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

by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst

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 usncr020416February 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

chiwaukee020416On 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

izembek_lagoon020416The 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

mitsch020416USNRC 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:


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View from the blog-o-sphereEven Turtles Need “Me Time”

By Elizabeth Preston – Hakai Magazine – January 27, 201
Wildlife is a big draw for ocean-going tourists, from whale watching to trips in search of sharks, rays, dolphins, and penguins. On the Greek island of Zakynthos, visitors set their sights on turtles. The island hosts up to 800 loggerhead sea turtles each year, the largest known breeding population in the Mediterranean. All things considered, Zakynthos’s turtles have it pretty good: the Greek government banned watersports in 1991 and established a national marine park in 1999. Turtle-spotting tours, meanwhile, have become an income source for locals. Yet as new research shows, even well-intentioned ecotourism may have negative consequences when animals don’t follow human schedules. For full article, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts German Forest Ranger Finds That Trees Have Social Networks, Too

By Sally McGrane – The New York Times – January 29, 2015
In the deep stillness of a forest in winter, the sound of footsteps on a carpet of leaves died away. Peter Wohlleben had found what he was looking for: a pair of towering beeches. “These trees are friends,” he said, craning his neck to look at the leafless crowns, black against a gray sky. “You see how the thick branches point away from each other? That’s so they don’t block their buddy’s light.”
Before moving on to an elderly beech to show how trees, like people, wrinkle as they age, he added, “Sometimes, pairs like this are so interconnected at the roots that when one tree dies, the other one dies, too.” For full story, click here.


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By Jeanne Christie

This month’s issue of the Association of State Wetland Manager’s monthly e-zine – Wetland Breaking News – included a story on “Top Trends Conservationists Should be Paying Attention to but Aren’t”.  It’s an intriguing list and there are also links to other interesting stories on the web pages of Ensia, a magazine that identifies environmental solutions in action.

It inspired me to reflect on the coming year because there are also important stories impacting wetlands that will unfold in 2016.  Here are five likely to make (and in some cases continue to make) the headlines and to be important for wetland professionals to follow:

  1. Clean Water Rule – The question that looms large for the Clean Water Rule is whether and when, and in what form or forms it will be implemented.  Last week President Obama vetoed a bill to prohibit implementation of the Clean Water Rule and the Senate failed to override the veto.  There is currently a stay on implementing the rule while the Sixth District Court of Appeals considers further action.  If it does (and this seems likely) the stay will likely remain in place until after the court hears the case and reaches a decision.  If the Sixth Circuit does not take the case, lawsuits filed in both District Courts and other Appeal courts nationwide will move ahead.
  2. Lead Contamination of Flint Michigan Drinking Water System – The tragic story of the lead contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan continues amid questions about decisions that were made leading up to the recognition that there was a serious health problem.  There is also emerging concern that similar problems could occur elsewhere in the U.S.  And this is only part of the challenge for the nation’s water system.  When drinking water out of the tap flows into the sink, it becomes part of the wastewater system.  A survey by EPA shows an estimated $271 Billion is needed to maintain and improve the nation’s wastewater infrastructure. Additional information on the nation’s wastewater needs is available here.  The Nation has been falling behind for years in responding to the need to address the water infrastructure needs of towns and cities.  The price tag continues to grow.
  3. nationalwetlandcondition12816The National Wetland Conditions Assessment – In the coming weeks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will release the final version of first ever report on the health of the Nation’s wetlands. The draft report was published in the Federal Register late in 2015.  The report will estimate the distribution of wetlands in  “good”, “fair”, or “poor” condition nationwide and regionally.  The report is one of a series of surveys on the condition of the Nation’s waters carried out under the National Aquatic Resource Surveys program.
  4. Reissuance of Nationwide Permits – The current Section 404 Nationwide Permits General Permits will expire on March 19, 2017. Rulemaking for reissuance of the nationwide permits is expected to begin with the publication of a proposed rule early in 2016.  The great majority of actions permitted under Section 404 are carried out under general permits: an average of 53,000 general permits versus 3,600 individual permits per year from 2010 to 2014. See page 45.  The rulemaking and public comment process provides the opportunity for responding with thoughtful comments on the proposed nationwides to ensure that the actions carried out will not have cumulative negative impacts on aquatic resources. In addition the states and some tribes certify under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act that the nationwide permits are in compliance with state/tribal water quality standards and other applicable requirements.  The certification process does not take place until the final rule is published so it will be important for the final rule to be issued at the beginning of 2017.individualpermits12816
  5. Corps of Engineers V. Hawkes before the U.S. Supreme Court  A case that will be heard before the Supreme Court this year will determine whether federal courts will be able to review Clean Water Act Jurisdictional Determinations.  In December the questionspresente12816Supreme Court determined it would hear the case.  Currently when a permit for dredge and fill under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act occurs, an applicant must apply for a permit for those waters the Corps determines are subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction or proceed without a permit and risk legal action.  The ruling in this case will determine if there is a third option: challenging the Corps’ jurisdictional determination in court.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Life blooming in Mill Creek again

