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

By Jeanne Christie

Worldwide about 50% of the wetlands have been lost – usually converted to uplands and most of the time those conversions have been to agriculture.  For example in the United States it is estimated that over 80% of the wetlands lost over the past 200 years were converted to agriculture.

It’s nothing new.  Conversions of wetlands to agriculture has occurred for millennia. But, in many areas this has become problematic particularly in the context of changing agricultureblog10115agricultural practices over the past century.  For example in peatlands in areas such as Southeast Asia these conversions lead to subsidence of the landscape and increased vulnerability to flooding.  In the U.S. subsidence of wetlands in coastal Louisiana is well documented due in part to the absence of natural flooding from the Mississippi River but also due to conversion of floodplain wetlands to agricultural uses.

waterfowl10115Over time changes in agricultural practices have led to dramatic decreases in biodiversity associated with agricultural wetlands.  For example meadows in Europe – moist grasslands and fens used for grazing and haymaking historically covered large acres with diverse vegetation that supported grassland birds, water fowl etc.  But the application of artificial fertilizers and deep drainage led to dramatic declines in wildlife populations.  In a similar vein, prior to the 20th century, rice paddies supported rich diversity of macroinvertebrates, fish and waterfowl throughout Asia.  Here too fertilizer and pesticide use have resulted in a dramatic decrease in biodiversity associated with rice fields.

But as cause and unwanted effects are better understood, there is change directed toward protecting wetlands on agricultural landscapes. For example, in Australia, there is growing recognition that healthy wetlands are important to agricultural production as well as environmental conservation.

agricul3Here in the U.S. water pollution from agricultural nonpoint source run-off is the leading source of pollution to rivers and lakes.  At least 20% of these agricultural lands were historically wetlands.  The drainage of these lands coupled with relocating and straightening streams can destabilize whole river systems leading to decades of headcutting and streambank erosion.  Thus while erosion rates of agricultural fields have decreased in response to improved conservation practices, erosion from streambanks continues to be a significant problem which will require different conservation practices to resolve.

The changes in agriculture over the past hundred years have yielded significant benefits in terms of food and fiber production.  But widespread conversions and management of the land and associated wetlands have also had adverse impacts.  They have damaged or destroyed wetlands and waterways, biodiversity, groundwater supplies and other natural resources.  The challenge is to figure out whether it is possible to move on to better management strategies that will support the production of food and fiber, but ag4also protect  and rehabilitate waterways, encourage the re-establishment of wetlands, increase biodiversity and more.  The ability to identify and implement practices that accomplish a broad array of benefits is crucial to the future.  The good news is that there are corporations, farmers, environmentalists, conservationists, agronomists and other scientists working to address this challenge.


How to drought-proof California’s farms

Coca-Cola Leaves It to Beavers to Fight the Drought

Farmers Work with Wetlands to Reap Benefits

Working Wetlands: Classifying Wetland Potential for Agriculture

ag5EPA Region 5 – Wetlands Supplement: Incorporating Wetlands into Watershed Planning

Conserving wetlands through smallscale agriculture

Wetlands and agriculture: a case for integrated water resource management in Sri Lanka

World Wildlife Fund: Threats: Water Scarcity

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Pope’s climate push is ‘raving nonsense’ without population control, says
top US scientist

By Suzanne Goldenberg – The Guardian – September 24, 2015 – Video
One of America’s leading scientists has dismissed as “raving nonsense” the pope’s call for action on climate change – so long as the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics rejects the need for population control. In a commentary in the journal Nature Climate Change, Paul Ehrlich, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, argues that Pope Francis is simply wrong in trying to fight climate change without also addressing the additional strain on global resources from population rise. “That’s raving nonsense,” Ehrlich told the Guardian. “He is right on some things but he is just dead wrong on that.” For full story and to view video, click here.


