Many jurisdictions in North America use a ''mitigation sequence'' to protect wetlands: First, avoid impacts; second, minimize unavoidable impacts; and third, compensate for irreducible impacts through the use of wetland restoration, enhancement, creation, or protection. Despite the continued reliance on this sequence in wetland decision-making, there is broad agreement among scholars, scientists, policy-makers, regulators, and the regulated community that the first and most important step in the mitigation sequence, avoidance, is ignored more often than it is implemented. This paper draws on literature published between 1989 and 2010, as well as 33 semi-structured, key-informant interviews carried out in 2009 and 2010 with actors intimately involved with wetland policy in Alberta, Canada, to address key reasons why ''avoidance'' as a policy directive is seldom effective. Five key factors emerged from the literature, and were supported by interview data, as being central to the failure of decision-makers to prioritize wetland avoid-ance and minimization above compensation in the mitigation sequence: (1) a lack of agreement on what constitutes avoidance; (2) current approaches to land-use planning do not identify high-priority wetlands in advance of development; (3) wetlands are economi-cally undervalued; (4) there is a ''techno-arrogance'' associated with wetland creation and restoration that results in increased wetland loss, and; (5) compensa-tion requirements are inadequately enforced. Largely untested but proactive ways to re-institute avoidance as a workable option in wetland management include: watershed-based planning; comprehensive economic and social valuation of wetlands; and long-term citizen-based monitoring schemes.
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