United States
               Environmental Protection
Office of Water (WH-556F).
Office of Wetlands. Oceans,
and Watersheds (A-104F)
(March 1993
               WETLANDS  FACT SHEET # 15
               Wetlands Categorization
      There has been interest over many years
in revising the Section 404 regulatory program
to base decisions more on the relative values of
wetlands as determined in advance based on
the type or  condition of the wetland.  In re-
sponse, several approaches have been proposed
to classify or "categorize" wetlands based on
their relative value, with commensurate levels
of regulatory protection assigned to each wet-
land category.


      Categorization proponents believe wet-
lands regulation would be improved by focus-
ing agency resources on protection of the most
valuable wetlands, by providing greater consis-
tency and predictability in the permit review
process, and by reducing regulatory burden for
activities in  lower value wetlands. However,
some have raised concerns that a hierarchical
approach to wetlands protection may result in
"writing off' low value wetlands and increas-
ing the potential for wetlands "takings" claims
for high  value wetlands.  Additional concerns
include the  inadequacy of objective methods
for identifying and evaluating wetland func-
tions and values, and the increased reliance that
some approaches place on mitigation techniques
(i.e., wetland restoration and creation), which
are still  relatively new and unproven. State
experience also indicates that categorization pro-
grams require substantial time and financial
resources to implement

         Current Status

      Wetland values are currently assessed
on a case-by-case basis in the Section 404 permit
review process.  The level of review an indi-
vidual permit application receives is commen-
surate with the significance of the environmen-
tal impact, considering both the relative value of
the wetland and the impacts of the proposed
activity.  For many in the regulated community,
however, such an approach does not provide
sufficient predictability and certainty. Efforts in
the mid-1980's to categorize  wetlands nation-
    ally were abandoned because of scientific un-
    certainties. A number of States (most notably,
    New York, Maine, Vermont, and Delaware) have
    applied or are considering a categorization ap-
    proach within their wetlands protection pro-
    grams. Alternatively, some states are establish-
    ing wetland categories as they incorporate wet-
    lands into their Water Quality Standards pro-
    gram. Categorization has worked most effec-
    tively in the context of local or regional water-
    shed planning initiatives where the relative
    value of wetlands within the context of a par-
    ticular watershed can be more accurately as-
      For more information: call the EPA
      Wetlands Hotline* at 1-800-832-7828.