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View from the blog-o-sphere2015 National Wetland Plant List Proposed Updates

The Swamp School – September 29, 2015
On September 14, 2015, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced the availability of the draft National Wetland Plant List (NWPL) 2015 and its Web address to solicit public comments. The public will now has the opportunity to comment and vote on the proposed update of wetland indicator status ratings for 186 plants species in select Corps wetland regions. The following is from the Federal Register (80 FR 55103). If you wish to provide a comment, you can do so by filling out this Google Form.  Comments are due by midnight November 13, 2015. For full blog post, click here.

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For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Call me crazy – I threw my hat in the ring to run for my Town Council this fall. It’s not a decision I made lightly. The position will require monthly meetings discussing the many details of town government plus the additional requisite committee meetings. It’s a big time commitment. And no matter how hard I try to understand individual concerns and try to find balance, I will be required to gorhman92415make decisions that are bound to make someone unhappy. But after two years of regularly attending town council meetings as a resident and participating in public comment periods it became apparent to me that if I really wanted to make a difference I needed to take a greater leadership role. I love my little town and I want to help successfully navigate it through the challenges that lie ahead.

mainstreet92415My small town in Gorham, Maine is currently the fastest growing municipality in Maine. Like many communities that have found themselves in this situation before us, we are facing many challenges associated with rapid growth but we are not well positioned to manage it. We don’t have a game plan – instead we have relied on a patchwork approach to growth that is not grounded in any overall comprehensive strategy.  Traffic congestion continues to get worse as my town has developed into a through-way from homes to job centers in towns on either side of us. Little by little we are losing our unique village center with historical homes and local independent businesses and are beginning to look like “anywhere USA” with franchises and unattractive large open parking lots. That’s what can be seen on the surface.

trails92415But what most folks don’t know or don’t talk about are the highly impaired waterways that once used to flow through our community. One such waterway, Tannery Brook, is located behind my neighborhood. Our Conservation Commission is trying to restore the area into a preserve but the focus is primarily on creating trails, which will be a great community asset, but it’s not clear what role hydrologic restoration has in their plans if any. According to the Watershed Management Plan that was prepared in 2005 by the Cumberland County Soil & Watershed District, “Tannery Brook’s water quality is threatened primarily by nonpoint source pollution or polluted runoff that washes into the stream from its surrounding watershed which includes 7-8 stormwater outfalls near urban areas that contribute excess sediment and other pollutants, increased flows and warm stormwater (thermal pollution) to the stream.”  In Gorham’s village center, there is a small stream that has taken the place of the old railroad line that used to traverse through our village center. But the banks are severely eroded and the stream bed has sunken through downcutting – its ability to connect via the culvert to the other side of the road is uncertain. It appears to have no real purpose.

tamery92415We have a stormwater ordinance, but it only addresses unpermitted or unallowed non-storm water discharges to the storm drainage system and the procedures to carry out all inspection, monitoring and enforcement activities. We do have a Shoreland Zoning Ordinance that addresses stormwater runoff for new construction and development in the designated Shoreland Zones, which is a good start, but I’d like to see our town become more creative and proactive in stormwater management to protect our water resources from existing development and include green infrastructure requirements for new development such as permeable paving, bioswales, and rain gardens.

For those of us with daytime jobs working on the state and/or federal level, local government can be a bit of a mystery and riddled with small town (or big city) politics that inevitably complicate efforts to manage watersheds on a local, regional or state level. It can be arduous and frustrating. But it is on the local government level that the boots hit the ground. We saw that first hand with Hurricane Sandy. One of the biggest oversights that were identified after the disaster was the gap in efforts to empower local communities and engage them in resiliency and preparedness planning efforts. Educating and empowering local communities to become more sustainable (environmentally, economically and socially) is critical in our efforts to achieve many of our regional, state and national goals. The benefits of a healthy urban watershed are numerous and well documented in this respect.

stream92415Part of the problem in Gorham, like many communities, is that we don’t have anyone in town government with expertise in watershed planning or to advocate for the development of ordinances or efforts to address our impaired waterways. It’s really not on anybody’s radar. Even if it was, we don’t have money in our budget to hire outside experts. What many communities don’t realize, however, is that there are multiple federal, state and private foundation resources available for planning, technical and construction support (see the links below). The Association of State Wetland Managers will also be hosting a free webinar on Wetland Restoration in Urban & Highly Disturbed Landscapes on Wednesday, October 13th at 3:00pm eastern time.  For more information and to register, click here.

