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Developing Natural Resource Projects in Wetlands: Charting a Course Through Troubled Terrain

Brian R. Hanson and Murray D. Feldman, Proceedings of 38th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1992)

Wetlands exist in the transitional zone between land and water. Wetland policy also exists in a transitional zone where the historic regulation of navigation meets the modern aspirations of preservationists and developers. The complex hydrological, biological, and chemical functions performed by wetlands in the zone between land and water appear simple in comparison to the mind-numbing and gut-wrenching battles fought over protection of wetlands. At the same time, a large component of the public perceives too little is being done to protect these areas.1

While mining or oil and gas project proponents may wish to avoid the shifting standards of wetland science and policy, natural resource projects seem inevitably subject to statutory and regulatory initiatives to protect wetlands. In mountainous or rugged terrain, low lying areas often provide the only location for project support facilities, such as roads, pipelines, staging areas, or office and parking complexes, or for processing facilities, leach pads, tailings impoundments, or drilling water or mud control areas. Developers locating operations in coastal [6-3] areas or tundra may find the entire project impact area is a wetland. Yet the very forces that created these low lying areas may make them ecologically significant as wetlands.

Wetland protection is an evolving part of modern environmental programs