Washington HB 1313/SB 5225: A case for wetland scientist certification

Imagine that you want to build a house or place of business on some land that you own. You have limited capital, a tight deadline, and know that you have to avoid some wetlands or mitigate for their destruction under the clean water act. Imagine that you hire an individual with limited experience, or worse yet, ethical issues such as delineating reduced areas of wetlands to save in mitigation costs, to classify and delineate your wetland area. Upon making this hire, your wetlands are improperly delineated, and any number of things happen: the Army Corps of Engineers refuses your permit, the building is sited and floods regularly or construction preventably alters groundwater flows that cause a loss of the adjacent property. In this scenario, the individual who delineated this wetland is not responsible for the damages to neighbors and expenses incurred on your behalf, real or opportunity. Under the current paradigm within Washington State, a landowner is stuck, wetlands are destroyed and perhaps improperly compensated for, and expensive litigation may occur at any level of the process.

Currently, if the above scenario unfolds, a property owner has to fight with regulatory agencies, hire another consultant to corroborate or correct the delineation and either defend or ameliorate their actions while the unqualified or corrupt individual can say, "Hey, I'm just a guy with a pickup truck and a GPS, don't look at me..."

Over the last portion of a decade, members of the professional wetland and soil scientist communities have worked to ameliorate this far-too-common scenario by drafting proposed legislation that would certify professional and wetland scientists across the state. Certification would be based on experience, education and continued learning credits not unlike certifications in other industries in Washington State. The idea is to build a level of accountability between those who work in wetland science on behalf of clients private and public, business or conservation. To carry the title of "wetland scientist" would hold one legally accountable and professionally accountable within Washington State at levels above the current voluntary national certification.

Washington's developers, homeowners, and public deserve better than to be stuck with out-of-control costs and little recourse when poor wetland science costs them money, property or time. The preventable loss of private property, wetland ecosystems--the same ones that President G.H.W. Bush claimed there would be "no net loss" of--and reduced wetland ecosystem services--stormwater and pollutant retention, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational and aesthetic value is preventable--all run rampant in Washington's current system or lack thereof. While certification would not solve all of these problems, it would maintain a qualified work force of individuals who may stand to lose their certification if they proceed with unethical or incompetent practice.

As of today, HB 1313 a title act that would allow for the creation of a wetland and soil scientist certification program in Washington State, is being passed in front of the Washington State Legislature after rolling from committee yesterday. It has a companion bill, SB 5225, that should come to session in the state senate shortly thereafter.

To gain more information on these bills, you can turn to a variety of sources, from the wetland and soil scientist certification homepage, to more interactive media. Scott Luchessa, former president of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Society of Wetland Scientists, has done an outstanding job clarifying what the bill means to practitioners, the public, and state government in both podcast and newsletter form.

As this legislative session unfolds, I highly recommend you grab some popcorn and watch the drama unfold between Danny Westneat, who wrote an ill-informed article on the topic last week, and the bill's proponents and detractors. I, personally, would get ahold of my local legislator and let him or her know that low-quality wetland work costs taxpayers and businesses money, and that certification begins to address the issue in the Pacific Northwest.

Photo: N. Hough-Snee, Forested Wetland at Pack Forest, WA, USA