Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Guest Blog by William J. Mitsch Ph.D

In a report just issued for discussion at a global wetland meeting scheduled for early June in Uruguay, Gardner et al. (2015) gave an astonishing fact that global wetlands are estimated to have declined by 64 to 71 % in the 20th century alone and that this degradation rate continues.  As pointed out in our most recent edition of the book “Wetlands, 5th ed.” (Mitsch and Gosselink, 2015):  “The rate at which wetlands are being lost on a global scale is only now becoming clear, in part with the use of new technologies associated with satellite imagery. But there are still many vast areas of wetlands where accurate records have not been kept, and many wetlands in the world were drained centuries ago…It is probably safe to assume that (1) we are still losing wetlands at a fairly rapid rate globally, particularly in developing countries; and (2) we have lost half or more of the world’s original wetlands.”

In a paper cited in the above report and book, Davidson (2014) determined that the world lost 53.5 percent of its wetlands “long-term” (i.e. multi-century) with higher loss rates in inland vs. coastal wetlands (60.8 vs. 46.4 percent respectively). He also found out that the wetland rate of loss in the 20th –early 21st centuries was 3.7 times faster than the long-term loss rate.

wetlandsmitschIn the USA, we have sound estimates that we lost about half of the wetlands in the lower 48 states equivalent from the 1780s to the 1980s.  That translated to an enormous loss rate of 236,000 hectares (580,000 acres) per year of wetlands for almost 2 centuries!  Even from the 1970s to the mid 1980s, we were losing over 100,000 hectares (260,000 acres) per year.  In stepped the Federal courts’ interpretation of the Clean Water Act to include wetlands as “waters of the United States” and the loss rate plummeted to about 5,600 hectares (14,000 acres) per year in the latest assessment issued a few years ago.  We have not yet achieved the national goal of “no net loss” that has been the formal policy of the USA for 30 years, but we are getting close and are much better off than most of the rest of the world in conserving the wetlands that are left.

But the legal means that we use in the USA to protect wetlands will not work in the rest of the world where land is needed for food production and living space for a growing world population. That makes slowing the global loss of wetlands that much more problematic. Rather we have to educate the world on the values of wetland ecosystems for the services that they provide for us including cleaning our water, supporting our biodiversity, mitigating our floods and coastal storms, and sequestering more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystems on the planet. In almost every comparison that has been done, the economic value of natural wetlands is at the top of the list.

I will be going to that meeting in Uruguay and will probe the validity of these world wetland trend estimates, but if the facts are even close to the ones I cite above, we need to sound an international alarm that “enough is enough.”  Please join me by forwarding this message around to any social or professional groups that you link with so that the alarm can be heard world-wide.

References

Davidson, N.C. 2014

Gardner, R.C. et al. 2015

Mitsch and Gosselink, 2015, Wetlands, 5th ed

Posted in Clean Water Act, ecosystem services, wetland loss, wetlands protection | Tagged | Leave a comment

Wetlander's Pick of the PostsMeaningful steps toward clean water take decades

By Tom Horton – My Eastern Shore MD – May 3, 2105
The Chesapeake Bay just got an important “win,” with Maryland’s agreement to end the spreading of poultry manure across sections of its Eastern Shore. Everyone should be happy about that. But no one should be satisfied. We could have had this win a decade ago. Understanding why we didn’t is important for ensuring the current agreement works. For full opinion, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereAll quacked up for wetlands

By Russell Bassett – Environment America – May 5, 2015
Without wetlands, ducks would be, well, sitting ducks. All of North America’s duck and goose species depend on wetland habitats for breeding, rearing, and/or for resting and foraging along their migratory flyways. For full blog post, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

Thanks to the support of the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) and the Switzer Foundation, I was able to attend the National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis, Missouri this week.  This was a chance to meet with invested people who are working on the same environmental, social and economic issues that I am and led to a wonderful cascade of linkages and opportunities.  My shockingly heavy carry-on nationaladaptationforum51515-6suitcase (just ask the airline worker who took it from me for planeside check) returned home full of useful just-released reports from leading researchers and organizations and laden with potential.

naf51515-10I am most appreciative of EcoAdapt, who coordinated the Forum, for giving all of us the opportunity to learn from each other and compare ideas, as well as inspire each other.  Hundreds of organizations, scholars and agencies are working tirelessly to develop assessment tools, techniques and targeted solutions to address climate change.  However, proliferation presents a challenge as well.  Based on the comments from participants across all the sessions I attended, information overload has begun to kick in.  There are now so many tools and practices that navigating through them and selecting the right one for a region, sector, issue, outcome…has become a challenge itself. 

