The hysteria over the new wetlands regulations is not surprising. The old notion that a swamp, bog or marsh is a wasteland, an impediment to progress that must be drained, filled or dammed before it is developed and cashed-in on, still persists. Old customs die hard. What is surprising, however, is that your editorial of Dec. 16 seems based on outdated notions as well.
The new federal regulations recognize that wetlands are an invaluable source of fish and wildlife habitat, and provide critical flood protection and water purification. The Bush administration's enlightened policy of "no net loss" is based on the realization that the U.S. has already lost over 50 percent of our life-giving wetlands.
They also realize that wetlands are not always obvious and easily defined by "water birds and cattails," as your editorial states. Wetlands can be intermittent and not obvious to the casual observer.
Your statement that the new regulations approach "absurdity" is, in itself, absurd. What seems to scare you the most are the statistics -- that "over half of Erie (County) might fall under wetland regulations."
A closer examination of that statistic would reveal that only 13 percent of Erie County soils are classified as "hydric" or water-logged. Another 40 percent have the potential of containing small areas of hydric soils that might harbor a wetland. Soil hydrology alone does not define a wetland and preclude development. It is an early indicator that a closer inspection of the land might be needed.
Based on your false premise that the federal regulations would stifle development of "big chunks of the Niagara Frontier," you wrongly conclude that "the (state) DEC should hold its fire on sweeping new proposals" that would duplicate the federal law and regulations that "go too far." The days of draining and developing wetlands are over. And good riddance.
The DEC should proceed vigorously to conform its regulations to federal law. Your editorial implies that the DEC and Corps of Engineers have duplicate missions. They do not. The Corps of Engineers only regulates the filling of waters and wetlands. The DEC has broader responsibilities including excavations and draining.
Some people view wetlands and see only destruction and profit. Others see a purifying oasis of life. Fortunately, federal law is on our side. Let's keep it that way.
ROBERT M. CATALANO
Sierra Club, Niagara Group