On World Wetlands Day (February 2nd), I was pleased to be able to participate in a wetlands celebration hosted by the US National Ramsar Committee (USNRC), taking part in a meeting of the Committee to learn about their ongoing and new initiatives to protect and preserve wetlands in the U.S.
First, what is the US National Ramsar Committee?
The US National Ramsar Committee supports the United States’ participation in the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that was adopted on February 2, 1971. Over 160 countries, including the United States, are parties to the Ramsar Convention. The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.” One of the primary obligations of a Ramsar party is to designate sites as “wetlands of international importance.” More than 2,180 sites worldwide have been designated as wetlands of international importance, including thirty-eight sites in the United States. For more information on Ramsar, check out my April 23, 2015 Wetland Wanderer blog on the topic.
Celebrating the 38th US Ramsar Designation: Chiwaukee Illinois Beach Lake Plain
On World Wetlands Day, the USNRC celebrated not only work around the world and especially in the United States to preserve, restore and learn about wetlands, but also the formal designation of the 38th Ramsar site in the United States, which occurred last Fall. On September 25, 2015, Chiwaukee Illinois Beach Lake Plain was designated as a Ramsar “Wetland of International Significance.” This 1,584 hectare site on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan features the highest quality coastal dune and swale ecosystem in southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois. It includes six globally rare and representative wetland types and supports two United States federally-listed Threatened and Endangered species which are associated with wetland communities. It also provides the largest near-contiguous block of stopover habitat for migratory birds along the entire Illinois coast and south western Lake Michigan coast in Wisconsin. The main threats to the site include invasive plant species, urban development (including residential and industrial areas, and roadways) and conversion of grasslands and woodlands in the surrounding areas for agriculture.
Got Wetlands? Help USNRC Reach its Goal of 100 Ramsar Sites in the United States
The recent designation the Chiwaukee site is another important step towards fulfilling the USNRC’s informal goal of 100 Ramsar-designated sites in the United States. USNRC is seeking sites that have advocates for the designation. Advocates can take almost any form – local governments, groups, communities, private organizations, landowners and others can nominate a site for inclusion on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. The Federal government can also nominate sites, such as National Parks, National Forests, or National Wildlife Refuges. Not just any site can be designated by Ramsar, but many wetland sites qualify, as they only have to meet any one of nine specific criteria for inclusion on the Ramsar List. In addition to meeting the criteria, an essential part of any application is the formal support of all of the proposed site landowners and stakeholders before it can be considered for designation on the Ramsar List.
What are the Obligations of the Wetland Site, Once Designated?
In coordination with the U.S. National Ramsar Committee, Ramsar site owners and managers must at a minimum: 1) promote the conservation of the Ramsar site, 2) inform the Ramsar Secretariat if the ecological character of the Ramsar site has changed/is changing or is likely to change as the result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference; and 3) update the Ramsar Information Sheet for the site every six years.
A Great Way to Start: Become a USNRC Member
Whether you want to learn more about Ramsar and designation or you just support the USNRC’s efforts to protect critical wetlands across the U.S., becoming a member is a great first step in making a difference. Membership provides you access to meetings, information about applications being reviewed, voting on key decisions, access to information and resources, and ongoing connection with other sites that either have or are seeking the Ramsar designation. Membership is very affordable, costing only $50.00 per individual or $100 for an organization membership. To qualify for membership, you need to be working on wetland issues professionally or be a member of an organization working on or otherwise supporting wetland-related efforts.
How to Get the Ball Rolling to Explore Site Designation
USNRC is interested in learning about wetlands sites that would be good candidates for Ramsar designation. They seek to support organizations and leaders that would be willing to shepherd an application through the designation process. USNRC’s Chairman, Dr. William Mitsch, is an advocate for designation and is committed to supporting applicants as they work through the process. He encourages interested parties to contact him or any other member of the USNRC with questions.
If you want to know more about the application process itself, contact Dr. Mitsch to request the Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS). The RIS provides a list of questions that will need to be answered for a complete application. To receive this information, email Dr. Mitsch directly at with a formal request. The email should indicate the name and location of the potential Ramsar site(s). You are welcome to include additional information as well.
A Global Commitment to Protecting Individual Wetlands
Celebrating World Wetlands Day is an important reminder of the great work that is being done locally and worldwide to protect wetlands. Protecting individual wetlands is an important step in linking critical resources across the globe. Ramsar creates a critical network that capitalizes on these linkages to promote understanding and protection of the unique services wetlands provide around the world. If you know of a wetland you think should be a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance, I encourage you to stand up to be counted, get designated and benefit from Ramsar connections.
For More Information:
- Listen to ASWM’s May 2015 Webinar on Ramsar
- US National Ramsar Committee (USNRC) Webpage
- List of Ramsar Sites in the United States
- List of Ramsar Sites Worldwide