A huge opportunity area for growth and refinement will be the testing and evaluation of many of these tools.  Some are too new to have gone through rigorous review; others don’t have funding to complete the sampleforum51515-11task.  Whatever the reason, funding and good evaluation processes need to be applied to understand what works, how, to what end under what specific circumstances. Additionally comparative analysis between tools, identifying in what contexts and for which purposes each tool is best suited is needed. It is great to find that there are people working on task.  I refer to them as the Meta People – organizations like EcoAdapt, Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and others that are reviewing, compiling and finding ways to provide user-friendly comparisons to help decision-makers navigate through their options.

stormwateroutfall51515-13Working with staff from EcoAdapt and the Point Blue Conservation Science nonprofit, I co-led a working group at the Forum to gather information about wetland work related to stormwater management and restoration/mitigation.  What came out of this session was a clear need to identify case studies where this work is happening successfully and to describe the tools that do exist, including the context within which they work.  In most working groups I attended, there was a call for well documented case studies, rather than informal references without context or evaluation. 

Also evident is the critical role of political will and regulatory power.  If the governor, mayor or a community leader with a solid base of support and social capital stands staunchly behind the adaption initiative, presentations indicate that the sailing was often smooth.  And the opposite occurred in areas where there was political resistance.  In the same way, where a state or municipality had adopted regulations to require certain action (i.e. if there was regulatory impetus), this removed a number of initial hurdles to moving forward with adaptation work.  Although this is intuitive, many planning processes bypass or only pay lip service to these considerations.  The best laid of plans likely won’t work without a supportive context.

ohiostatestudy515115-14However, if there is not political will at one level (e.g. state level, county level), it does not necessarily mean that there isn’t activity at another level.  Dr. Derek Kauneckis’ Ohio University study provides evidence that those states not working on climate change at the state-level did have work happening at the municipal level.  Understanding where the political will is – at what scale, in which agencies, and through which individuals should all be taken into consideration.

As part of this scale issue, in many cases presenters and participants argued that large scale climate change data does not make the case for local or regional decision makers, where specific decisions about adaption work often needs to take place.  The cost of data downscaling is significant.  Along with this is the need for ecosystem service valuation work, but again, resources play a huge role in the availability of this information.   Repeatedly practitioners shared that they wished there were more resource-efficient, rapid assessments for this kind of work.  A few states and organizations offered potential examples, which we will be looking into shortly.

At the Forum there was lively discussion about the risk of maladaptation — adaptation that worked in one area, but had unintended consequences in another or functioned in a way that was unexpected due to some oversight.  We at ASWM have just been learning about the challenge of siting solar development projects and their potential negative impacts on wetlands through practices used to install and maintain projects.  Yes, solar is good, but best management practices are needed to avoid damages to wetlands.  Efforts across the US to encourage solar projects in underserved communities illustrates the need to get ahead of the curve and help states and tribes develop strategies to ensure wetlands protection at the same time solar solutions improve energy equity.

A final point I wanted to bring home is the important role of cultural values in all of this work.  What goes into models, what is prioritized for adaptation work, for protection, for action is all tied both directly and discretely to the values of the people undertaking the adaptation decision-making.  Understanding how people prioritize and the role of values in this work should not be overlooked.  Several social scientists and research organizations who presented at the Forum are looking at this work.  ASWM, states, tribes and others would benefit from taking a closer look at this work as we work to integrate climate adaptation into our wetland work. In this same vein, ASWM will have an intern this summer who will be working to develop a comparative matrix of ecosystem valuation tools to help state identify tools that best fit their capacity.

aswm51515-1At ASWM, we hope to incorporate and share many of these ideas with you over the coming months and years.  Our resource pages on climate adaptation at aswm.org will be updated to include a range of new reports, tools and other resources I have brought home from the Forum in the near future.