By Robin Corathers – – March 3, 2015
Twenty years ago, in some inner-city stretches of Mill Creek, the only living things you could find were blood worms, sludge worms and leeches. In the summertime, fish kills were common. Carp that ventured into the stream from the Ohio River would flop onto the stream banks and die. Many species of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife vanished from the river corridor for over 100 years because their habitat and food sources had been destroyed by intense urbanization. In 1992, the Ohio Department of Health determined that Mill Creek fish were unsafe to eat, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency recommended no body contact with the water because of high levels of untreated sewage. A national group designated Mill Creek as the most endangered urban river in North America. Most people felt the Mill Creek was a hopeless cause. For full opinion, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereImproving Tools for Quantifying the Effectiveness of Conservation

By Joanna Nelson – Cool Green Science – December 4, 2015
Despite concerted efforts toward evidence-based and quantified conservation, understanding the effects and the effectiveness of conservation interventions lags far behind most other policy fields, such as poverty reduction or educational enrollment (Ferraro and Pattanayak 2006). For example, one of the primary tools of maintaining the diversity of life on Earth has been the establishment of legally protected areas. But conservation is still lacking quantifiable answers to important questions about their true effectiveness: Do protected areas conserve species, habitats, and other forms of biodiversity? Do protected areas protect the health, opportunities, and income of local people? For full blog post, click here.

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

There are just some things in life that you either like or don’t like, with the few exceptions of course for folks who just don’t seem to have an opinion. Like mayonnaise for instance – you either like it or you don’t – there are very few individuals who are neutral on the matter. And the same can often be said for the process of stakeholder engagement. Either you enjoy the process or you don’t. In my experience, most folks who don’t like it are those who think it’s mayo012216too time consuming and are generally uncomfortable working with the public and the inherent emotions that go along with conducting what in many circumstances feels like a social science experiment. There is often a line drawn between what is considered “hard science” and “soft science” – and the latter is often viewed as unrelated to those who have dedicated their lives to “hard science.” But the times they are a changin’ – and although the process of stakeholder engagement is considered a “soft science” and can be awkward and cumbersome to some, the benefits of taking the time to develop and implement an opportunity for stakeholder engagement has been shown to hold significant long term benefits.

Federal policy has recognized the importance of public participation for many decades. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970, was one of the first federal policies that required federal agencies to balance environmental concerns along with social and economic concerns, and part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process requires solicitation of input from organizations and individuals that could potentially be impacted by federal agency decisions and actions. Many states and local governments also have their own environmental review process (aka “mini NEPA”). For example, the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act (WEPA) requires public hearings, highlighting the importance of stakeholder engagement to its process.

However, the process for engaging stakeholders can differ substantially from one agency (local, state or federal) to another and the various methods of stakeholder engagement have mixed results. Simply holding a public hearing is often ineffective for gaining important public “buy-in” to a proposal. The Society of Ecological Restoration supports this ecological012216in their Guidelines for Developing and Managing Ecological Restoration Projects, saying, “Public agencies should consider incentives for the restoration team to incorporate local residents and other stakeholders in all phases of project work. By doing so, the public will develop a feeling of ownership, and participants may assume a stewardship role for the completed project.” Unless stakeholders have a role to play in the development of a proposal, important opportunities are also often missed to capitalize on local knowledge and, conversely, to educate the public. However, major decisions that are made through an effective stakeholder engagement process often enjoy broader support politically and financially, and face far fewer legal challenges.

