by Brenda Zollitsch

 

A recent trip to Mt. Agamenticus in  Southern Maine was a lesson for even this highly optimistic wetland enthusiast.  I would never have thought my children (a seven-year-old son and three-year-old daughter) would understand, let alone get excited about, vernal pools.  I was wrong.   Our hike in vernal1brendaMaine demonstrated the power of quality education and outreach tools to convey complex scientific topics and garner unexpected enthusiasm for creatures that don’t fit into the coveted category of “charismatic mega-fauna.” 

Earlier this year, ASWM hosted (and I was lucky enough to get to moderate) an international webinar on wetland centers.  The webinar was put on by Wetland Link International (WLI) and brought speakers together from three countries to discuss best practices for developing high quality wetland centers.  Their recently published handbook  is a great tool for those thinking about how to connect the public with wetlands and deliver different types of educational tools, while also protecting the wetland environment, wetland functions and remaining financially viable as a nonprofit enterprise.

vernal2brendaOur way up the mountain was focused on the activity of hiking, the blowing leaves, the snack and the water breaks.  At the top, we looked out upon a vista that included the White Mountains, coastal Maine and Boston.  Very impressive! We were a little sun-baked, we decided to quickly check out the nature center at the top.  It was small and, as vernal3brendaparents, our expectations were low.  After climbing some dimly lit stairs, we entered an engaging interpretive environment.  My son ran his hands over a raised topographic map, he became engrossed by an array of animal droppings that had been petrified and put on display.  Both picked up plaster molds of animal paw prints and oooohed and aaaaahed over a coveted garter snake skin.

An interpretive guide came over and got down on her knees and asked them if they had any questions.  Rather than a lame obligatory question or perhaps even dreaded sullen silence, both kids were bubbling over with questions.  What kind of snake used to live in this skin?  Do they live here on the mountain?  Could they see one?  What about that pelt?  What kind of animal vernal4brenda23had that fur?  The delighted guide was kind and answered all their questions.  She even encouraged them to sign in their observations in a notebook at the top.  They ran over and in scrawled writing (befitting interpretation with a Rosetta stone) my son’s snake siting was documented for all time.  She congratulated them on contributing to scientific documentation.  They were bursting with pride.

We then moved over to a series of interpretive signs.  Basically, the signs talked about a special kind of pool that is only filled vernal5brendawith water part of the year.  These pools are used by amphibians (frogs and salamanders) to lay their eggs.  They are very important to helping them live and have babies.  They are called “vernal pools.”  Mt. Agementicus is home to the largest number of vernal pools in the state.  Honestly, even though I am a wetland professional, I had not known of the area’s claim to wetland fame as  vernal pool heaven.  After reading more about them, the kids cheered “I want to see one!  Show us!”  I reminded them that they were mostly dry now and that the only way we would see salamanders would be to look under logs.

vernal0They were undaunted. The easy way down the mountain would have been the roadway, but no way was my son going to miss out on his vernal pool treasure hunt.  So for the next 45 minutes, thanks to the great interpretive signage and a superbly inspiring guide, we looked under logs for salamanders, we spotted dried up vernal pools, and we talked about what amphibians are and their life cycles.  We never found a single salamander, but thanks to understanding what he was looking for, we found several mostly dry vernal pools – muddy indentations on the landscape that we had passed by unknowingly and decidedly uncaringly just an hour before.

vernal7brendaI am not sure that I would have made a focused effort to teach my kids about the specifics of vernal pools at the ages of seven and three.  In my own mind, the concept of a vernal pool is complex and efforts to protect them complicated.  But thanks to the right combination of information and delivery, I was entirely wrong about that.  We sometimes get so caught up in the science and technology, the terminology and the complexity of the regulatory systems we are trying to manage that we forget that getting someone to care isn’t always an impossibility.  I would never in a million years have thought I’d hear:  “Mom, take a picture of me with this vernal pool!”   Someone else believed that the message could be heard.  And I am grateful they did.

