Michigan legislation will lead to more wetlands across state

Bill streamlining wetland restoration process approved by House, Senate

LANSING, Michigan – Dec. 21, 2018 – The Michigan legislature has approved a pair of bills to streamline the process for restoring wetland habitats across Michigan, improving water quality for millions of people and habitat for hundreds of species of plants and animals. Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the bills.

House Bills 5854 and 5855 are the result of cooperation among Ducks Unlimited, the state Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the conservation community.

The bills provide a transparent process for agencies, organizations and individuals to voluntarily restore vital wetland habitat throughout the state. The bills simplify regulations to advance restoration efforts and reduce time delays and costs.

The legislation was co-sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Gary Howell (82nd District) and Committee member Rep. Joseph Bellino (17th District).

“I am particularly proud to have worked with Ducks Unlimited to sponsor and get this legislation adopted. This new law will facilitate the great work that Ducks Unlimited does in preserving and restoring our valuable wetlands,” Howell said.

“I am very pleased to have played a role in this legislative victory that will increase wetland habitat for hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts, Bellino said. “It was a true team effort among the conservation community, DEQ and DNR, and the legislature. This is how good legislation happens.”

Highlights of House Bill 5854

  • Outlines criteria for obtaining a voluntary wetland restoration permit and has a narrow list of wetland restoration organizations and agencies that can apply for this permit.
  • Ensures these permits are not used for mitigation purposes and must be on a completely voluntary basis.
  • The MDEQ will issue permits and will consult with the MDNR to ensure only the most qualified projects are successful.
  • Creates the Voluntary Wetland Restoration Group, made up of equal numbers of MDEQ and MDNR staff, to evaluate voluntary wetland restoration project applications and recommend issuance of permits.
  • Creates the Joint Agency Restoration Committee, made up of the directors or their designees of the MDEQ, MDNR and Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, in the case of a dispute between the applicant and the Voluntary Wetland Restoration Group.
  • Establishes a more robust pre-application meeting process between the MDEQ and applicant to ensure that applications are as effective as possible, giving it a higher chance of permitting success.
  • Limits the entities who can apply for this type of permit to state or federal agencies, tribal agencies, nongovernmental agencies whose stated primary mission, purpose or programs include wetland conservation, or an individual in partnership with these groups.
  • Creates a timeline for the permit application and what the various outcomes can be.

Highlights of House Bill 5855

  • Defines different types of adversely affected wetlands and creates a new category of wetland restoration permit for organizations and agencies looking to engage in voluntary wetland restoration.
  • Defines a voluntary wetland restoration project as one that will have an overall benefit to wetlands by increasing wetland functions or services through restoration, reestablishment or maintenance.

“Healthy, abundant wetlands provide valuable habitat for Michigan fish and wildlife and play a critical role in maintaining clean, safe water resources,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “Wetlands restoration has been a key part of our department’s commitment to ensuring better and more quality outdoor recreation opportunities for hunters, wildlife watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts. This legislation is a strong tool in helping our partners continue their important wetlands work.”

“The DEQ believes that voluntary wetland restoration is a critical part of our work to restore wetland functions and services that have been historically lost, including wildlife habitat, flood storage, and water quality,” said DEQ Director C. Heidi Grether. “We appreciate the cooperative relationship that DEQ, Ducks Unlimited, and DNR had in working together on this legislation to develop new ways to encourage, promote, and streamline voluntary wetland restoration initiatives in Michigan.”

Wetlands are crucial for people and wildlife in the Great Lakes, including waterfowl. Wetlands act as nature’s kidneys by filtering pollutants from rainwater before they enter waterways. Wetland refill groundwater, help alleviate flooding downstream and provide habitat for more than 900 species of plants and animals.

Michigan has lost half of its historic wetlands, including up to 90 percent lost in some parts of southeast Michigan near Lake Erie. Ducks Unlimited, the leader in wetlands conservation, has restored, protected or enhanced more than 81,000 acres of wetlands throughout the state.

Jason Hill, Ducks Unlimited Manager of Conservation Programs for the Great Lakes, said the bills give Ducks Unlimited and its partners the ability to conserve more wetlands in all corners of the state.

“More wetlands mean more places to get outdoors to hunt, fish, hike and birdwatch,” he said. “It’ll also improve water quality throughout the Great Lakes for all residents and wildlife. We thank Reps. Howell and Bellino for their leadership in making these laws a reality.”

Numerous groups supported the legislation, including Ducks Unlimited, Clay Township leadership, Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association, Michigan Joint Venture Partners, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, National Wildlife Federation, National Wild Turkey Federation, St. Clair Flats Waterfowlers, St. Clair River Binational Public Advisory Council, Six Rivers Land Conservancy Straits Area Sportsmen’s Club, Upper Black River Council and Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 14 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.

Media Contact:
Chris Sebastian
(734) 623-2017
csebastian@ducks.org