by Brenda Zollitsch

For the last many months I have been working on researching state wetland program elements and trends across the United States.  Through this work we have been collecting all sorts of data about what types of regulatory, monitoring and assessment, wetland water quality standards, and volunteer restoration programs and efforts states have in place.  Additionally, we have been exploring
what types of wetland work states have been doing formally
brendawetlands11or informally across agencies/programs (e.g. connecting wetland work with stormwater management, watershed planning, TMDL coordination, etc.) and learning about any climate change work they are engaged in relating to wetlands.  This last part is the most intriguing at the moment because of what we are finding.

In some states wetland staff are thoroughly engaged in climate change planning – sitting at the planning table with other agencies and having wetlands identified as part of resiliency planning, other states are definitely not working on these issues and, of course, there are many, many others in different places between.  So far our findings mirror those of Georgetown University’s report which tracks climate adaptation planning at the state and municipal level.

brendawetlands111Many state climate adaptation plans that have been completed focus primarily on reducing the impact of greenhouse gasses (GHGs).  One reason for this may be that other kinds of climate change planning (related to on the ground restoration, buffers, water resource planning etc.) is largely a local issue that needs to be addressed at the municipal level — that’s where projects and implementation largely take place.  Another reason may be that this work is called something else.  It may fall under “resiliency planning” or “extreme event and hazard planning.”   Many efforts to address specific threats that may or may not be attributed to climate change are being accomplished through standard planning activities, such as floodplain management, stormwater planning, or municipal code development.

What I have found especially interesting about this conversation is learning that most states are doing something to address changes in response to citizen concerns and there are concerned citizens.  For example, in late October the South Miami City Commission voted 3 to 2 for Florida’s 23 southern counties to secede and form a new state named South Florida because of frustration over environmental issues, global warming and a lack of concern by state leaders. There are states throughout the country that are doing really important and innovative work in response to alterations in weather, high erosion rates, the presence of invasive species, etc. To date, interviews have brendawetlands22found work on resiliency and extreme weather preparation happening through partnerships with state university researchers, civil works planning, floodplain and/or stormwater management, coordination with transportation, code enforcement and ordinance development at the local level, and others.  And wetlands are often in the mix through discussion of either wetlands as an impacted water resource or as part of the solution.  A growing emphasis nationwide on green infrastructure and integrated water resource management all point to the likelihood that wetlands will not only continue to be a part of this dialogue, but will play an increasing role as part of state, regional and local solutions.

It is important that we continue to find ways to support states in their efforts to provide greater resiliency for their citizens.   Solid planning, environmental protection efforts and wetland work that provide benefits in terms of enhanced public safety, prevention of property loss, and limiting business disruptions are occurring and need to continue to grow.

brendawetlands33So this is my thought for the day – It may not matter so much how you get there or what you call it, as long as you create a place where the work gets done.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsAnimal Welfare: Seeing the Forest for the Denizens

By Brian Czech – Huffington Post Blog – November 17, 2014
The most prevalent source of animal suffering is habitat destruction. Habitat includes food, water, cover and space. When any of these elements are destroyed or depleted, wild animals suffer and often die more miserable deaths than if killed by hunters or predators. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereA Tool for Tribal Communities

By Diane Simunek – EPA Blog: It All Starts with Science – November 14, 2014
The following story was shared at a recent workshop:

On a warm summer morning an elder, his dog, and his grandson go down to the river. The dog jumps in for a swim; a few days later the dog falls gravely ill. After reexamining the river the elder identifies that the illness was caused by harmful algal blooms in the water. On closer inspection, it was easy for him to figure out what had caused the dog’s illness. Preventing the algae from blooming again, however, poses a more challenging question.

This scenario was one of many examples used at the “Train the Trainer” workshop held by the United Southern and Eastern Tribes (USET) last October to teach tribal communities how to use the Tribal-Focused Environmental Risk and Sustainability Tool (T-FERST), a web-based, geospatial decision support tool.

For full blog post, click here.