For more information, I encourage you to:

Watch this informative series of videos about vernal pools

Check out what researchers are finding about vernal pools in Maine

Learn how regulators in your state are working to protect State vernal pools –FAQs on Maine’s regulations – and  links to vernal pool pages in New England

If you are in the northeast, explore vernal pools using these Indicator Species Identification Cards

If you are a teacher, learn what resources are available in your region.  In California, the environmental nonprofit organization Splash provides a full vernal pool educational curriculum

Find out about the Mt. Agamenticus Conservation Region, conservation activities and trail system

Read children a wonderful story about the wildlife on Mt. Agamenticus both in the day and at night, called Forest Bright, Forest Night

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View from the blog-o-sphereConservation Groups, Farmers Protect & Restore Precious Puget Sound Estuary

By Kirk Hanlin – USDA Blog – September , 2014
When many people think of Washington State, they imagine rain, coffee and apples. My view is much more complex and nuanced, thanks to our team at NRCS who showed me diverse agricultural landscapes, including the state’s major estuary – Puget Sound. During my visit, I was greeted by an idyllic landscape steeped in history. Early settlers to the Puget Sound area converted marshlands into pastures and hayfields. We visited one such area now known as Klingel Wetlands, where levee systems were installed in the 1890s and 1950s to prevent flooding. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsNew framework for trading wetlands urged

Agri News – September 22 201
If Faust had been in the business of trading wetlands rather than selling his soul, the devil might be portrayed by the current guidelines for wetland restoration. Research from the University of Illinois recommends a new framework that could make Faustian bargains over wetland restoration sites result in more environmentally positive outcomes. For full story, click here.

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By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

One of the lessons we have learned at the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) over the years(and one that we have been particularly reminded of over the last year), is the importance of using an agreed upon lexicon when trying to communicate science within the context of public policy, law 91814m11and stakeholder engagement. Indeed, each of those three areas (policy, law and engagement) will typically interpret the meaning of words differently. For example, in conducting interviews with states in regard to how they define streams, we discovereddifferent meanings for the word “ephemeral” depending on where one lives in the country. In fact, in some states, the term “intermittent” may include streams that are sometimes scientifically classified as “ephemeral.” And one only has to look at the flurry of debate going on in regard to the new Proposed Rule for the Clean Water Act to understand how difficult it can be to create definitions for words that describe natural phenomenon such as what types of waters are protected by it or what constitutes “connectivity.” Nature is messy and hard to define.

Recently, ASWM convened an interdisciplinary work group to tackle the challenge of improving wetland restoration success. The word “success” was the group’s first hurdle to overcome. What is “success” – what does it look like and how is it measured? Joy Zedler prefers not to use that word at all – she believes it is entirely too subjective and that scientists should measure quantifiable metrics such as soil hydrology and water  91814m22chemistry. They should measure progress toward reaching a  specific goal. “Success,” on the other hand, is in the eye of the beholder. Others in the work group, such as Robin Lewis, point out that the word is used regardless of its subjectivity. Since often funders of restoration want to show “success,” we have no choice but to use it, though it must be couched within observable or measurable performance standards. Similarly, the word “value” can mean very different things depending on the context in which it is used (e.g., economics, science, religion, etc.).

When our restoration work group put together its first lexicon glossary to assist with discussions and for the development of a future white paper, the variety of meanings for different words wasremarkable. For example, consider the word “resilience”:

1) Engineers define resilience in terms of structural performance, efficiency, constancy, and predictability, and measure resilience in terms of the ability for a system to return to a steady, functioning state after a disturbance (Schultz et al., 2012),

2) Ecologists on the other hand, who recognize the inherent adaptive nature of systems, and focus on ecosystem response to perturbations, measure resilience in terms of resistance (the system’s ability to maintain a particular trajectory in spite of stress), and dynamic equilibrium (the ability to recover or regain functionality and structural integrity once a disturbance has passed) (Society for Ecological Restoration International (SERI), 2004);

3) Whereas sociologists come at the problem from a human perspective, focusing on a community’s ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from and more successfully adapt to adverse events (National Academy of Sciences (NAS) 2012).

In the context of any discussion about resiliency, it is necessary to clarify which definition of resiliency is being used.

91814m33The English language is dynamic. So is our understanding of the world around us. It follows that meanings of words change as our understanding of the world around us expands. Many words acquire new meanings when used in political and policy discussions (e.g. “sustainability”, “natural”). Often words with a history of common usage in the English language can end up with new scientific meanings such as “function.”Developing a glossary or common lexicon at the beginning of any in-depth discussion can avoid misunderstandings and set rational expectations. It is similar to what I do whenever I facilitate break-out groups. I start by developing a list of ground rules so that folks have a chance to agree on what is acceptable during discussion or not. For example, a popular one is “don’t talk over other people – wait for your turn.”

