Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Science before breakfast, law before lunch

Monday I got up at 5:30 to calibrate instruments for river testing. I got to the river shortly after 7, collected the samples and data, handed off the instruments to Claire, this year's river goddess, and walked back home through the woods to eat some breakfast.

After eating I had to sprint over to the town offices for a conservation commission work session. We're updating the town's wetland ordinance. It doesn't need much, but it's a critical part of environmental protection. Since a clean environment is a special interest in this country, we have to be ready to answer all sorts of challenges from the developers who want to view the world as a gridded flat surface they can sell by the square yard.

Talk about political interference in science! The legal people just want a number, a reasonable, moderate distance they can justify as uniformly applied and enforced. The developers want it small. The environmentalists want it big. Everybody wants it simple.

As I suspected it would, my initial research indicates it ain't that simple. Many factors affect how wide a wetland buffer zone needs to be. One study out of Georgia stated that in one case the buffer should be more than 250 meters. In another case, 25 feet would be sufficient. So the standard 100 feet would be woefully inadequate in one case and massive overkill in the other.

Set that number too big to begin with and you'll end up hauled into court or rubber stamping all kinds of variances and exceptions. Set it too small and you might as well not have it at all.

Put it on the pile with all my other reading...

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