to evaluate a permit applicants' proposal and issue or deny a permit in an expeditious manner. Individual agencies' staffs are required to make an enormous range of decisions in the regulatory process. The Section 404(b)(1) guidelines require a complicated assessment of the practicability of alternatives, expecting regulators to make decisions about the viability of different development proposals. The guidelines require a broad analysis of the extent to which a project, individually or in combination with other past and foreseeable activities, affects a broad array of issues, ranging from water-quality functions to shellfish. Helping a permit recipient design a compensatory wetland project and then assuring that the project is undertaken as designed is yet another task. In all of this, the wetland science is not fully developed, and many of the science and economic issues that must be addressed are site-specific.

In the end, wetland permitting, and the compensatory mitigation required as a part of this process, will need to rely on regulators making informed judgments at many stages in the permitting process. Each of the recommendations is made with an appreciation of the need to inform and support those judgments toward achieving the goals that are described in recommendation 1 in this chapter.


Many call for a watershed approach to wetland management, including for the Section 404 program. The Unified Federal Policy for Ensuring a Watershed Approach to Federal Land and Resource Management defines a watershed approach as follows:

A framework to guide watershed management that: 1) uses watershed assessments to determine existing and reference conditions; 2) incorporates assessment results into resource management planning; and 3) fosters collaboration with all landowners in the watershed. The framework considers both ground and surface water flow within a hydrologically defined geographical area. (

The 2000 in-lieu fee guidance embraces the watershed approach for in-lieu fee mechanisms, stating,

Local watershed planning efforts, as a general matter, identify wetland and other aquatic resources that have been degraded and usually have established a prioritization list of restoration needs. In-lieu fee mitigation projects should be planned and developed to address the specific resource needs of a particular watershed” (Fed. Regist. 65(Nov. 7):66914– 66917).

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