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Effects of Section 404 Permits on Wetlands in North Dakota


This study was conducted to review wetland alterations (any change in a wetland from an authorized discharge of dredged or fill material) under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1344) in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota. The study was planned in cooperation with the Ecological Services Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in North Dakota, the Bismarck Regulatory Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Ecology Research Center of the National Biological Survey (formerly of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) in Fort Collins, Colorado.

GIF -- Photo of birds on ephemeral wetland

Frontispiece: Shorebirds feeding in an ephemeral wetland typical of North Dakota.

Few studies of authorized wetland alterations under Section 404 have been published. A review of the effects of such alterations in the Platte River basin of Colorado (Gladwin et al. 1992) and in 10 counties in north central California (Gladwin and Roelle 1992) raised several questions about the Section 404 regulatory program in general and about Nationwide Permit 26 in particular. In 1992, personnel in the Ecological Services Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Sacramento, California, identified the loss of 294 ha of wetlands from 775 authorized discharges during a 6-year period. Required compensatory mitigation of the losses was not determined (M. M. Long, M. Friley, D. Densmore, and J. De Weese, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California, unpublished report).

Their high density and variable, dynamic water regimes make wetlands in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota a unique and valuable resource for vegetation, wildlife, and humans (Mitsch and Gosselink 1993). Most wetlands in this area are palustrine emergent wetlands that are either temporarily, seasonally, semi-permanently, or permanently flooded (Cowardin et al. 1979; Fig. 1). Before European settlement, there were about 2 million ha of wetlands in North Dakota; however, as of 1984, only about 800,000 ha or 40% remained (Leitch and Baltezore 1992). Because these wetlands are important to so many species, including humans, information on their status is vital to wetland management and policy formulation.

JPG -- Photo of the Prairie Pothole Region

Fig. 1. The prairie pothole region of North Dakota.

My objectives for this study were to

(1) determine the magnitude and purposes of discharges authorized by nationwide permits 13, 14, and 26 and by individual permits in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota,
(2) review compliance by permit holders with the conditions of these permits,
(3) evaluate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' acceptance of resource-agency recommendations for special conditions for individual permits, and
(4) evaluate implementation of special conditions of individual permits by permit holders.

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