Before going into the laws that govern management of wetlands, it is essential to first understand the nature of a wetland. They are typically classified as areas of land which are covered by water throughout the year or at least a major portion of it. This classification also includes bogs, fens and peat lands, salt marshes and mud flats, swamps and marshes, billabongs, lakes and lagoons. These wetlands may be a natural formation or an artificial creation and may either be in a static water area or one that has water flowing over it, whether fresh, brackish or saline.
The next question is why are wetlands so important that special laws and regulations have to be framed to protect them from vandalism, to maintain their integrity and to stop release of pollutants in them. It is because wetlands are a very critical part of our fragile eco system and have a whole range of living organisms that support natural habitat for plants and animal life that are not present anywhere else. On the aesthetic front, the huge expanses of water bodies are also beautiful to look at and experience in person. Finally, wetland is often used by industries for commercial fishing and nowhere is this more important than in Australia where it is widely prevalent.
Laws governing upkeep and preservation of wetlands are not standardised across countries. In fact the USA has specific Federal laws in this regard and so does Australia. All have one goal in common though, to preserve nature and prevent our planet from disintegrating into a hugely polluted mess, high levels of global warming and melting ice caps leading to floods and rising ocean levels.
Australia is one of the signatories of the Ramsar Convention that was held in 1971 to identify and preserve wetlands of international importance. It was decided that nations would cooperate with one another to facilitate policy making, capacity building and technology transfer to make sure that this precious resource is not depleted.
In 1974 Cobourg Peninsula in Northern Territory Australia was first declared as a wetland under the Convention and today there are 65 such designated wetlands spread over approximately 8.1 million hectares. The laws relating to this is very specific and only an experienced and highly qualified property lawyer in Melbourne will be able to take one through the finer nuances of the basic laws.
In the USA, there are five Federal agencies that are responsible for the upkeep and regulation of wetlands:
- Department of Defence, U.S Army Corps of Engineers who are responsible for navigation and water supply.
- The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is solely responsible for protecting wetlands from chemical, physical and biological integrity.
- The Department of the Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS’s) that looks after fish, wild game and other threatened and endangered species.
- The Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA) that is responsible for coastal resources
- Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that focuses on wetlands used primarily for agricultural activities.
All these agencies ensure that area under wetlands is not depleted.