I have many ideas of ways to improve Gorham’s sustainability and one of them is to begin the discussion and raise awareness about our impact on our watershed health – and I encourage you to do the same in your local community. You don’t have to run for Town Council, but you can make a difference by offering your expertise and knowledge to your local government by participating in committees and boards, attending town council meetings, meeting with the staff of your planning departments or volunteering for your local land trust. As a resident you can build those personal relationships with your local community. So For Peat’s Sake, I challenge you to make a difference on the local level. Every great movement or idea starts with a seed – and it’s a lot of fun to watch it grow!

Links for Information & Resources:

ASWM’s Natural & Green Infrastructure webpage

Green Infrastructure Center

US EPA’s Green Infrastructure webpage

The Conservation Fund’s Green Infrastructure webpage

The American Planning Association’s webpage on Green Infrastructure Planning

American Society of Landscape Architecture’s Green Infrastructure webpage

American Rivers Green Infrastructure webpage

Posted in conservation, green infrastructure, Land use planning, Maine, outreach, stormwater, streams, sustainability, urban wetlands, watershed management | Leave a comment

View from the blog-o-sphereAmerican Rivers and Partners Petition EPA to Control Stormwater

By Liz G. Deardorff – American Rivers – The River Blog – September 17, 2015
Leaving no stone unturned, or more accurately no significant stormwater source uncontrolled, American Rivers, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Clean Air Council petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure control of significant sources of pollution that contribute to costly local clean-up efforts and are not already adequately addressed by urban stormwater programs. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts The Age of Loneliness

By Meera Subramanian– Guernica Magazine – September 15, 2015
Ten years ago, I went into the woods I loved to decide whether or not to leave them. I walked through the wide open door of the barn where I lived, on the green side of Oregon, veered west between the overwintering garden and the greenhouse where the rosemary thrived, and passed through grassy fields that flushed into knee-high carpets of silken violet petals when the camas came into bloom. At the edge of the property, I climbed into the forest, leaving the open meadow behind and bushwhacking steeply uphill into a remnant parcel of old-growth Douglas fir trees. For full article, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

Over the last year, ASWM has received numerous questions about what leads to non-native plant invasions, how to prevent them, the effect of invasive plants on wetland mitigation sites and more.  This past week we received a request for information after a landowner noticed non-native Phragmites plants in an area that had been previously invasive-free.  The impacts of invasive Phragmites on wetlands can be significant. This blog will outline some of the basic information you need to know about Phragmites and identify follow-up resources for more information.

What is Phragmites australis?

phragmites1According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Phragmites Field Guide, Phragmites australis is considered to be one of the most widespread plants on earth and is found in marsh systems world-wide. There are three kinds of Phragmites in North America:  1) Native Phragmites (also known as common reed) which has been in the US for thousands of years, 2) invasive (introduced) Phragmites from Europe which has only been present in the US for less than 200 years, and 3) a “Gulf Coast type” that has an uncertain origin and introduction history.  The plant was grown commercially in Europe throughout the 20th Century, primarily used as thatch for roofs.   The introduction of invasive Phragmites in the United States is thought to have occurred through the emptying of ballast material from European ships.

phragmitesaustralis2Why is Phragmites australis a problem?

Phragmites of European origin has a robust ability to reproduce in a wide range of conditions and through a number of means, including both through wind and water dispersion of seeds and through rhizomes and rhizome fragments).  This highly adaptable and resilient plant can live and reproduce in freshwater, brackish or even salt water.  Recent studies have shown that the invasive form of the plant is now present in all 50 states.  Michigan Coastal Program also points out that physical and chemical disturbances provide Phragmites with a “competitive edge.”

Not only is the plant good at replicating itself, it is difficult to remove.  Phragmites has deep and complex root systems which extend out both vertically and horizontally.  It is important to note that it can reproduce from simple fragments of rhizomes.  For this reason, the invasive version of the plant is often found on disturbed sites.  USDA indicated that the plant is often attracted to areas where nutrient inputs are high, i.e. where there has been development.  Most common areas for invasion are saturated roadsides, construction sites, adjacent to agricultural fields, or near developed shorelines.