For more information about the National Adaptation Forum, go here.

To view ASWM’s Climate Adaptation Webpage (which is in the process of being updated), go here.

Posted in climate adaptation, climate change, stormwater, sustainability, wetland management, wetland mitigation, wetland science, wetlands | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

View from the blog-o-sphereMore Ominous News on Wetlands Losses from Sea Level Rise

Wetlands Watch – April 17, 2015
The Center for Coastal Resources Management at VIMS got some funding to do a tidal wetlands marsh inventory on the York River. Due to Virginia’s negligence, the old tidal marsh inventory is over 30 years old, so this inventory was long overdue. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsTheir View: Congress needs to uphold intent of clean water laws

By Ed Zygmunt – Centre Daily Times – May 7, 2105
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are close to finalizing a rule clarifying longstanding Clean Water Act protections for many streams, wetlands, and other waterways important to fish and wildlife, our communities, and our economy. For full story, click here.

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For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM Mainers love mud. In this part of the world, this time of year is known affectionately as “mud season.” And we love to get up to our ears in it. Why? Because it’s fun! This past weekend in my town of Gorham, Maine, the 5th Annual Into the Mud Challenge was held as a fundraiser for the University of Southern Maine’s Sports Management Scholarship Fund. It’s not an event for the high maintenance crowd – it is 2.5 miles of an uber muddy obstacle course and folks really get into it. With costumes. It is quite an event. And we’re not the only mud-crazed part of the world. A fellow in Scotland started Swamp Soccer UK, Ltd. which now has its own World Cup. And the Wayne County, Michigan Parks & Rec. Department hosts a Mud Day every year for kids 12 years old and younger. So mud teaches us to have fun. When I think of mud, I also always think of wetlands. As I wrote about in my very first blog at ASWM, I learned a lot while interning with the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and almost ended my internship (and this lifetime) tragically while mucking about in highly disturbed riverine wetlands in Colorado. The mud very clearly informed me that day that it had brought me into this world and it could also very easily take me out. And when I worked as a Research Assistant at the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, we held a Casco Bay “Mud chrisheinig050715Summit” to discuss the status of the science available to understand the relationship between pH and shellfish in the Casco Bay region. In a nutshell – without healthy mud, we have no healthy shellfish and without healthy shellfish, we have no shellfish industry. And it can absorb you into its depths if you don’t respect it. So mud continues to teach me many things. This May marks the 24th Anniversary of American Wetlands Month. What kind of events do you have planned to celebrate and to educate the public about the wonders and benefits of wetlands? Maybe we should all hold a wetland mud event. The Heckrodt Wetland Reserve in Menasha, Wisconsin recently held a “Mayhem in the Mud!” event in April for kids age 2-10. How about if we all hold a wetland mud event for American Wetlands Month? In 2011, the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center held its first annual Mudbug Festival & 5k Run/Walk. That’s a great idea for American Wetlands Month, and races can be a great way to raise funds for your organization as well as awareness for the important work that you do. usfwsmud050715Of course, depending on the wetland and the activity planned, it is important to stay on boardwalks if possible to protect fragile vegetation – and I am certainly not endorsing the use of ATVs or 4-wheel drive vehicles in muddy fragile wetland ecosystems (which is unfortunately another spring time ritual in Maine). However, many folks think of wetlands as stinky mudpits. Let’s show them that, while that might be true, stinky mudpits can be lots of fun and not only that, they provide incredibly important benefits for wildlife, flood mitigation, water filtration, fisheries and much, much more. So for Peat’s Sake, get outside and go play in the mud! Happy American Wetlands Month!

Posted in American Wetlands Month, Maine, outreach, wetland education, wetlands | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wetlander's Pick of the PostsBeyond capitalism and socialism: could a new economic approach save the planet?