Similarly, in order to successfully communicate within diverse audiences, we must first provide a glossary to define our lexicon to ensure that everyone is on the same page. In fact, when communicating with audiences from different 91814m44backgrounds, it is a good idea to start by learning their lexicon. It’s not so different from traveling abroad. If you don’t know the  language, most folks bring a translation dictionary with them so they can try to communicate with the native tongue. And for Peat’s Sake – in a world where “LOL” can actually end up in the Webster’s Dictionary, we must be vigilant in our attempts to continue the art of two-way dialogues that use actual words and avoid acronyms. Is a rose a rose? With all due respect to Gertrude Stein, it depends on who defines it. Developing acommon lexicon is an excellent way to start.

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View from the blog-o-sphereIt’s Settled: No Country Does Water Management Better Than the Netherlands 

By Rachel Keeton – Next City – September 10, 2014
Over the past year, this column has looked at more than 25 different projects around the Netherlands that are intended to increase this country’s resiliency, particularly in regards to climate change. These projects have ranged from sustainable citywide heating systems to outlawing antibiotics for livestock, and there are new projects gaining traction every day. In the Netherlands, these projects are evidence of a clear commitment to both adaptation and advance planning. For full story, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsPlaying Politics with Clean Water

By S. Chris Hunt – Hatch Magazine – September 16, 2014
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to undermine the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers as the two federal agencies seek to clarify which waters should be protected under the Clean Water Act and which waters should not be regulated. For full article, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsRestoring the Black Swamp to Save Lake Erie

The esteemed Dr. William J. Mitsch has been invited to write a new blog for the Water Environment Federation. Here is the first entry:

By William J. Mitsch – Water Environment Federation – September 4, 2014
The harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie for the past few years and the toxic algae that caused Toledo Ohio to shut down the municipal water supply in August 2014 are symptomatic that there is something very wrong with the way we are managing our landscapes. Nutrients, especially phosphorus are pouring into this shallowest (18 m average) portion of the shallowest Great Lake, mostly as runoff from agricultural fields, are causing seasonal bursts in algal production with their accompanying problems of slimy aesthetics, dissolved oxygen depletion in bottom waters, fish kills, and toxicity.  For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereHelping Communities and Water Utilities Address Harmful Algal Blooms 

By Darren Lytle, Health Mash, and Nick Dugan – EPA Blog – It All Starts with Science – September 4, 2014
Toxins from harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms are increasingly contaminating many of our nation’s source waters. We saw this just recently in Toledo, Ohio where toxins, most likely microcystins, made their way through the water treatment facility leaving many people without drinking water. For full blog post, click here.

 

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsWatch how Louisiana’s coastline has vanished over the last 80 years

By Brad Plumer – Vox – August 30, 2014
Over the last 80 years, Louisiana has lost nearly 2,000 square miles of coastland — land that has simply vanished into the Gulf of Mexico. And much, much more land is likely to disappear in the years ahead unless major changes are made. For full story, click here.

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Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

This photo of the Grand River flowing through downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan was taken from my hotel room window last week, while attending the Michigan Wetlands Association Conference – New Directions in Wetland
Protection and Management.
Imagine this beautiful urban
pegsal95141setting made even more so by restoration of historic river rapids through the city. That is the plan described by Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell in his address to the opening plenary. Mayor Heartwell is known for progressive thinking on land and water management, and also spoke enthusiastically about green infrastructure, climate change adaptation, and stormwater management in the city and surrounding area, along with art, education and the lively nature of the downtown area. The Mayor also stressed the importance of wetland protection as a critical component of flood control plans. It is inspiring to hear this message coming FROM local government.
pegsal95142The August 27-29 conference brought together a very diverse group of about 57 speakers and equally diverse attendees. Here are a few tidbits from the breakout sessions that I was able to attend, addressing an array of issues including climate change, wetland restoration, and Great Lakes protection and management.

• On climate change: Anne Garwood of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) outlined a climate change strategy for coastal wetlands, developed as a component of the state’s Coastal Management Program §309 strategy for 2012-2016. This strategy builds on and implements recommendations previously developed by the DEQ in cooperation with ASWM. Click here to review the white

pegsal95143paper authored by ASWM for the DEQ.

