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Michigan's Voluntary Wetland Restoration program is streamlining the permit process

Wetlands project in Lenawee County -- after (August 2013)The Voluntary Wetland Restoration (VWR) program -- a joint effort of the Michigan departments of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and Natural Resources (DNR) -- is streamlining the permit process.

Since 2019, when the program was created, 58 permits have been issued through the program to restore and enhance approximately 729 acres of wetlands.

Wetlands are considered valuable because they clean the water, recharge water supplies, reduce flood risks, and provide fish and wildlife habitat. In addition, wetlands provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, sites for research and education, and commercial fishery benefits.

The EGLE and DNR VWR Coordinators work in collaboration to review joint permit applications (JPAs) for wetland restoration and enhancement projects. The goal of the program is to improve the permitting process for projects that restore and enhance the state's many altered and degraded wetlands. It also enhances coordination and consistency for organizations and agencies that routinely conduct projects that facilitate a net increase in wetland functions and services.

Applicants who may apply for a permit under the VWR program are limited to a state, federal, or tribal agency; a nongovernmental organization whose stated primary mission, purpose or programs include wetland conservation; or a person that is in partnership through a written agreement with the aforementioned. To date, the most active restoration partners include the US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the USDA NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program.

The VWR program is poised to be adaptive to needs of partners and lead agencies. The VWR coordinators for EGLE and DNR lead quarterly discussions with the VWR Sub-Committee. This group of wetland conservation partners meets to have an open discussion on regulations, VWR program development, and VWR-related trainings. Those coordinated meetings and feedback from restoration partners led to the initiation of a virtual training series, covering topics of the VWR program structure, general permit and minor project categories, summaries of relevant statutes, wetland functions and services, the JPA, and understanding permit conditions and best management practices. Future training sessions are planned.

The VWR program leads are working to develop a JPA that is specific to the VWR program and have recently coordinated the consolidation of general permit and minor project categories related to voluntary wetland restoration in order to simplify the permit application process.

These refinements will help provide clarity to applicants and streamlining the internal processing of JPAs in MiWaters, EGLE's online electronic database that provides helpful tools for the Water Resources Division to connect the regulatory system with the public.

For more information about the VWR program, visit its webpage.

Photo caption: Completed wetland project in Lenawee County.

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