Alaska Editorial: We don't need the Wetlands Act in Southeast Alaska

Posted: Thursday, June 22, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

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Ketchikan has its share of wetlands. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act isn't needed here. Nor is it necessary in most of Alaska. Alaska is largely undeveloped with wide open spaces and untapped natural resources.

But in the Lower 48 where cities cherish their green strips because that's all the wilderness they have, it might be appropriate. And it is in cities where it gets the majority of its support.

It isn't popular in the Western rural areas or even closer to the cities where sometimes the act is used simply to prevent development. In those cases, it is a matter of the bureaucracy and special interests abusing its intent. It should be used in over-developed cities on public land. It shouldn't be used to prevent a rancher from developing private property as has been done since its inception in 1989.

The reauthorization of the act has been introduced in the U.S. House. Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., notes that the act has resulted in more than 1,500 conservation projects, and more than 23 million acres of wetlands have been protected, restored or enhanced in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Pombo credits the act with limiting the damage from hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Without projects endorsed by the act, he maintains the loss of human life, wildlife habitat and private property would have been greater. Perhaps the act is appropriate for that part of the country.

He also laudes the opportunities the act provides for future generations to enjoy the outdoors.

Once again, Alaska is far ahead of the intent of the act. Alaskans chose to live in Alaska because of the natural beauty and opportunities created by a natural-resource based economy. Those resources are preserved and managed for sustainability. For example, Alaska has the best fisheries management through practices of the state Department of Fish. The results are frequent record catches by commercial and sport fishers.

Alaska has far fewer acres of land in development than most states. It is a young state with new technology to guide its growth and resource management. It has learned from the management mistakes in the Lower 48 and is loathe to follow those examples. It doesn't need to create wetlands; it's already got them. Here, it's a matter of allowing some of them to be developed.

That should be taken into consideration by Congress when it addresses reauthorizing the act. Alaska isn't in the same position when it comes to conservation as other states. There should be an Alaska amendment to the House bill.

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