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It is important to recognize that the process of establishing and implementing wetland policy at a national level may take time and needs adequate consultation to overcome barriers such as scarce financial resources or institutional reluctance to change ways of doing business in government agencies and elsewhere. To be broadly effective, a national wetland policy must be wide in scope and not just be, or be perceived to be, only a wildlife protection policy. A strict focus on wildlife aspects for a national wetland policy may only marginalize its value to society and the nation.
Development of such a policy is in fact a “golden opportunity” to promote cooperation and action at many levels. The policy can be developed in the face of uncertainty; comprehensive inventory and scientific information are not required before action can occur.
Opportunities for wetland conservation:
A number of opportunities for resolving issues and achieving wetland conservation are identified below.
Establishing wetland conservation objectives in government policies:
Federal, provincial, state, territorial and municipal governments have rarely recognized the values of wetland conservation in their policies and programmes. The lack of government direction results in: a continuing and cumulative wetland loss because decisions to convert individual wetlands to other land uses are neither subject to, nor related to, overall conservation policies;
• a lack of full accountability by those national and sub-national agencies charged with the stewardship of natural resources such as wetlands;
• a lack of profile for wetland issues, which results in inadequate attention being paid to wetland values when land use decisions are made or are subject to review;
• a lack of guidance to decision-makers (federal, provincial, state, territorial and municipal agencies, landowners) who must balance the advantages and disadvantages of land use decisions; and
• the failure to enforce existing legislation and policies where they are in place.
A national wetland policy can assist these government agencies in establishing accountability for their actions and modifying their sectoral policies to the benefit of wetland ecosystems.
Enhancing coordination and communication among government agencies:
Jurisdiction over wetlands in most nations is spread among federal, provincial (state), territorial and municipal governments, and among different government departments and agencies. None of these myriad departments and agencies at any level is likely to be responsible for all aspects of wetland management, conservation and sustainable use. Although limited efforts have been made, coordination and communication within and among governments remains inadequate. The need is not for one agency to look after wetlands, the need is to stress better communications and consistent, enforced policy that is followed by all government agencies. A national wetland policy can be the mechanism to enhance and promote effective coordination and communication among such agencies.
In many nations, government agencies with the opportunity to provide leadership to wetland conservation programmes are often poorly supported with few resources in terms of staffing and funding. Their political position in the government hierarchy may also be of a lower rank with less influence, reporting through one or more senior ministries. The linkages needed to be effective, such as coordinating programme opportunities that are good for wetlands to national water, agricultural and development priorities, are often difficult for the government to consider.
Creating more incentives to conserve wetlands:
Incentive programmes (government and others) often conflict with wetland conservation efforts. In some nations, income and property tax incentives, drainage and diking subsidies, and agricultural production quotas are often strong financial inducements to a farmer to convert wetlands to cultivated land. Without the inducement, economic factors would usually discourage conversion.
Conversely, there are few incentives for landowners to maintain wetlands in a natural state. Since the public generally benefits from wetlands, conservation efforts can be justifiably supported by government-funded or sponsored incentives. The national wetland policy can be a tool to foster implementation of new and better economic and sectoral incentives and to retire factors and disincentives that lead to wetland decline.