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Corps, partners develop plan to protect wetlands

Published May 19, 2014

Northeast Minnesota is known for its views of Lake Superior, outdoor recreation opportunities, the call of the loon and its pristine wetlands.

More than 80 percent of the wetlands in this region have been untouched since Minnesota earned statehood in 1858. With so many wetlands unchanged, a major challenge has developed for the Corps of Engineers and its partners. The Corps requires permit applicants to replace wetland functions that are lost or degraded during the construction of a project with at least an equal amount of wetland functions within the same watershed or to the fullest extent possible.

Despite the goal of compensatory wetland mitigation within the watershed, Tim Smith, regulatory technical services section chief, said permittees have had difficulties finding suitable locations due to the lack of damaged or destroyed wetlands within the region that typically provide opportunities for improving or adding to wetland functions. An interagency report, “Siting of Wetland Mitigation in Northeast Minnesota” was recently authored by the members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. The

Tamara Cameron, district regulatory chief, added that this report “represents a huge step in the right direction for a coordinated interagency approach to wetland mitigation in Minnesota.”

The report authors provided several recommendations to improve wetland mitigation while maintaining the ecological integrity of northeast Minnesota watersheds. Key recommendations are:

•Clarification of wetland mitigation search criteria;

•Alternative mitigation options in northeast Minnesota;

•Revisions to wetland mitigation siting criteria; and

•Program improvement.