Wetlands Overview:

Federal and State Policies, Legislation, and Programs

RCED-92-79FS: Published: Nov 22, 1991. Publicly Released: Dec 5, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed federal and state wetlands policies, legislation, and programs.

GAO found that: (1) over one-half of the original 221 million acres of wetlands in the contiguous 48 states have already been lost and another 290,000 acres are being lost annually to agriculture, development, and other causes; (2) over 80 percent of past wetlands losses have been attributed to the drainage and clearing of inland wetlands for farming, although wetlands losses to agricultural activities have been declining; (3) although wetlands programs include many of the elements needed for a comprehensive protection system, they lack a clear and coherent goal; (4) the federal government does not have a comprehensive wetlands protection statute, but numerous laws have affected wetlands, resulting in the regulation of activities on wetlands, the acquisition of wetlands, the restoration of damaged wetlands, and incentives to protect wetlands' natural state; (5) the Swampbuster Provision stipulates that a person who drains or manipulates wetlands for the purpose of producing an agricultural commodity is ineligible for farm program benefits; (6) the Conservation Reserve Program allows the federal government to enter into contracts with agricultural producers to remove highly erodible cropland from production in return for annual rental payments; (7) between fiscal year (FY) 1988 and FY 1990, the Army Corps of Engineers made over 74,000 determinations under its permit programs, and since FY 1985, the Department of Agricultural's Soil Conservation Service has completed over 2 million wetlands determinations relating to Swampbuster; and (8) state laws regarding wetlands vary from those that permit states to acquire and preserve wetlands to those that require permits for construction on wetlands.

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