By Jo Gonfino – The Guardian – April 21, 2105
To avoid social, environmental and economic collapse, the world needs to move beyond the standard choices of capitalism or socialism. That’s the conclusion of a new report released Wednesday by US think tank Capital Institute. The non-partisan think tank argues that both systems are unsustainable, even if flawlessly executed, and that economists need to look to the “hard science of holism” to debunk outdated views held by both the left and the right. For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereClimate Change: Improving Restoration to Meet Shifting Plant Communities

By Kate Gazzo, M.S. – Great Ecology – May 1, 2015
As an ecologist understanding how changing climates affect restoration can be essential to a project’s success. Questions which arise include; how likely is a restored wetland to remain wet in an increasingly Mediterranean climate, and what is the success of restoring a tidal marsh along a coast that is predicted to be underwater in 100 years? Considering millions of dollars are often spent on restoration projects, the projected biophysical conditions of a project region should be considered to secure the long-term success of a project and protect the financial investment that has been made to restore a site. For full blog post, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

Both the Administration and Congress are engaged in addressing the Clean Water Rule that is currently under Interagency Federal Review with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  The comment period on the proposed ruled closed November 14, 2014.  Following review of comments, a final rule was sent to OMB on April 3rd.  According to the EPA website, the final rule will be published sometime in May of 2015 . This is a very ambitious timeline that will be challenging to meet, but it signals the Administration is moving ahead with finalizing the rule and it is likely if it is not finalized in May, it will be published and put into effect in the coming months.

cleanwateract1At the same time, Congress has held a series of hearings in both the House and Senate on the Clean Water Rule and the House has followed these by introducing H.R. 1732, the “Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015”. The bill was introduced on April 13 and may be brought to the House floor in the near future.  The legislation would require the Administration to withdraw the existing rule and start the rulemaking process over.  The primary reason reported for doing this is so the states and other parties can engage in full consultation with the EPA and the Corps in the rulemaking process.

In addition this week the House passed an Energy and Water Appropriations Bill which includes a rider that would prohibit the agencies from implementing a new rule.  This rider, should it remain in the appropriations budget, would take affect when funding is authorized for the next fiscal year.

Also this week Senators have introduced a bill, the “Federal Water Quality Protection Act” that would also require the Administration to start over adhering to a set of new definitions and principles that appear to substantially reduce the extent of  waters subject to the Clean Water Act following the SWANCC and Carabel/Rapanos Supreme Court decisions.

What’s Next?

What happens next depends in part on whether the Administration publishes a final rule in the next couple months.  If it does, the reception by states, the regulated community, and many other interest groups, as well as the reception of the House and Senate bills, particularly the Senate bill, will influence what steps Congress continues to pursue.  There is already some discussion and head counting underway to determine if there are enough votes in the Senate to override a likely Presidential veto.  If the proposed legislation is not passed into law, then it is likely that appropriations language would constrain the Administration’s ability to implement a new rule.

It would be prudent for States to evaluate the new Senate bill in consideration of both the impact of the bill if enacted at the federal level and also with respect to the consequences of having similar legislation introduced in their states.  Over time states clean water protection has generally evolved to follow federal law in many states, particularly with respect to cw51515-444exemptions and this bill has a number of new ones as well as new terms and definitions in response to recommendations from various interest groups.

For those who would like Congress to be informed and understand their concerns and recommendations about how to respond to a new Clean Water rule as well as the proposed legislation, it is important to be actively engaged both now and when the final rule is  published.

For more information on the EPA/Corp Clean Water Rule, go here.

For information about the record established through the recent House and Senate Hearings see:

House-Senate Joint Hearing on State & Local Impacts of Administration’s Proposed Expansion of Waters Regulation, Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Senate Environmental and Public Works – Impacts of the Proposed Waters of the United States Rule on State and Local Governments and Stakeholders, Saturday, March 14, 2015

House Committee on Agriculture Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee—Public Hearing: WOTUS, March 17, 2015

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Waters of the United States: Stakeholder Perspectives on the Impacts of EPA’s Proposed Rule, Tuesday, March 24, 2015

04/06/2015    Field Hearing: Impacts of the Proposed Waters of the United States Rule on State and Local Governments and Stakeholders

cw5115-3304/08/2015    Field Hearing: Impacts of the Proposed Waters of the United States Rule on State and Local Governments and Stakeholders

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