• Multiple speakers noted the recent microsystis contamination of Toledo’s drinking water supply from Lake Erie, and the relationship between this crisis and climate change.˜

pegsal95144Recent flooding in Detroit was also raised as an instance of the more extreme weather that has been predicted. The role of wetlands in water quality protection and water management was noted.

Tinka Hyde – head of Water Division at EPA Region 5 – explained that under the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, phosphorus loading targets and allocations will be established for each country by 2016. Multiple related recommendations outline approaches to achieving target phosphorus levels for each of the Great Lakes.

˜• Kurt Kowalski of the Great Lakes Sciences Center reported that the soils of Great Lakes coastal wetlands store more carbon than most North American soils. Something to think about.

Kurt also displayed a fascinating digital elevation model image of the Great Lakes clearly showing low-lying areas of the state, and making it easy to believe that Michigan was once about 30% wetland. It is also easy to see where to focus wetland restoration efforts. Matt Cooper of Notre Dame – a team member in the Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring Project – noted that data being gathered by that consortium will also be useful in supporting restoration decisions.

• Businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos spoke at the opening plenary about “Project Clarity” – a coordinated effort to improve the quality of Lake Macatawa through watershed management, including wetland restoration. The terminology is different – Mr DeVos spoke of the importance of “return on investment” rather than “ecological outcomes” but the goals were the
pegsal95145same. This ambitious project has a budget of almost $12 million, and a 5 year project period. For more information and a video presentation, click here.

• ˜On Farm Bill programs and wetland restoration: Brandon Fewins, representing Sen. Debbie Stabenow (who was in Africa during the conference) reported on Farm Bill programs, and in particular on the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program. This program streamlines four previous Farm Bill programs, and will provide significant funding for watershed projects, particularly in designated priority conservation areas. Click here for more information from USDA.

Brandon also discussed new “swampbuster” provisions which continue to require conservation compliance, but an appeals provision and an opportunity to come into compliance within 1 year after appeals before losing financial support.

The Wetland Reserve Program is now wrapped into the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. Rulemaking is underway.
pegsal95146• Our Ducks Unlimited partners reported on accomplishments in Michigan to date, including conservation of over 72,000 acres in Michigan, with funding of more than $31 million. Go Ducks!

• Doug Marcy of the NOAA Great Lakes Science Center reported that the jury is still out on the predicted impact of climate change on Great Lakes water levels. Current levels are up significantly after a winter of ice cover (which reduces evaporation) and high precipitation. Models are showing that in the future, there could be a more limited reduction in water levels than previously feared, or even a modest increase in water levels. Doug also demonstrated NOAA’s new on-line viewer showing the impact of changes in Great Lakes water levels. This tool will help coastal communities and others plan for land and water management. It should be available “soon” – watch for it. When released, the viewer will be posted at osc.noaa.gov/llv.

Another climate change note: ongoing studies at the University of Wisconsin on acidification of the Great Lakes indicate that acidification of the Lakes may be an even greater impact than on ocean waters. I’m sure we will be hearing more on this.
pegsal95147• MWA board member Dave Mifsud of Herpetological Resource and Management provided an overview of the herp Best Management Practices manual developed for Michigan. This is a great tool to incorporate measures for protection of reptiles and amphibians in a wide range of other construction or resource management measures. These practical and very doable recommendations range from how high the grass is cut and when to conduct controlled burns, to recommended shoreline structures and road construction practices. It is not available in print (unless you would like to donate for printing – which would really excite Dave) – but can be downloaded here at no cost.

• ˜On the MDEQ wetlands program: DEQ staff including Director Dan Wyant spoke of the importance of the state-assumed 404 permit program, and discussed the state’s ongoing coordination with EPA in identifying changes needed to maintain the program at the state level. Changes in federal regulations present a particular challenge to states attempting to maintain federal consistency.
pegsal95149Overall, conference presentations time and again focused on collaboration, cooperation and community or watershed-wide approaches. Applied science and interagency cooperation were the reported norm. Perhaps because of this, the overall mood was confident, forward looking and pragmatic even in the face of multiple challenges to wetland managers. All in all, this was a rewarding conference, with many more presentations than I could attend or note here. You can review the presentations as they are posted (soon) on MWA’s conference page: click here and watch for them!

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