Its effects are somewhat insidious.  First, with its reproductive strength and robustness, Phragmites often overtakes native species that are critical to local ecosystem health.  According to the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative, biodiversity is often lost on sites where non-native Phragmites is present, as the site hydrology is altered by the presence of the plant (greater sedimentation, plant litter build-up).   This, in turn, reduces the regular flooding of the wetland and reduces the ability of wildlife to feed on the wetland surface.

What can be done to reduce the spread of Phragmites australis?

Michigan’s A Guide to the Control and Management of Invasive Phragmites (2014) outlines the four primary control methods for Phragmites.  Their recommendations are summarized here:

1) Herbicides: Glyphosate and imazpyr

chemical1Herbicides, such as glyphosate and imazpyr can be used individually or as part of a combined control strategy and usually require multiple-year treatments.  Spot treatment is possible and recommended.  However, these herbicides are nonselective and will enter any plant species (native or non-native) that comes into contact with the chemicals.

There are many different methods for applying these herbicides, including injecting stems, hand swiping, backpack sprayers, wick or dauber, boom sprayers or aerial application).  Largescale or non-targeted applications of these herbicides are likely to negatively affect adjacent plant communities.  Perhaps most compelling, a wide range of research studies have shown negative health effects to humans and ecosystem health from contact with these chemicals.  It should be noted that well-established stands of Phragmites are difficult to control with only one herbicide treatment.  Anyone who  plans to spray plants which are in the water or growing from ground which is below the “ordinary high water mark” (OHWM), should contact their state environmental agency for more information about compliance with water quality regulations.  For general information about herbicide treatment of Phragmites, go here.  For specific treatment details, refer to specific product information.

2) Prescribed Fire

After an initial treatment, prescribed fire can be used.  Fire can be used in conjunction with herbicide treatment in the year following herbicide treatment to removes plant biomass.  Fire destroys seed heads, removes dead stems, and kills plants that survived herbicide treatment.  Additionally, prescribed burning promotes native plant growth.  However, beware — the use of fire without herbicides may actually promote invasive growth rather than discourage it.

3) Physical Removal

When burning is not feasible, physical removal is an option.  However this must be done carefully, as the roots can break into many pieces, each of which will grow into more Phragmites.  Mechanical removal can be done using weed whips, small mowers, brush hogs, flail mowers, or hand-cutting stems.  Physical removal efforts should wait for an adequate period of time after any herbicide application to allow absorption of the chemical.  Results are improved when cutting occurs once the ground is frozen.  Some research indicates that this method can be used independently from herbicide treatment, but is more effective when used in conjunction with it.

4) Flooding/Water Management

Flooding after herbicide treatment has been effective under certain conditions.  Increasing water level alone is not effective in controlling Phragmites and drawdowns can make Phragmites growth increase.  It should be noted that a state may require one or more permits to release water for this (or any other) purpose.

What are the Impacts of Glyphosate Use?

With the recommendations from almost all sources focusing on the use of herbicides (and particularly application of glyphosate), information about the impacts of glyphosate use is warranted.  While the EPA formally considers glyphosate to be non-carcinogenic, the federal agency has not reviewed this status since 1993.  More recent studies have found significant associations between glyphosate exposure and, as well as both liver and kidney damage and provide some evidence that glyphosate formulations are much more toxic than glyphosate alone.   A recent report by the World Health Organization declared glyphosate “probably causes cancer”.

As a result, state and federal agencies are being asked to review this and other evidence to decide how to label it.  All of this points to a need to more carefully study and monitor these effects.  However, according to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate is not included in compounds tested for by the Food and Drug Administration’s Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program nor in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program.

If not Herbicides, What are the Alternatives? 

The bottom line is that there is little else that has been shown as cost-effective on a broad scale.  While some efforts have been made to explore alternatives like the effectiveness of covering plants and grazing as tools to control Phragmites, these are not viable large-scale solutions at this time.

