• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

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Supreme Court Decision on Clean Water Act Is a Major Loss for Birds and People

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The decision puts protections for as many as 90 million acres of wetlands in question.

Last month’s Supreme Court decision in Sackett vs EPA represents a major loss for both birds and humans. For 50 years, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the Clean Water Act has protected hundreds of millions of acres of wetlands throughout the United States. The court’s decision yesterday narrowed the definition of “waters of the United States” such that protections for as many as 90 million acres of wetlands are now in question, which could lead to massive losses due to filling, draining, or dredging. The decision jeopardizes important habitats for birds and the health of many of our nation’s streams, lakes, and other waterways.

“The Clean Water Act is a bedrock, bipartisan law that ensures that vital habitats like wetlands continue to provide their immense benefits to birds, ecosystems, and humans alike,” said Michael J. Parr, President of American Bird Conservancy (ABC). “This decision puts tens of millions of acres of wetlands at risk with the stroke of a pen. And, given that the United States and Canada have lost 3 billion birds since 1970 — more than a quarter of the birdlife in these countries — we simply cannot afford to introduce major new pressures on these already-declining populations.

“Americans have demonstrated for decades that they care about our water and wetlands and have engaged with countless conservation actions,” continued Parr. “We hope that this Supreme Court decision will be met with a renewed commitment to wetland conservation by the people.”

Sandhill Crane, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

Wetlands serve an irreplaceable role for hundreds of species of birds in the United States. Birds use these incredibly productive habitats as breeding sites, stopovers during migration, and wintering sites. Wetland birds also represent one of our few major conservation success stories; the 2022 State of the Birds Report identified wetland birds as the only group of birds with increasing populations. The Court’s decision represents a major threat to tragically reverse that hard-fought victory.

Beyond birds, wetlands represent a vital natural resource for human communities as well. They filter and clean our water, and they provide storm and flood protection in the face of increasing climate volatility. Local communities often lack the power to fight back against regionally powerful polluters or developers and rely upon strong federal protections to ensure access to clean water. The narrowing of the Clean Water Act represents a major threat to communities throughout the country.

“ABC calls upon Congress to clarify the definition of wetlands under the Clean Water Act to re-instate these fundamental safeguards,” said Parr. “And we will continue to push for robust wetland protections at both the federal and state levels.”