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Legislation recently introduced in the US Senate and House of Representatives is aimed at restoring a critical layer of protection for isolated wetlands. The bills, known as the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2002, were introduced in an effort to clarify Congress' intent when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972.

The Clean Water Act contained language intended to protect the isolated wetlands so critical to migrating waterfowl, particularly ducks. But the wetland protection provisions of CWA were effectively lost in a 2001 ruling by the US Supreme Court. In a partisan 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that wetland protection provisions applied only to "navigable waters".

The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2002 was introduced in the House by Congressmen Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and John Dingell (D-MI) and in the Senate by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI).

The reason for introducing the bill, according to a spokesman for Rep. Oberstar, was to clarify Congress' intent when writing the Clean Water Act and thereby restore protection of wetlands for migrating birds.

The bill seeks to accomplish three goals: 1) adopt a statutory definition of "waters of the United States" based on a long-standing definition in the US Army Corps of Engineers regulations; 2) delete the term "navigable" from the Act to clarify that Congress' intent in 1972 was to protect the nation's waters from pollution, not just sustain the navigability of waterways, and 3) include a set of findings that explain the factual basis for Congress' assertion of constitutional authority over waters and wetlands.

If passed by both houses and signed into law, the bill would re-establish a critical layer of protection for the seasonal and temporary wetlands so necessary for nesting ducks of all species.

Rep. Oberstar's office says it's hopeful the bill will be passed soon, but says prospects for quick passage are limited because there are so few days remaining in the current session. If the bill is not approved in the current session, it likely will be reintroduced next year.

Sportsmen are urged to contact their lawmakers in support of the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2002.

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