One of the most cited articles regarding effective stakeholder engagement was written by Sherrie R. Arnstein in 1969, titled “A Ladder of Citizen Participation”. The primary point that she makes is that there are “significant gradations of citizen participation.” The rungs of the ladder (which are a simplification for the purposes of her argument) are as follows:

ladderpartnershipNow not every decision, project or policy proposal will require the same level of public participation, but the higher you go on the ladder the better chances you have of gaining significant public involvement, support and sense of ownership for your proposal. And when you provide more substantive stakeholder engagement opportunities, you increase your chances of giving full consideration to important social, environmental and economic trade-offs inherent in your decisions. Having a comprehensive understanding of critical trade-offs before making a decision can save your agency time and money by reducing your chances of having to scratch a plan and start all over again due to unexpected impacts, pitfalls and barriers.

spider012216The fact is we live in an interconnected world – so every decision we make impacts the social, economic and environmental arenas of modern civilization in various degrees. A recent article in Environmental Health News talked about how 2015 was the year that environmental and climate issues left their silos. Like a big spider web, we are discovering that environmental degradation and climate change can have negative impacts not just on the thread they directly touch, (i.e. the environment) but they can cause a ripple effect throughout the entire web, resulting in negative human health impacts, economic instability and political strife across the world. On a smaller scale, every resource management decision we make can have impacts outside of the immediate project boundaries in ways we cannot even begin to imagine unless we include those who could be significantly impacted in the planning process.

There have been many great articles and books published that explain the benefits of public participation and how to develop an effective stakeholder engagement process, and I have included links to a few of them below. The list is by no means exhaustive. There are also many tools to assist in communicating scientific language and data to the general public, particularly spatial GIS models, but it may also be wise to consider hiring a professional facilitator if your agency lacks facilitation expertise.  So for Peat’s Sake, although the stakeholder engagement process may take some extra time and require some additional expense at the start of your project, those initial expenses are typically far outweighed by the benefits of sustained social, political and financial support for current and future projects.

Useful Resources

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View from the blog-o-sphereFemale Fish Eggs Found Inside of Male Fish Testicles

EcoWatch – January 12, 2016
study published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found large-scale evidence of intersex in smallmouth and largemouth bass in the Northeast U.S., an indicator of endocrine disruption. The study, published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, looks at 19 U.S. National Wildlife Refuges and is the first reconnaissance survey of this scope. The study found that the prevalence of testicular oocytes across all samples was 85 percent and 27 percent for male small- and largemouth bass, respectively. For full story, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts U.S. Governors Address Water

By Brett Walton – Circle of Blue – January 15, 2016
President Barack Obama did not directly mention water in the State of the Union speech on Tuesday night. References to climate change were the closest he came. But governors, in their State of the State addresses, are not as circumspect. Because water is managed primarily at the state and local level, state leaders often have an ardent interest in the topic — this year perhaps even more than usual. A potentially precedent-setting Clean Water Act lawsuit in Iowa filed a year ago forced state officials to look for new approaches to farm pollution. Drought in the American West prompted a reexamination of state water policies. And the slow draining of the Ogallala Aquifer, lifeblood of the Great Plains, continues to weigh on Kansas. For full story, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst

If you haven’t already started planning what you are going to do in celebration of World Wetland Day (February 2, 2016), the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) has some information and ideas that can help you plan something for next month.  The following blog will share with you the background of World Wetlands Day, why gaining attention for wetland issues is important, an initial list of ten things you, personally, ww11416can do to celebrate wetlands either February 2nd or year-round, and some additional resources for teachers and students.  This blog post has been compiled from World Wetlands Day Websites and Resources.

What is World Wetlands Day?

World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on February 2nd. This day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods is the theme for World Wetlands Day in 2016. This theme was selected to demonstrate the vital role of wetlands for the future of humanity and specifically their relevance towards achieving new sustainable development goals.  Since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat provides outreach materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.  For ongoing information on World Wetlands Day via social media, we encourage you to follow #WorldWetlandsDay or #WetlandsForOurFuture.

What is happening to wetlands worldwide?

wetlandloss11416Wetlands play an important role in the processes that keep our landscapes healthy and productive. They support industries such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism by supplying water for crops, stock and people, maintaining water quality, providing habitat for commercial species and having cultural and recreational values. Wetlands host a huge variety of life, protect our coastlines, provide natural defenses against river flooding or storm surges and store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change.  Additionally, more than 1 billion rely on wetlands in one way or another for their livelihoods.

