Marvin Hubbell
Wetland Program Administrator, Illinois Department of Conservation
Springfield, Illinois

An awardee in the state government category, Marvin Hubbell has served as the Wetland Program Administrator for the Illinois Department of Conservation since 1984. When he joined the Department, there was no statewide wetland program and virtually no support for the protection of wetlands. In the face of these obstacles, Marvin established a statewide Wetland Advisory Committee, completed the Illinois portion of the National Wetland Inventory (NWI), successfully passed an interagency wetland protection bill, and developed a comprehensive wetland research program.

Wetland protection legislation had been introduced in Illinois on numerous occasions prior to 1984, only to be soundly defeated each time. In recognition of the difficulty of gaining the support of many groups that commonly oppose this type of legislation, Marvin formed a Wetland Advisory Committee composed of representatives of 21 different interests, including farmers, miners, environmentalists, and planners. This Committee’s progress toward opening the lines of communication among these groups with regard to wetlands was a critical first step in resolving the conflicts that long prevented Illinois’ establishment of a wetland protection program.

A second major effort that Marvin championed was the completion of Illinois’ portion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s NWI maps. Before wetland protection legislation could be proposed to the legislature, it was necessary to document the state’s history of wetland losses. Here again, Marvin made every effort to neutralize public opposition by involving local agencies—such as soil and water conservation districts—prior to completion of the maps, and by holding 37 public meetings statewide. At that time, Illinois was the only state to involve the public in the preparation of these maps.

Although the mere completion in 1988 of Illinois’ NWI maps was a significant achievement, Marvin’s goals extended much further. He believed that two further improvements were critical to the successful use of the map data: broad public access to the maps and computerized map data to allow for greater analysis. To address the first issue, a statewide distribution center was established for the NWI maps. To date, 13,000 maps have been distributed to the public. To address the second issue, the NWI data were digitized and made available through the state’s Geographic Information System. Illinois is now one of the largest states to have its complete wetland inventory available in this format. This digitized wetland mapping system has allowed more comprehensive analysis of wetland sites and produced data that have proven invaluable in documenting the need for wetland protection legislation and estimating the impacts of such legislation on the agricultural sector.

The next step in the process of establishing a state wetland protection program was passage of legislation. Marvin drafted the Interagency Wetland Policy Act of 1989, enacted in August 1989, which established a policy of no net loss of wetlands for all state agency activities. By focusing on the activities of state agencies, Marvin sought to establish a solid framework for wetland protection within the state government before incorporating private-sector activities. And by carefully weaving planning requirements, incentives, and compensation criteria into a single package, he has drafted one of the most creative and potentially effective state wetland protection laws in the country. As one of the first state laws to establish a no net loss policy for wetlands, the Act extends beyond the consideration of wetland acreage by requiring the assessment and replacement of functional values as well.

Not content with these successes, however, Marvin has developed a comprehensive research program that is likely to prove invaluable to future wetland protection efforts. Four examples of these research efforts should be noted. First, Marvin has developed a classification system that simplifies the NWI data to facilitate its use by local planners and developers. While the original inventory contains 639 different wetland classifications, these categories are combined for simplicity to yield 38 ecologically related classifications.

A second project under way involves the creation of a hierarchical classification matrix that links wetland data, such as functions, to other surface water features, including water quality. The virtue of this matrix is its ability to identify quickly the relationships of wetlands to one another and to deepwater habitats. This matrix will serve as the basis for regional analyses that utilize the Geographic Information System.

Third, Marvin is cooperating on an ambitious research project with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate landscape functions of wetlands as they relate to water quality, biodiversity, and hydrology. This project will facilitate the assessment of the cumulative impacts of land use changes and wetland conversions.

Finally, Marvin has developed an innovative method of calculating compensation rates that is ecologically sound, yet simple to use. It is a three-dimensional matrix, with the degree of impact on the vertical axis, and the community type and location of the compensation site on the horizontal axis. Ratios increase as you move from left to right across the matrix, from open water to forested wetlands. They also increase where the compensation sites are located off-site or out-of-basin. For example, the highest ratios would be assessed for the complete destruction of a bottomland hardwood wetland where compensation is occurring outside of the original watershed; the lowest ratios would be assessed for projects that cause minimal impact to open water systems and designate compensation on-site. In this way, the replacement of the same wetland type as near to the loss as possible is encouraged.

Marvin has continued his efforts at protecting Illinois’ wetlands by drafting wetland protection legislation for possible introduction this session. The Governor has expressed his support by asking the Department of Conservation to draft the bill. The bill is a comprehensive and creative package of provisions that can successfully meet the no net loss goal. All new activities adversely affecting wetlands, including those of the private sector, would require a permit, and compensation would be required for unavoidable losses.

Overall, Marvin has shown tremendous skill in developing the state’s wetland protection program. His ability to communicate with diverse interest groups, his creative approach to drafting legislation, and his comprehensive research efforts are testimony to his generous contribution to wetland protection in Illinois.

-Deanna Glosser, Endangered Species Protection, Illinois Department of Conservation, Springfield, Illinois