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By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

After the 2014 mid-term election results came in, my initial thought was – is this going to impact wetland protection, and if so, how? Before the days of unrelenting and unapologetic bipartisan gridlock in Washington D.C., science and environmental protection were never viewed as being the concern of one party over another. forpeatssake111314-1Many of our most significant and successful national environmental protections and programs were developed and passed by both parties – nearly unanimously – because those in power during the 1970s recognized that our environmental health was directly connected to human health, economic health and the health of wildlife regardless of one’s political leanings. In fact, in 1972 Congress overrode a veto by President Nixon to pass the Clean Water Act[1]. And in 1973, Nixon called on Congress to develop better protections for species and the Endangered Species Act passed almost unanimously.[2]

forpeatssake111314-2Sadly this is not the world we live in today. At the time that these bills were passed it was easy to see the impact of unregulated industry and agriculture. Unfettered releases of toxins and pollution into our air and waters had caused significant impacts to high profile species such as the American Bald Eagle. And the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969 certainly could not be ignored. Because of protections afforded by the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, our country looks very different today. Most folks today don’t worry about breathing the air, drinking their tap water, or swimming in their local lakes and ponds because the laws have done what they were intended to do – protect these valuable resources.

But regardless of what political party we may belong to, our memories are short and those of us who lived through the 1960s and 1970s are growing old. There are fewer of us kicking around now who remember why we enacted these laws to begin with. This past summer I moderated a webinar that was about lessons learned from the 2013 Colorado floods. The presenter made a very acute observation that he shared with us: we have about a 2 year window after any major catastrophe to get policies and laws changed or the general public will forget about the events and will lose their sense of urgency to address the issues that precipitated the event. Out of sight = out of mind.

forpeatssake111314-3Today I am afraid that we take for granted what these environmental laws have provided for us. They are viewed now by some as an impediment to economic growth and an unfair burden on business – a “job killer.” Science is no longer held in such high esteem and the scientific process is viewed as cumbersome and flawed. The Great Recession changed the priorities of this country in some very fundamental ways. Not that there wasn’t a focus on economic growth before – but there wasn’t this sense of panic that I see today that precludes any other policy considerations. I have no idea what the impact will be (if any) on wetland protection from the recent election, but it appears that even with the public outcry for more efforts to break down the gridlock, we may be facing more of it – like it or not. And the role of objective scientific findings to inform policy is still tenable.

But enough of my musings. As much as I get brought down by the weight of these issues, I do always try to find a way to laugh and lighten my spirit. How else can we continue if we don’t, right? So I found this bit of humor online that not only sums up my observations of today’s political climate, but also made me laugh out loud, as I hope it will for you!

Here we go:

forpeatssake111314-4A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced the altitude and spotted a woman below. He descended a bit more and shouted. “Excuse me… can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The woman replied, “You are in a hot air balloon approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 41 degrees North latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.”

“You must be a Scientist,” said the balloonist.

“I am,” said the woman.

“How did you know?”

“Well”, answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help so far.”

The woman below responded. “You must be a politician.”

“I am,” replied the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” said the woman, “You don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem.”

She continued after a moment of silence: “The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”

(taken from http://www.anyjokes.net/funny-jokes/politician-and-scientist/)

So for Peat’s Sake, keep up the good fight, keep up the faith, and find some time to laugh!

 

Posted in Clean Water Act, economic growth, endangered species, pollution prevention, water policy, wetland science | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

View from the blog-o-sphereSustainability and Resilience: Making the Connection

By Alan Hecht, Ph.D. – EPA Blog:  It All Starts with Science – October 24, 2014
When most people consider “resilience,” they think about bouncing back from some sort of unwelcome catastrophe. Whether it’s “super storms” devastating coastal communities and disrupting millions of people along the east coast, wildfires in the mountain and western states, or natural disasters and related, human-caused emergencies such as the tsunami and Fukushima meltdown, recent events have magnified the importance of being prepared to ride out hard times.  For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsBeavers Help Out Young Frogs

Robert Kwok – Conservation Magazine – October 30, 2014
Beavers are a boon to the environment: Their dams create ponds that provide homes for birds, amphibians, and other critters. Now scientists have found that beavers also aid their wetland companions by digging canals that young frogs use to hop from ponds to forests. The canals, which allow beavers to transport branches and hide from predators, can stretch over hundreds of meters. But “the effect of canals on wetland ecosystems has received little study,” the researchers write in Animal Conservation. For full article, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

“…nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should.”

