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But Minnesota lawmakers realized that not all wetlands are created equal and more than a decade ago made what seemed a relatively small change in state law: Destroyed wetlands must be replaced with ones not only of equal size but of equal "value."

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"When lawmakers went to the value for value wetland replacement, it opened a real Pandora's Box," said Henry Quade, the recently retired head of the Water Resources Center at Minnesota State University.

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"I think the study showed the public needs more education to realize wetlands are valuable for more than just ducks. And the tech people need to accept that there is this public value system out there that needs to be incorporated into the decision making," Quade said.

The county Nike Jacket Junior plan, which is in the final drafting stage, might require that wetlands destroyed in the county are replaced with a restored wetland in the county. State rules don't require the wetland to be restored in the same county.

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There is less agreement on how to decide the true value of a particular wetland.

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Quade and Conrad say there is another large gap in state regulations regarding the loss of wetlands. The problem, they say, is there are no requirements for replacing wetlands that are seriously compromised but not destroyed.

Part of the report was a survey of more than 1,400 people about what they perceive to be the most value in wetlands.

And there are others, often academics and environmentalists, who are placing more value on how wetlands improve air quality by holding in natural methane gases that add to the greenhouse effect if released.

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The study found the general public has a different value system for wetlands than do the scientists and professionals who work on water issues.

"You have MnDOT digging in all these puddles to replace a natural wetland," Quade said. "Are they really as valuable?"

A citizen steering committee has been helping develop the plan.

Existing law doesn't require such compromised wetlands to be replaced. But Blue Earth County is one of several fast growing urban centers considering requiring it.

Earth County Environmental Services office works with the issue often and says there isn't an easy and precise way to judge every wetland.

"There isn't a strong scientific method to define public value," she said.

The problem, Quade said, isn't that any of those values are insignificant. Rather, the way wetlands are valued are tilted toward the state agency officials who end up writing the regulations.

A wetland for a wetland

"When you have urban type developments around a wetland, it changes that wetland dramatically," Conrad said. "When you have a parking lot paved around a wetland, it ends up being a place that collects plastic bags."

He'd like to see more opportunities for the public to have real input on rule making regarding wetlands early on in the regulation writing process.

"Value is more than science, it's people's perceptions," Quade said. "Your age, where you grew up, the experiences you had, all those things determine how you value a wetland."

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Conrad has been at the center of drafting a unique wetland planning process in Blue Earth County called a Greenprint plan. The plan would encourage cities in the county to work together to create corridors of wetlands and other natural areas that would be protected and improved on as land is developed for urban use.

"The question becomes, whose value?"

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highway.

Quade last year released a study, Perception of Wetland Values in South Central Minnesota, that he is sharing with lawmakers, water planners and state agency officials who deal with defining the values of wetlands.

"The tech people tend to place the most value on how wetlands improve water quality and help in flood prevention. Your average citizen values wetlands most for wildlife habitat," Quade said.

Most people are aware of state and federal programs that call for "no net loss" of wetlands. For years, that philosophy led to a simple action plan: If you cover one acre of wetland for a new road or building, you must create a new one acre wetland somewhere else.

One problem with wetland replacement policy, Quade and Conrad said, is that a large healthy wetland destroyed by a road project might be replaced Nike Tracksuit Orange

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