Florida officials work to restore and protect wetlands

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While some people may view them as messy, insect infested places to avoid, swamps, marshes, and other types of wetlands provide many benefits to people, flora, and fauna.

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil or is present on or near the surface of the soil all year round or for varying times during the year, including during the growing season, David Clayton, an environmental specialist for the Northwestern Florida Water Management District, said in a statement. E-mail.

“The main factor that distinguishes wetlands from landforms or bodies of water is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique water-soils without oxygen,” Clayton said. “Wetlands are considered among the most biologically diverse ecosystems, home to a wide range of unique plant and animal species. “

Related:Crestview Commons owner / developer fined $ 12,000 for damaging wetlands

Following:Okaloosa County Compensates for Impacts of Crestview Bypass on Wetlands

He said two general categories of wetlands are recognized: coastal or marshy wetlands and inland or non-marshy wetlands, which can be either forested or herbaceous.

“Wetlands are an essential part of our natural environment,” Clayton said. “Wetlands protect shorelines from wave action, reduce the impacts of flooding, remove pollutants, improve water quality, store flood water, maintain surface water flow during dry periods, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. “

About 900 terrestrial animal species use wetlands for foraging, breeding or other activities, while at least 150 species of birds and 200 species of fish depend on wetlands, he said.

According to the National Park Service, wetlands are home to at least a third of all threatened and endangered species.

The value of the wetlands was underscored in early December, when the Water Management District fined the owner / developer of the future Crestview Commons mixed-use project $ 12,000 and ordered them to take “corrective action” after they allow the infill to penetrate more than half. acre of buffer wetlands and wetlands adjacent to the project site and committing other violations.

The owner / developer of the future Crestview Commons mixed-use project was recently fined for allowing soil to enter the wetlands, pictured here, adjacent to the project site.

Weeks before the district issued this fine and ordinances, the value of the wetlands had made headlines after the Okaloosa County commission agreed to purchase more than $ 700,000 in “mitigation credits.” To compensate for the loss of approximately 6 acres of wetlands resulting from the construction of part of the bypass southwest of Crestview.

The east-west link road will pass through several wetlands on its way from National Road 85 West through the central undeveloped portion of Crestview.  The road is part of Southwest Crestview's larger bypass project.  To compensate for the loss of approximately 6 acres of wetlands, the Okaloosa County Commission recently agreed to pay over $ 700,000 for the purchase of “mitigation credits”.

For regulatory purposes, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have used the following definition of wetlands since the 1970s: “Wetlands are areas inundated or saturated with surface water. or underground at sufficient frequency and duration to support, and under normal circumstances, a vegetation prevalence generally suited to life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands typically include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.

With the exception of wetlands inundated by ocean tides, the amount of water in wetlands fluctuates due to precipitation, snowmelt, dry seasons and longer droughts, according to the EPA.

Although they can be found in all counties and climatic zones in the United States, wetlands currently cover only 5.5% of the land in the 48 contiguous states, according to the EPA. He reports that about 95% of these wetlands are freshwater; the rest are marine or estuarine.

Wetlands like this in North Crestview are areas where water covers the ground some or all of the time.

The National Park Service says on its website that in the not so distant past, wetlands were considered “wasteland”.

“Most people thought these were places to avoid and it was standard practice to empty them, fill them or treat them as dumping grounds,” Park Service officials told the site. “A study published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990 revealed a startling fact: more than half of the 221 million acres of wetlands that existed in the lower 48 states in the late 1700s have been destroyed.

Since Florida became a state in 1845, its total wetland area has declined by about 44%, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The EPA reports that although the extent of wetlands can be affected by a variety of natural stressors such as erosion, land subsidence, droughts, sea level change and storms, the vast majority of wetland losses and gains in recent centuries have occurred as a result of human activities.

“For years people have drained or filled in wetlands for agriculture or development, causing habitat loss as well as a decline of many other important wetland functions,” officials said. EPA on their website.

Because of their importance, wetlands are protected by the state of Florida and the federal government, Clayton said.

“The US Army Corps of Engineers protects wetlands under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act,” he said. The Florida Water Resources Protection Act gives the Department of Environmental Protection and water management districts the responsibility for regulating wetlands in the state through the Permit Program. management of environmental resources. “

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