are exempt from the wetland protection laws.

In addition, in recent years there has been a marked decline in the commitment of top DEQ officials to protect wetlands. State administrative law judges routinely accommodate developers by granting permits to fill wetlands.

By writing letters and making phone calls, concerned citizens will demonstrate to regulators and elected officials that there is a local support for wetland protection. For the addresses and phone numbers, see pages 11-12.

Citizens can also comment on specific wetland fill applications. When doing so it is important for citizens to collect the pertinent details, and submit constructive comments to decision-makers. The Michigan Land Use Institute currently receives a list of pending wetland permit applications, and can assist citizens in drafting their comments.

The Role of Local Government

The Michigan wetland law allows townships, villages and counties to develop local regulations to help stop the loss of wetlands.

There are many benefits to local involvement in wetland protection. Local programs can fill in areas not covered by state and federal laws, such as regulating small wetlands and exempt activities. Local oversight also can provide landowners and developers with quicker response to questions, and shorter delays for site inspections and permit reviews.

Options for local governments include:

*Integrating wetland maps and principles of wetland protection with local land use plans to encourage well-coordinated future development patterns.

*Incorporating wetland protection measures in the local site plan review process to ensure that development proposals occur in a way that prevents the destruction of wetlands.

*Adopting ordinances that require landowners to secure a wetland permit before receiving other local permits. This simple step places a review of wetlands at the beginning of the development process. It helps to avoid expensive delays, and ensures that landowners are fully aware of the development restrictions before a significant investment has been made.

*Adopting stand-alone ordinances that assume full authority to enact and enforce local wetland regulations. These programs typically contain standards that are more restrictive than state and federal wetland laws.

Such programs require the strong support of citizens, so that adequate funding can be allocated and local officials have the community support needed to enforce the ordinance. Many communities across Michigan already have successfully implemented local wetland programs that enjoy broad public support.

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
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