Applying Environmental Ethics to the Wetlands Delineation Process

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Davis, Leisha DeHart
Hatcher, Kathryn J.
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The nation's ongoing battle over defining wetlands has been portrayed as a tense political conflict between environmental protection advocates and economic development forces. A more accurate interpretation of the situation, I assert, is this: in our struggle to identify a diverse, complex and vast body of water systems in one definition, we have created a situation of extremes. Too vague a definition includes lands not worthy of protection by environmentalist standards. An overly-specific definition leaves wild systems open to commercial development. The search for an appropriate wetlands definition is particularly relevant for Georgia. With 5.3 million wetland acres, Georgia ranks eighth among the contiguous states in total wetlands area. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that between the 1780s and 1980s nearly twenty-three percent of Georgia's wetlands were converted to other uses. This translates to an annual conversion rate of 7,700 acres. (Dahl, 1990). In Georgia or at the national level, ethics can assist the wetlands delineation conflict to resolution. An ethical approach does not prove one side right and the other side wrong, nor does it provide a theoretical resolution removed from the real world. Instead, it redefines the issue so that the values in each position that are worthwhile, yet which are perceived to be in opposition, may be seen as potentially reinforcing and achievable in concert.
Sponsored and Organized by: U.S. Geological Survey, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology
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