Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wetland article ignores drawbacks in wetland mitigation projects but provides valuable insight and source of hope for urban wetland protection

Woolsey wetland article in The Morning News

The Woolsey Prairie is adjacent to land where the new wastewater-treatment plant was built. Actually, the plant was built on what might be called the original Woolsey Prairie.
Because the plant destroyed a great many wetland acres, the Corps of Engineers permit required mitigation. There have been many shows on Government channel about the progress of creating the mitigation area over the past couple of years, mostly as a part of shows on progress of construction of the plant itself.
The good news is that the city is "manufacturing" wetland to make up for destruction. That isn't as good as preserving existing wetland exactly as nature made it. However, it is beautiful site.
The bad news is that a plan to allow developers to "purchase" shares in such mitigation land is similar to trading carbon-pollution rights. It means developers can dredge and fill to build on wetland in the city and "mitigate" it by paying for creation of such sites. This is better than nothing. However, it doesn't protect property from flooding downstream from the development. And it allows valuable habitat to be destroyed where it should be kept. It doesn't make stormwater remain where it falls and soak in to keep vegetation healthy and replenish underground aquifers.
That was the first story I ever read by Skip Descant. He appears to be a good reporter.
He wouldn't likely know about World Peace Wetland Prairie or that "keeping the water where it falls" is the contrasting idea that would have had to have been included in the story if his plan was to write a truly multi-source story.
In fact, WPWP is exactly opposite to a manufactured wetland area. It protects habitat and lets water soak in UPSTREAM where it falls. It was saved from development and stands in stark contrast with the Aspen Ridge/Hill Place development site to to its north.
While it has a large population of nonnative species, particularly fescue and Japanese honeysuckle that require constant volunteer effort to remove, it never had its basic seed and root base of native species removed.
Being inside the city and a part of the headwater system of the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River and thus a significant area that helps protect the Beaver Lake watershed, its soil and plant life (even the invasive nonnative species) are functioning perfectly for stormwater management and protection of water quality.

The already completed Woolsey Prairie serves to catch water NEAR where it falls on the sewage-treatment plant. But adjacent parcels that may be saved as wetland prairie or savannah will be for sale to developers as mitigation for environmentally destruction parcels upstream. That part of the story has been discussed on several Government Channel productions related to the new sewage-treatment plant.

It would be nice to have a map of wetland areas. I frequently offer such information with photos from various parts of the watershed on my blogs and Flickr photo sets. But an overall plan to protect wetland isn't something everyone wants. Such a citywide delineation of wetland areas could prevent developers from buying property that should not be developed on the assumption that they will always get permission to dredge and fill such places simply by buying a share of an already preserved parcel miles away or not even in the same watershed.

Some developers and even some city officials and staff members don't want to acknowledge the existence of more than minimal wetland because public knowledge of the facts of Northwest Arkansas' environment might stifle their desire to build and pave every acre in the city.

More than two years ago, the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association created a booklet with a list of environmentally sensitive areas in the city that the group deemed worthy of protection. That information has never been used by the city in any way, as far as I can tell. During the June 17, 2008, meeting of the Council of Neighborhoods, Bruce Shackleford's presentation on Woolsey Prairie got his ideas out to a lot of people and excited some of the neighborhood advocates to realize the importance of wetland prairie, exactly what we've been trying to do with our photos on Flickr and on our blogspots for the past year and for more than six years on and for decades in various newspaper and magazine stories.
Fran Alexander and others persevere, but are only voices in the wildnerness, it seems.
Too many of the most outspoken people in the green, "sustainability" movement mostly focus on compromise positions. The paid environmentalists are all about compromise these days. Compromise mostly leads to learning to lose gracefully.
It takes people such as Fran Alexander with passion to get things done. And Shackleford's passion about the prairie wetland can do more to stir fervor in the fight to do the right thing in Fayetteville than some of us have done in decades. A lot of us old "tree-huggers" will be supporting his educational effort in every way we can.
For photos and more information, please use the following online links.

Hill Place/Aspen Ridge set of photos

Pinnacle Prairie set of photos — west side of World Peace Wetland Prairie

World Peace Wetland Prairie collection of sets of photos

Town Branch watershed set of photos

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