Unfortunately, wetlands are often viewed as wasteland, and more than 64% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900.   In some regions, notably Asia, the loss is even higher. This rapid decline means that access to fresh water is eroding for 1-2 billion people worldwide, while flood control, carbon storage and traditional wetland livelihoods all suffer. Biodiversity has also been affected. Populations of freshwater species have declined by 76% between 1970 and 2010 according to WWF’s Living Planet Index.   The main causes of wetlands loss and degradation are: 1) major changes in land use, especially an increase in agriculture and grazing, 2) air and water pollution and excess nutrients, and 3) water diversion through dams, dikes and canalization.

Ten Things You Can Do to Celebrate World Wetlands Day 2016:


1)  Attend a wetland event:  For example, during the month of February, wetland habitats at four locations in the Caddo Lake System will be improved via the installation of wetland trees by school children and adult volunteers.  To learn more about a variety of projects worldwide, go here.

2)  Encourage youth to participate in the 2016 World Wetlands Day Photo Contest:  Photos must be taken in a wetland location between February 2, 2016 and March 2, 2016 and uploaded here.  The photograph must be taken in a wetland and must capture how people make a living from wetlands. The winner will receive a free ghostriver11416flight to a wetland location anywhere in the world, courtesy of Star Alliance Biosphere Connections. To enter, take a picture of your favorite wetland with your phone or digital camera between 2 February and 2 March 2016, and upload it to the World Wetlands Day website.

3)  Open your eyes to the wetlands near you: Look around to see what types are in your area. Saltwater marshes, fens, swamps, peat bogs and mangroves are some of the more common types. Coral reefs, lakes and rivers are also considered wetlands.

4)  Visit a wetland near you to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for wetlands: What kind of vegetation and wildlife thrive there? How the site is being used? Go back at different times of year and observe how the surroundings change.

5)  Organize a wetlands clean-up:  In populated areas, wetlands often become an area where trash is dumped. Working in a group for an hour or two can clean-up a wetland in a very short time. Take pictures before and after to highlight the difference.   A useful guide about preparing waterway cleanups can be found here.

kanahanapond114166)  Help others to understand the huge benefits that wetlands bring, both globally and locally: Often, wetlands are seen as wasteland  — something to be filled in, drained, burned off or converted to other uses. Drop some interesting facts about wetlands into the conversation. If you see any illegal activities such as logging in a protected site, report it to the relevant authorities.

7)  Seek out volunteering opportunities:  Talk with wetland site managers to see what kind of help they could use. Volunteer in ways that help with wetland protection, conservation, monitoring and assessment, outreach, advocacy, clean-ups or restoration projects.

8)  Change your consumption habits: Saving water, reducing harmful waste and encouraging sustainable farming and fishing can all have a positive effect on wetlands.  Buy sustainably raised or caught seafood, organic produce and meat. Use reusable bags at the grocery store. Take shorter showers.  Recycle household trash, and make sure that batteries and other harmful waste do not end up in landfills – or in wetlands!

9)  Manage your garden and home activities consciously: Polluted water and invasive plants pose a real threat to wetlands. Select native and pest-resistant plants and place them in settings that suit them.  Use as little fertilizer as possible, and avoid toxic pesticides. Water thoroughly but infrequently, using collected rainwater. Other practices, such as washing your car at a car wash instead of in your driveway, picking up pet waste, and properly disposing of chemical products can keep pollutants out of wetlands and improve both wetland water quality and habitat.

10)  Explore getting a local wetland designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance: Is there a wetland site in your area that is not yet listed with Ramsar but perhaps should be protected? Contact a local government, university or nonprofit organization to see how you can help maintain its ecological character.

Additional World Wetlands Day 2016 Resources for Teachers and Students:

If you are a teacher, we encourage you to combine an educational event with World Wetlands Day. Consult the Guide for teachers and organizers for loads of tips.  Other activities we suggest include:

  • students11416Encourage your students to research wetland topics.  There are many online resources to help you do this.  One site that allows students to research wetland-related water topics is here.
  • Learn about wetlands in your state or region.  There are many teacher guides that are useful to wetlands in each region of the country.  One example from the Southeast is Exploring our Wonderful Wetlands, which can be downloaded here.
  • Take on the mantel of an environmental club leader and use this interesting resource to search specific wetland types here.
  • Conduct a classroom science experiment to stimulate discussion about wetlands.  One example of a fun and easy classroom experiment can be found here.

And there are many, many more ways you can explore, share and protect wetlands.  Your celebration of wetlands is limited only by your imagination!  We encourage you to take the time to think about what you can do this year and find some great ways to TAKE ACTION.  Happy planning!


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