Wetland banking yields low return on urban interests

A federal policy that allows developers to compensate for damaging or destroying wetlands by buying wetlands elsewhere has environmental consequences that can be especially harmful to urban areas, according to a Florida State University law professor in Tallahassee, Fla.

J.B. Ruhl, the Matthew and Hawkins Professor of Property at the FSU College of Law, said that the policy of "wetland mitigation banking" redistributes wetland resources from urban areas to rural ones, potentially leaving city dwellers with fewer important environmental services such as water filtration, erosion protection and flood control.

"Completely different populations are winners and losers in terms of locally delivered wetland ecosystem services," Ruhl said.

Ruhl and James Salzman, a professor at the Duke University School of Law and the Nicholas School of the Environment, conducted the first comprehensive empirical study of demographic changes prompted by wetland mitigation banking, a rapidly growing industry in the United States. Their findings are outlined in an article, "The Effects of Wetland Mitigation Banking on People," published in the National Wetlands Newsletter.

The practice of wetland mitigation banking evolved from state and federal efforts to eliminate a net loss of wetlands nationwide. The Clean Water Act requires land developers who damage or destroy wetlands to create new wetlands either on the development site or somewhere else or pay a third-party entity to do it for them. Wetland mitigation banking is a variation of third-party, off-site mitigation, which allows a developer to purchase "credits" from another landowner - the wetland banker - who has created or enhanced wetland resources elsewhere.

For their study, Ruhl and Salzman collected information about all of Florida's active and sold-out wetland banks and the land development projects that purchased credits from them to satisfy the mitigation requirements. They found a clear s

Contact: J.B. Ruhl
Florida State University

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