_by Bob Marshall
Are they crazy or brilliant?
That’s a question Trout Unlimited and a growing number of sportsmen are asking about the House leadership after it launched yet another attempt to block a proposed new wetlands guidance that could restore protection to millions of acres of wetlands, including headwaters of trout streams across the West.
The latest effort comes from the House Appropriations Committee, which voted along party lines for a measure that would prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from spending any money to implement the guidance, expected to be issued by the Obama Administration in the next few months.
Two House GOP budgets previously contained similar policy directives, neither of which made it through Congress. But the fact this try came so late in the game – and from a different vector – makes many conservationists nervous.
“This is the third year in a row that the House has tried to stop a new guidance from going forward, and we’re a little concerned sportsmen might be tired of getting the call to action- they may think it’s no longer important,” said Steve Moyer, TU’s vice president for government affairs.
“And this came very late in the process. Previously they used policy riders on budgets, so we had time to fight it. This time it was added by the appropriators. So now we’re trying to rally sportsmen – again – and we don’t have much time.”
The author of this attempt is Dennis Rehberg (R- Montana), who has been a steadfast opponent of restoring Clean Water Act protection to 20 million acres of wetlands removed by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Those acres are mostly the small, seasonal and isolated wetlands essential to waterfowl breeding populations, and thousands of acres of trout stream headwaters.
Attempts to restore all those protections with the Clean Water Restoration Act were repeatedly blocked by congressmen supportive of development interests. Conservationists cheered when the Obama Administration attempted to limit the damage by issuing a new definition of which wetlands could be protected under the court rulings – a “guidance” for federal agencies like the corps and the EPA to follow. While the new guidance would leave millions of temporary wetlands vulnerable, it would bring headwaters back under the Clean Water Act umbrella.
The Obama Administration has been dragging its heels in getting the final version of that guidance officially published, but the GOP majority has made it clear it isn’t going to wait for the results.
“What they have been trying to do is tell the corps and the EPA that they can’t spend any money on implementing the guidance,” Moyer said. “This isn’t a vote on the law (CWA), it’s a way to effect policy. By using the budget process they can prevent the agencies responsible for protecting wetlands from doing their jobs.”
The risk to trout and plenty of other wildlife is enormous.
“The headwaters are the roots of a healthy watershed,” Moyer explained. “And you need healthy watersheds to have healthy trout populations.
“So we’re asking sportsmen – again – to contact their congressional delegations and tell them not to support this attempt. I know we’ve already done this before, but it’s important.”
You can find out how to contact your congressional rep at www.contactingthecongress.org.