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US Environmental Record

Wetlands management and protection

Project: US Environmental Issues
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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Michael Kelly, a federal biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heads a team for the National Marine Fisheries Service which is charged with reviewing the Bureau of Reclamation’s 10-year plan for allocating the Klamath River’s water. The team completes a report concluding that the Bureau’s plan would jeopardize the coho salmon, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The report makes its way to lawyers at the Justice Department who reject Kelly’s findings and order him to rewrite his biological opinion. Two weeks later, Kelly submits a new report reaffirming the team’s earlier findings, but supported by more scientific and detailed legal analysis. The recommendations are again rejected. Against the team’s advice, the Bureau of Land management will approve lower water levels for the Klamath River, based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, which Kelly refuses to endorse. “Obviously someone at a higher level order the service to accept this new plan,” Kelly will observe. The decision will lead to the death of 33,000 salmon and steelhead trout (see September 2002). [Associated Press, 5/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Bureau of Land Management, Michael Kelly, National Academy of Sciences

Category Tags: Wetlands, Endangered species, Politicization and deception, Klamath Basin Fish Kill

More than 33,000 spawning salmon and steelhead trout die in the lower Klamath River due to the rivers abnormally low water level (see November 18, 2003). The fish succumb to “gill rot” which spreads rampantly among the fish as a result of warm water temperatures caused by the river’s shallow waters. The lower water-level is a result of the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to cut the river’s flow to 750 cubic-feet per second and divert the remaining water to farmers for irrigation. The decision was made against the recommendations of two reports by a team of government biologists (see April 2002). [High Country News, 6/23/2003; Associated Press, 5/20/2004]

Category Tags: Wetlands, Endangered species, Klamath Basin Fish Kill, Key Events

The Bush administration outlines a seven-point plan “clarifying” federal guidelines on preventing wetlands loss. This reinterpretation of existing rules weakens protections for wetlands by focusing on the ecological quality of new wetlands that replace destroyed wetlands in developed areas instead of requiring acre-for-acre replacement. [Associated Press, 12/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Water pollution, Wetlands, Key Events

The Bush administration announces a policy directive and proposed rulemaking that would significantly restrict the scope of the Clean Water Act, removing as much as 20 percent, or 20 million acres, of the country’s wetlands from federal jurisdiction. Officials claim the measures are necessary in order to comply with a 2001 Supreme Court decision that the US Army Corps of Engineers does not have the authority to regulate intrastate, isolated, non-navigable ponds solely on the basis that they are used by migratory birds. But the proposed rule and policy directive ignores a decision by the Department of Justice that the court’s ruling does not necessitate modifying the scope of the Clean Water Act. The administration’s directive and proposed rule interpret the 2001 decision to mean that all “isolated” intrastate, non-navigable waters are outside the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. [Environmental Protection Agency, 1/10/2003; New York Times, 1/10/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/10/2003; Environmental Protection Agency, 2/28/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file] Whereas the proposed rule must go through a lengthy federal process before going into effect, the policy directive is enacted immediately. The directive instructs regional offices of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to halt protection of wetlands unless (1) the waterway lies adjacent to navigable rivers, streams and their tributaries or (2) the EPA’s headquarters in Washington has granted explicit approval to exercise regulatory authority. No approval however is required for the commencement of activities that could potentially pollute these waters. As a result of this directive, thousands of acres of wetlands, small streams, and other waters instantly lose federal protection. [New York Times, 1/10/2003 pdf file; Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file] The proposed rule will generate an immense public outcry. Ninety-nine percent of the 135,000 comments submitted to the EPA and Army Corps on this proposal will be opposed to it. Comments supporting the proposed rule will come from the National Mining Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, National Association of Home Builders, and other industry groups. Additionally, environmental and natural resource government agencies from 39 states, including 17 with Republican governors, will oppose the plan, while agencies from only three states will support it. Numerous local government entities, scientific groups, as well as a bi-partisan group of 219 representatives and twenty-six senators, will also come out against the proposal. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/11/2003; Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Category Tags: Wetlands, Key Events, Mining industry

(Show related quotes)

The Bush administration announces that it will abandon its January proposed rule (see January 10, 2003) to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act. However, the administration does not retract the policy directive that was announced the same day instructing regional EPA offices and the Army Corps of Engineers to halt protection of certain wetlands. [Natural Resource Defense Council et al., 8/12/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Environmental Protection Agency, US Army Corps of Engineers

Category Tags: Wetlands, Key Events

Michael Kelly, a federal biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, resigns complaining that “threatened coho salmon in the Klamath basin still do not have adequate flow conditions to assure their survival” and that his recommendations continue to be politicized by higher-ups. Kelley had previously blown the whistle on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after they had twice rejected the recommendations of a team he headed for the National Marine Fisheries Service (see April 2002). The BLM decision to ignore the recommendations led to the death of 33,000 steelhead and federally protected salmon in the Klamath River (see September 2002), the largest fish kill in US history. More recently, Kelly explains, his regional manager, Jim Lecky, has attempted to overide a study he conducted concluding that a levee repair proposed by the California Department of Fish and Game on the 120-acre Eel River Wildlife Area would endanger California Coastal Chinook salmon and adversely impact Dungeness crab, herring, larval rockfish, eelgrass, other salmonids and the overall ecosystem. “[A]ny amount of caution would dictate that this project never be considered,” he says in a resignation letter he will release on May 19. He says the motivation behind the project appears to be concentrating “certain species of ducks into a smaller area for hunting purposes.” Kelly adds that his position is supported by fisheries biologists within the Department of Fish and Game as well as local wetland scientists and ornithologists. He will also say in his letter that there is low morale among the NOAA Fisheries staff in the region and that his colleagues are “embarrassed and disgusted by the agency’s apparent misuse of science.” [PEER, 5/19/2004; Kelly, 5/19/2004; Associated Press, 5/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Jim Lecky, Michael Kelly

Category Tags: Wetlands, Appointments and resignations, Endangered species, Klamath Basin Fish Kill

President Obama signs legislation expanding and protecting US public parks and wilderness areas from oil and gas development, a dramatic reversal of Bush-era policy. The omnibus Public Land Management Act is described as the largest US conservation measure in 15 years. [CNN, 3/30/2009; Fox Business, 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Over 150 Measures - The bill is composed of over 150 individual measures passed by Congress. Among other initiatives, it creates 10 new National Heritage Areas, designates two million acres of federal lands in nine states as wilderness areas, sets out water conservation measures through the Bureau of Reclamation, alters several national park boundaries, and takes steps to drastically improve the quality of California’s San Joaquin River, potentially restoring salmon to that river and improving the quality of drinking water throughout the Bay Area. Scientist Monty Schmitt says of the San Joaquin reclamation project, “This is taking what many have said is a dead river, and bringing it back to life for over 150 miles.” Because of the bill, Obama says, the Navajo nation—over 80,000 Native Americans living in Arizona and New Mexico—will have “access to clean, running water for the very first time.” The legislation also includes the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, named after the late Hollywood actor who was paralyzed from a riding accident, providing for paralysis research, rehabilitation, and care. Obama says that bill is “specifically aimed at addressing the challenges faced by Americans living with paralysis” and will work to improve their quality of life “no matter what the costs.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Bill Passed over Republican Opposition - The bill passed both the House and Senate by wide margins, but some Republicans oppose it, complaining that the bill imposed undue restrictions on oil drilling in rural areas. Some of the bill’s components had been blocked in recent years under the Bush administration. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Monty Schmitt, Public Land Management Act, US Bureau of Reclamation, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: National Parks, Public land use, Wetlands, Key Events

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