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Where is the avoidance in the implementation of wetland law and policy?

By Shari Clare , Naomi Krogman, Lee Foote, Nathan Lemphers
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Abstract Many jurisdictions in North America use a
‘‘mitigation sequence’’ to protect wetlands: First,
avoid impacts; second, minimize unavoidable
impacts; and third, compensate for irreducible impacts
through the use of wetland restoration, enhancement,
creation, or protection. Despite the continued reliance
on this sequence in wetland decision-making, there is
broad agreement among scholars, scientists, policymakers,
regulators, and the regulated community that
the first and most important step in the mitigation
sequence, avoidance, is ignored more often than it is
implemented. This paper draws on literature published
between 1989 and 2010, as well as 33 semi-structured,
key-informant interviews carried out in 2009 and 2010
with actors intimately involved with wetland policy in
Alberta, Canada, to address key reasons why
‘‘avoidance’’ as a policy directive is seldom effective.
Five key factors emerged from the literature, and were
supported by interview data, as being central to the
failure of decision-makers to prioritize wetland avoidance
and minimization above compensation in the
mitigation sequence: (1) a lack of agreement on what
constitutes avoidance; (2) current approaches to landuse
planning do not identify high-priority wetlands in
advance of development; (3) wetlands are economically
undervalued; (4) there is a ‘‘techno-arrogance’’
associated with wetland creation and restoration that
results in increased wetland loss, and; (5) compensation
requirements are inadequately enforced. Largely
untested but proactive ways to re-institute avoidance
as a workable option in wetland management include:
watershed-based planning; comprehensive economic
and social valuation of wetlands; and long-term
citizen-based monitoring schemes.