― Julia Child

At the Association of State Wetland Managers we’re always looking for news about wetlands.  Sometimes it seems like almost every day we come across a new story or report highlighting the importance of wetland protection and restoration for a whole variety of reasons from reducing the impacts of drought and floods to storing carbon to protecting coastal areas from erosion to supporting wildlife and ensuring clean water.

cw11614-2vernalWorld’s Wetlands Play Key role as carbon sinks

Wetlands International calls for integrated water and wetland management to reduce disaster risk

Staring Down the California Drought: Looking at Solutions to Our Water Crisis

We agree that wetlands are essential to protecting people and the environment and we’re delighted that more and more studies are emphasizing the importance of wetlands.

However, we are concerned that the identification and application of best practices for successfully restoring wetlands are lagging behind the recognition of their importance.  We see report after report that wetlands restored to replace wetlands destroyed (mitigation) are not operating (functioning) at the same level as natural wetlands.

Compensatory Mitigation: Success Rates, Causes of Failure, and Future Directions

And we are also concerned that little data is collected to determine whether voluntary restoration projects are successful.

If wetland restoration is going to be undertaken to accomplish a variety of goals, wetland practitioners need to have the expertise necessary to do the absolute best job possible to restore those wetlands and the benefits they are expected to provide. A wetland restored to create habitat should be inhabited by the wildlife it was restored for. A wetland restored to attenuate water during floods should hold that water during a flood.  A wetland restored to store carbon should do so—and so on.

So what goes wrong?  That topic was explored during a recent webinar on wetland restoration planning and there were some interesting take away messages.

cw11614-1cookFirst and foremost: A “Cookbook” Approach to Wetland Restoration Won’t Work

There are several reasons this is true, but put simply, there are too many variables. There are many decisions that must be specifically tailored to the unique attributes of any given site prior to, during and after restoration.  Using the ‘cookbook’ analogy here are some of the challenges

  • Ingredients are always different. There are many kinds of wetlands, their position in the landscape varies, water sources (groundwater, surface water, precipitation) vary, surrounding land uses are different, soils are different etc.  In addition, materials imported or added to the site such as wetland plants must be appropriate to the location of the wetlands.
  • Reason for ‘cooking’ differs.The goals of wetland restoration vary.  Some are for mitigation and intended to replace a specific suite of wetlands functions.  Others are voluntary projects often with a focus on specific species such as amphibians or migratory waterfowl.  Some projects are to clean water or provide water storage. And so on.
  • The recipe isn’t always correct. If the project planners fail to understand and correctly evaluate how to respond to all the variables in the first two bullets above, the restoration plan will not yield the results desired.

cw11614-3sediment

  • Inexperienced cooks.  Good plans don’t always get implemented.  Contractors vary in their experience with wetland restoration planning.  Maybe the restoration plan is not specific enough.  Experienced oversight onsite during construction may not be present.  New information may be found during the construction phase (such as the presence of drainage tiles or changes in soil type) and its importance may be ignored or overlooked. 
  • Cooking (restoration) time varies.  Often there is a preference for finishing up a wetland project and declaring success quickly.  Wetland restoration takes time and needs to be evaluated on time scales that are long enough to find out if the desired wetland has been established or is at least progressing toward the desired goal.
  • Poor observation during “cooking”(restoration). Information needs to be collected and acted on to ensure that the restoration process proceeds as planned.  This is the time to evaluate progress and troubleshoot unanticipated issues that may come up.
  • Additional ingredients may be needed.Information collected as the site progresses towards a successful restoration should be used to make any needed corrections.
  • Knowing when it’s done.Wetlands are complex and they will continue to change and evolve over time.  So when is it possible to be confident that ‘success’ has been achieved?  In a previous webinar experts explored the topic of evaluating success in some detail (scroll down to recording of September 9 webinar).

