Wetlands stand as the most vital and most vaguely defined link in our sustainable environment. Scientists describe it in one way, lawyers another, and the EPA categorizes wetlands with an ever-morphing set of attributes.

Environmentalists strive desperately to save these regions, and builders with equal desperation struggle not to have their property branded with a wetlands stigma. Yet very few in either group can succinctly pin down what they are fighting for or against.

In a valiant effort to provide not only definitions, but methods of factoring wetlands into a growing New Jersey’s environmental scenario, the Rutgers University Agricultural Experiment Station’s Office of Continuing Professional Education in New Brunswick has developed a series of wetlands courses that offer both certification and expansive knowledge. The series launches with a full-day, in-depth study of NJEPA’s recently published “Regionalized Water Budget Manual for Compensatory Wetland Mitigation Sites in New Jersey.” The seminar takes place on Tuesday, August 26, at 9 a.m. in Bordentown’s wetlands. Cost: $155. Visit www.cpe.rutgers.edu, or call 732-932-9271.

Representatives from the United States Geological Survey and the state Department of Environmental Protection will teach the course.

The new manual will be available on CD as part of the course registration fee. The course provides an detailed explanation of the laws as they may apply to municipal planning agencies, nonprofit and environmental organizations, construction companies, and anyone seeking land use solutions.

New wetlands laws. The days of simply drawing up plans and having attorneys shoulder through a local environmental variance are long gone. New Jersey’s statewide Master Plan, the Highlands and Pinelands commissions, and a host of ever-evolving construction mitigation laws have seen to that. While these new mandates overlap at times, they hold one common thread: our state’s environment must be dealt with as an integral whole. Human growth spaces, agricultural areas, and untouched woodlands must join wetlands in a balanced ecosystem.

Generally, wetlands are those areas in which water saturation is the dominant condition of the soil. The specialized vegetation has adapted to this flow of fresh, salt, or brackish water. Be it swamps, bogs, fens, marshes, or estuaries, wetlands bring in their own rich cycle of life. And it is the very wealth of this life, along with its fragility, that have kept wetlands high on environmentalists, and the state’s legal protection list. The high Himalayan lands of Tibet, about half the size of the U.S., hold only 600 species of animals, and 1,200 of plants. One square meter of Garden State wetlands soil boasts a greater variety of life than that.

In May the state DEP released its new survey of endangered state wildlife. On August 12 the EPA followed this with its “Protocols for the Establishment of Exceptional Resource Value Wetlands, Pursuant to the Wetlands Protection Act.” In essence, this bureaucratic mountain lists the specific animals whose populations most assuredly would be threatened by loss of their wetland habitat. The list is available on www.nj.gov/dep/landuse/forms/protocols. If any of these animals are nesting on the land where you had planned to build, you’d best pack it in and find another site.

Seeking solutions. The Manual Training Workshop, however, and all subsequent courses, are not designed to threaten, but rather to help practically preserve. Those taking the course learn basic wetland hydrology, where the water sources lie and how transport flow operates.

By determining the amount of damage specific construction might do to a site, a builder or municipality can determine how to mitigate. The actual planning of wetland replacing can be determined. Selecting a viable site and developing a water budget for its construction have actually become relatively formulaic.

Realizing that wetland management will involve immense and concerted efforts, the Rutgers Office of Continuing Professional Education offers a series of certifying courses aimed at architects, engineers, real estate appraisers, and surveyors beginning this fall. See the above contacts for registration.

Vegetation Identification — North, and Vegetation Identification — Winter. These courses help field workers develop a quick and accurate system for developing legally accepted wetlands lines. “North” runs on Thursday and Friday, September 11 and 12; “Winter” runs on Thursday and Friday, November 6 and 7. Each begins at 8:30 a.m. and each costs $525.

Freshwater Wetland Construction Techniques. Using U.S. Army Corps of Engineers techniques, students learn what makes a successful and unsuccessful mitigation project. The three-day course begins on Tuesday, September 16, at 8:30 a.m. Cost: $895.

Introduction to Wetland Identification. This one-day combination classroom and field course helps students delineate freshwater wetlands boundaries and the legal definitions. It is being held on Thursday, October 2, at 8:30 a.m. Cost: $295.

Wetland Construction Design. This three-day course teaches the delicate factoring of depth, duration, and timing of water flow. The nine different ways to successfully build a wetland are outlined, as well as the most common blunder of misunderstanding the water’s flow. Classes begin on Wednesday, December 3 at 8:30 a.m. Cost: $895.

Humanity has always been inventive. The many environmental scars upon our globe attest to how effective our various constructions can be. Now we possess the ability to rebuild and correct. We can actually replace a functioning wetland and foster the rich fabric of life within its borders. It is a grand thing to have such capability. The question is, do we as a species have the will?

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