Regulation and Mitigation Systems
The regulation of human activity in the Salish Sea may be among the most complicated on earth. Local, state, and federal laws, agencies, rules, and regulatory procedures overlap, each with a unique legal history, lingo, and population of stakeholders. Understanding this complex system is critical for the development of on-the-ground projects, or in any attempt to protect ecosystems in the absence of a culture of stewardship.
The Laws, Administrators and Regulators
In the Unites States of America lows governing ecosystems are created in both federal and state governments. Sometimes these the implementation of these laws is delegated to a lower level of government. In some cases a responsibility is delegated to develop rules, for example the Growth Management Act is a state law administered by the Washington State Department of Commerce which requires Local Jurisdictions to do planning and develop regulations. The Clean Water Act is a complex federal law, with significant parts administered by the US Army Corps of Engineers and EPA, however authority and responsibility is delegated to Washington State Department of Ecology which administers programs that create responsibilities among Local Jurisdictions.
Each law is creates a set of relationships between who administrates the law, and who actually develops and implements the regulations, who resolves conflict or enforces, and the power relationships among all these actors. You can have more than one law apply to the same action or place, and so you can have the same action being evaluated by more than one regulatory network or hierarchy.
Places, Edges, Distances and Activities
Regulation of our activities in ecosystems as affected by the type of action and the place. The decisions about whihc laws apply to which activities in which place all depend on definition of a place, and what the edge of that place is and perhaps even a distance from that edge. Of course in ecosystems, edges are complex and move or change over a season, and so determining jurisdiction (what is and what is not subject to a law) may be complicated..
For example, lets consider a forest next to a river. A county may have a Critical Areas Ordinance that regulates clearing vegetation within a prescribed distance of the edge of the river. But if those trees are a forestland the harvest of those trees for sale may be subject to the state Forest Practices Act. However if the forest is also a wetland, the Clean Water Act may apply, and depending on what kind of wetland, it may be either US Army Corps of Engineers or Ecology or the County that administers and regulates. Meanwhile FEMA is concerned about wetlands overall, and a different part of the County might be concerned with planting forest if it affects Flood Hazard, because it is enrolled in an optional FEMA program with conditions.
The Cast of Characters
The Regulation and Mitigation System is so complex that Governor's office created its own Office of Regulatory Innovation and Assistance to help people navigate the federal, state and local system. While this may help you find your way through the system as a client, it doesn't help us understand why these systems operate like they do, or how to manage or improve them. In fact very few individuals actually understand enough of the regulatory system to know how it functions as a whole to affect ecosystem state.
Here are the most commonly applied regulatory networks that affect ecosystem state:
- Wetland Regulation
- Hydraulic Project Approval
- Endangered Species Act
- Shoreline Management Act
- Growth Management Act
- Forest Practices Act
Like most specialized areas of expertise, regulation and mitigation systems have specialized vocabulary.