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Wetlands ExplainedWetland Science, Policy, and Politics in America$
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William M. Lewis

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195131833

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195131833.001.0001

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Where We Are, and How We Got Here

Where We Are, and How We Got Here

(p.3) 1 Where We Are, and How We Got Here
Wetlands Explained

William M. Lewis

Oxford University Press

English is a subtle language with many words that offer fine shades of meaning, but it also can be blunt and unequivocal. Dictionaries were not made for words such as hairdo, ballpark, or pigpen. The law, however, as practiced by Americans, can mutate the meaning of even the humblest word. If the law concerns itself with pigpens, then we must know whether a pigpen still exists when the pigs are removed and, if so, for how long. We must know if a pen originally built for cattle can become a pigpen if occupied by pigs and if pigpens are the same in all parts of the nation. In short, we must have federal guidance, regional interpretations, legal specialists, and technical authorities on pigpens. So it is with wetlands. The chapters of this book will show how troublesome the definition of wetlands has become since the federal government began regulating them. In the meantime, it will suffice to define wetlands informally as those portions of a landscape that are not permanently inundated under deep water, but are still too wet most years to be used for the cultivation of upland crops such as corn or soybeans. Wetlands, in other words, coincide pretty well with the common conception of swamps, marshes, and bogs. Government has had its hand in wetlands for about 150 years. Between the 1850s and 1970s, the federal government was intent on eliminating wetlands. Since then, it has been equally intent on preserving them. An individual who behaved in this manner would seem at least irresponsible. Many critics of federal wetland policy have in fact given the government a sound thrashing for its inconsistency, but the shift from elimination to protection of wetlands has continued nevertheless. Blaming government is the duty of a free people, and also good sport. Even so, the obvious truth about wetland regulation is that government has merely reflected a change in public attitude toward wetlands. Most Americans now believe that wetlands should be saved throughout the nation, except possibly on their own property. Americans did not always feel this way. Most European colonists of North America came from homelands that were essentially tame.

Keywords:   Alaska, Swampland Acts, Tulloch Rule, converted wetlands, farmed wetlands, isolated waters, nationwide permits, regulatory takings, three parameter approach, waterfowl and wetlands

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