Some Parting Thoughts

Studies identifying unintended impacts on humans and wildlife from the use of pesticides are cause for concern.  So is the lack of effective alternatives.  Phragmites is just one of many plant and animal species replacing native plants and animals in the U.S. and other countries.  For plants at least, they are often opportunistic, early successional species that thrive in compacted disturbed soils where nutrients are provided in large concentrated pulses.  In fact, many of these plants have followed humans around the world for centuries because human land use practices create ideal habitat.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that pesticides are a short term solution at best. There is mounting evidence that over time the use of pesticides yields pesticide resistant strains of nuisance species. Scientists, land managers and others need to pursue a deeper understanding of the issues and drivers that allow nuisance species to replace native species and persist on the land.  For example, can we change land management practices such as compaction of soil and applications of fertilizers to discourage invasive species?  Alternatively, are there ways to accelerate plant succession to replace invasives such as Phragmites with desirable plant species?  With recent studies and legal cases linking glyphosate with various forms of cancer and other adverse health effects, the availability of herbicides as a tool to control invasive species may be limited in the not too distant future. Alternative approaches are needed.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Wichita Gets Wild With New City Park

By Anna Clark – Next City – September 11, 2015
In a rare fusion of nature preservation and economic development, Wichita will soon see its urban wetlands become a public park. In doing so, it is upending the classic template of a park as a place of well-mowed green space and tennis courts, and replacing it with a vision that is more wild and native. And in one graceful step, the wetlands project will also improve stormwater management and improve the value of nearby commercial projects. For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereBig Data Improving Ecosystems, from Chesapeake Bay to Colombia

By Karin Krchnak – Huffington Post Blog – September 9, 2015
Every single living thing on this planet needs fresh water in some way. We depend on water for food, energy, health and sanitation, and almost everything we use on any given day. Yet despite our incredible dependence on water, it’s largely managed behind closed doors, governed based on scarce or inaccurate information, and out of reach for millions of people. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.5 million people die from waterborne diseases each year; more than 700 million people lack access to safe drinking water; and 2.5 billion don’t have access to improved sanitation facilities. For full blog post, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

I frequently talk to wetland professionals who tell me that they would like to make it to Maine “some day”. They’re usually thinking of a visit to Acadia National Park or somewhere along Maine’s famous coastline. I love Acadia and have spent many happy days there, but there are also trips to extraordinary wetlands elsewhere in the state that folks from away rarely visit.

One such trip is called the Moose Bow River trip  in northwestern Maine near the town of Jackman and a couple hours from the Canadian border.  It’s a mooseriver111three day, 34 mile trip across a couple lakes and down the Moose River.  This is a very remote area and, while it does not include much in the way of white water, it is a challenging trip.  It requires portaging, including a substantial 1.2 mile portage between Attean and Holeb Ponds.  Campsites are primitive with a picnic table, a fire pit and an open pit toilet.

number5What makes this special for those of us who love wetlands is that the entire trip is located within an area of Statewide Ecological Significance and includes Number 5 Bog  which is a National Natural Landmark.  The bog is one of the largest and most diverse peatlands in Maine and one of the few remaining places in Maine or anywhere else in the lower 48 states with “no discernable human impact.”

holebpond1The Moose River Bow trip also includes Holeb Stream which has reversed flow during high water on the Moose River.  A trip through this landscape is a very special opportunity to visit a largely undisturbed wetland.  This past Labor Day weekend, my husband and I with our canine companion Navia made the trip encountering patterned fens, dwarf shrub bogs, Jack pine forests, lakes, ledges, rivers and waterfalls. We saw bald eagle, herons, kingfisher, the rare wood turtle, fisher, and other wildlife.  Signs of moose and beaver were everywhere. We probably passed a hundred beaver dens located on the banks of the lower reaches of the Moose River – a few with beaver dams across streams entering the river close by.  Words can’t do it justice, nor do photographs.  But here are a few to give you a sense of what’s there.  It had been on my bucket list for a long time and I encourage you to add it to yours.


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