Having attended two hearings in Lockport concerning proposed Department of Environmental Conservation wetlands regulations, I came away somewhat mystified at the strange alliance between developers and farmers that has been forged in opposition to these changes.
To begin with, the proposed regulations are only concerned with revising the DEC methods of delineating and mapping wetlands to bring them more in line with federal regulations. This, in fact, addresses one of the main concerns expressed at the hearings, that of a lack of consistency between the two levels of government.
The new regulations do not extend the wetland buffer zone to 500 feet, nor do they reduce the 12.4 acre threshold size, as the anti-regulation propaganda suggests. In addition, even if the wild exaggerations of the amount of additional area that would be regulated under the changes were true, the agricultural exemption that is written into the Fresh Water Wetlands Act is not affected.
It is, therefore, difficult to understand why the farmers, the self-professed stewards of the land whose activities would be largely unaffected, would be siding with developers, whose only interests are their own economic gain.
To the extent that developmental activity would be inhibited, farmers would benefit from not having to pay the higher taxes that inevitably follow encroaching suburbanization. They would be better advised to lobby local and state legislators for tax reductions on wetland property, as is being considered in many jurisdictions.
Maintaining the overall health of the land, as the preservation of wetlands does, ultimately benefits the farmers and their consumers, as well as the many species of flora and fauna that are dependent upon the myriad benefits of these valuable ecosystems.
DOUGLAS G. ASHBY