Sportsmen celebrate 40 years of Clean Water Act and urge action

Forty years ago in a show of bipartisan support, Congress passed the Clean Water Act of 1972. Hunters and anglers support strong Clean Water Act protections, understanding that clean water and healthy wetlands and streams are essential to healthy fish and wildlife populations and habitat. This year, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and the historic results this keystone legislation has achieved: healthier water to drink; cleaner streams, rivers and lakes in which to swim, fish and play; and dramatically lower rates of natural wetland loss.

However, our clean water celebration is bittersweet. For the past decade, Clean Water Act protections for wetlands, lakes and streams have been eroding. Over the past two years, the Clean Water Act has been under relentless attack by members of Congress, despite overwhelming public support for clean water and healthy habitat across the political spectrum. These attacks jeopardize drinking water for 117 million Americans and accelerate wetland losses that damage hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. According to a recently released U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, tens of millions of Americans spend $145 billion annually on hunting, angling, and wildlife watching. This represents direct spending only, and each dollar spent in local restaurants, on guides and outfitters, and on equipment generates even more for our economy.

Hunters and Anglers Favor Restoring Clean Water Act Protections to Wetlands and Streams

A September 2012 poll of hunters and anglers found that, regardless of political affiliation, 79 percent of hunters and anglers favor restoring Clean Water Act protections to wetlands and waterways, including small creeks and streams. Recent polls in Colorado, Ohio and Wisconsin charted similar results. In this fractious election year, it is worth noting that poll after poll show that a strong majority of Americans supports strong federal Clean Water Act protections.

Restoring Wetlands and Stream Protections Supports Healthy Communities, Fish and Wildlife, and a Strong Economy

Families, communities, farmers and businesses large and small depend on clean, healthy waters for their health, jobs and prosperity. The Clean Water Act is essential to keeping our drinking water safe; providing millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat across the country; ensuring abundant clean water for irrigating crops; and bolstering the robust fishery, tourism and outdoor recreation industries. Millions of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity, as well as our hunting and angling traditions, are all at risk if Clean Water Act protections are not restored.

Consider the following (based on 2006 economic data):

  • According to the American Sportfishing Association, fishing generates $125 billion in direct and indirect economic activity across the United States and supports 1 million jobs every year.
  • The National Marine Manufacturers Association found that boating contributes $41 billion to the economy and supports 337,000 jobs annually.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that duck hunting alone contributes $2.3 billion to the economy every year and supports 27,000 private sector jobs.
  • The FWS also estimates that 6.7 million trout anglers contribute nearly $5 billion annually to our economy.

These activities and the economic growth they support at the local, regional and national levels all depend on healthy waters and wetlands to produce quality outdoor experiences. Clean streams and abundant wetlands are essential for fish and wildlife and to the hunting, angling and outdoor traditions tens of millions of Americans enjoy every year. Unfortunately, these traditions and the economic activity they generate are in real jeopardy today.

Sportsmen Urge Action to Restore Protections to America’s Wetlands, Lakes and Streams

In the wake of 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court decisions and subsequent guidance given to staff at the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency, more than 20 million acres of wetlands and about 2 million miles of streams in the continental United States are at risk of losing the very Clean Water Act protections that have so successfully cleaned up the nation’s waters. The strength and effectiveness of the Clean Water Act have been undermined further by the resulting uncertainty and confusion over the scope of the act’s protections.

The erosion of clean water protections takes a serious toll on wetlands. The most recent report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009,” http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Status-And-Trends-2009/index.html ) demonstrates that the trend toward reduced wetland losses – and even small gains in wetland conservation in the early part of the past decade – have been reversed. Between 2004 and 2009, the FWS found net wetland acres dropped by 62,300 nationwide, a 140-percent increase in the wetland loss rate compared with the 1998-2004 timeframe. The FWS also reports that forested wetlands declined by 633,000 acres, representing the “largest losses since the 1974 to 1985 time period.” The full extent of natural wetland loss is masked by growth of man-made retention and other ponds that are of limited value to fish and wildlife, which the FWS found increased by some 336,000 acres. The FWS report highlights the 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court decisions as likely contributors to wetland losses (see pages 17 and 68).

As the Clean Water Act turns 40, America must get back on the path to clean, healthy waters and wetlands. The administration must follow through on its comprehensive efforts to restore Clean Water Act protections to wetlands, lakes and streams in a manner that is science-based and clearly respects the Supreme Court’s decisions.

We encourage you to raise this issue of Clean Water Act restoration with your readers and call on the administration to act. If you have questions or need more information, please contact us.

Contacts:

Scott Kovarovics, Izaak Walton League, [email protected], (301) 548-0150 x223

Jan Goldman-Carter, National Wildlife Federation, [email protected], (202) 797-6894

Steve Kline, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, [email protected], (202) 639-8727 x11

Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited, (703) 284-9406, [email protected]