The good news is that the knowledge, tools, and techniques are available to greatly improve wetland restoration success for many different kinds of wetlands.  The challenge is to gather and distribute this information so that wetland professionals are able to respond to increased demand for wetland restoration in the future.  It can’t be a ‘cookbook’ approach but rather one that addresses the realities of  a specific site, and adapts and applies wetland restoration planning practices appropriately from the beginning of the planning process through execution and beyond.

cw11614-412

 

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsGreen Infrastructure Helping to Transform Neighborhoods

By Joel Beauvais – EPA Connect Blog – October 27, 2014
Every community wants clean water. And most communities would like more green space that allows residents to enjoy the outdoors and makes neighborhoods more attractive. Green infrastructure – a natural approach to managing rainwater with trees, rain gardens, porous pavements, and other elements – can help meet both these goals. It protects water quality while also beautifying streets, parking lots, and plazas, which attracts residents, visitors, and businesses. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereIn a Changing Climate, We Can’t Do Conservation as Usual

By Valerie Hickey and Habiba Gitay – The World Bank – October 16, 2014
At the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity happening right now in Korea, there has been a lot of talk about adaptation. Most importantly, how can nature help countries and communities adapt to climate change?  Ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA), or using nature’s own defense characteristics to reduce the vulnerability of people and capital, is an essential component of climate-resilient development. EBA isn’t about how we can protect nature. It’s about how nature – through the ecosystem services that constitute EBA, be it flood protection, water provision during droughts, or wave energy attenuation, among other things – can protect people and their capital.  For full blog post, click here.

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Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

I spent the first part of this week in Denver at a meeting of the National Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Workgroup.  And, even though I know that wetlanders are an innovative bunch, I was a bit surprised when a number of states talked about their potential use of drones to collect data. Some of the meeting participants responded with glee to this idea while others groaned – depending I assume on one’s preference for high tech or muddy boots.

So today I took a quick wander through the web to get a little more up to speed, and found that I am even more out of touch than I thought.  peg103114-1Widespread use of drones for conservation purposes is in place from here to Abu Dhabi.   I found out that former military drones turned over to the U.S. Geological Survey were used in 2010 to monitor sandhill cranes using a heat sensor – count the light spots in this image – a method found to be as accurate as counts from manned flights.  This was the first non-military use of the drones, but the technology was quickly applied in many other biological surveys as described in the New York Times article listed at the end of the post.

peg103114-2

And here’s a piece of equipment that looks right out of Star Wars, being used in Abu Dahbi to track flamingo populations in a wetland preserve, in a cost effective manner that importantly minimizes human disturbance.

In Michigan, wetland biodiversity studies are being carried out at Central Michigan University by Dr. Benjamin Heurmann using an unmanned helicopter drone.  Click here for an article about this work, including a recording of a National Public Radio (NPR) report on the project.

peg1031014-3As noted by Dr. Heurmann, FAA has put restrictions in place that limit the use of drones for research without FAA permission.  Final regulations are still under development, but interim regulations have proven problematic for some research projects as noted in recent articles from the New York Times and the Boston Globe.  This is an issue to be aware of before placing your order with Amazon.  It should also be noted that use of drones for environmental research appears to be almost completely limited at this point to public lands – flying drones over private property is not something that anyone is comfortable doing at this point.

However, the use of drones is likely to gain acceptance as we become familiar with the technology, and as privacy rules are sorted out.  Agricultural interests have already moved beyond the obvious benefits of present-time low altitude photography, with the addition of other sensors to gather data on plants and soils.  Here is a link to another NPR interview with a very enthusiastic Professor Bruno Basso of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station.  Dr. Basso describes the use of drones to evaluate soil and plant moisture in fields of growing crops to guide irrigation decisions (with clear implications for water conservation).  Levels of nitrogen deficiency in plants detected from a drone can also provide a precise guide for fertilizer application, saving farmers money and saving water resources from excessive and needless nitrogen runoff.  The benefits to the landowners are such that some farmers are obtaining their own equipment.  Dr. Basso also discusses costs, benefits, and regulatory issues.

It will be interesting to see how this technology develops over the next few years. The appeal of a drone will likely be irresistible in remote areas, in wetlands where walking on the surface is difficult, or in sensitive and easily disturbed habitats.  But keep your rubber boots handy – nothing substitutes for a hands-on look for many purposes.  And those drones aren’t digging soil pits… yet.

For more reading and listening:

  • Flying unmanned helicopters for science in Michigan: click here for a story and link to NPR recording
  • Regulation of research drones:  click here and  here
  • Flamingo monitoring in a wetland reserve in Abu Dhabi:  click here
  • A Drones Eye View of Nature – New York Times:  click here
  • Expert: Drone technology – a game changer in agriculture:  click here for a link to the NPR recording

 

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