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

by Brenda Zollitsch

We hear about global issues all the time, including climate change, species extinction, pollution, and more and we know that a cumulative effect of lots of local actions in different places across the globe are all intricate parts of the larger web that addresses (and in some cases causes) these problems.  But what role do ramsarlogo42315wetlands in your state play in the global picture?  Do they have an important contribution to make?  Do some of them provide a home or a stopover for migratory birds?  Do they provide unique habitat for endangered amphibians?  Do they provide one or more unique or irreplaceable functions? If they do, well it’s time to consider applying to become a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance.

There is an opportunity to increase the number of designated “Wetlands of International Significance” in the United States through encouraging states to work with the US National Ramsar Committee to evaluate and designate unique wetland areas within the state and bring them into this international network of wetland sites recognized as having specific and irreplaceable global value.  In the following blog I try to answer some of the most common questions about becoming a Ramsar site and end by inviting you to participate in an upcoming webinar about Ramsar that ASWM is hosting and connect with the US National Ramsar Committee to learn more about how to get the ball rolling for one or more sites in your state.

tramchimnp42315What is Ramsar?

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is 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.”

Under “three pillars” decided upon at the Convention, the Contracting Parties commit to: 1) work towards the wise use of all their wetlands; 2) designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management; and 3) cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species.  For a copy of the Ramsar Strategic Plan go here.

What does Ramsar Stand For?

horiconmarsh42315Ramsar is actually not an acronym, it is the name of the city where the international wetlands treaty was signed — Ramsar, Iran.  (Think of it this way, it is like the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which was signed in Kyoto, Japan).  The organization is called the Ramsar Convention, the treaty signed is named the Ramsar Treaty and the designated sites are referred to as “Ramsar Sites”. 

Does Ramsar Define Wetlands the same way we do in the United States?

The Ramsar Convention uses a broader definition of wetlands than we generally use in the United States.  The Ramsar definition of wetlands includes all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.

Do Ramsar sites have special attributes?

Ramsar-designated wetlands must meet specific criteria; however, these criteria are very broad and encompass a range of highly valued attributes that many wetlands across the US have.  These attributes include wetlands containing representative, rare or unique wetland types and wetlands of international importance for conserving biological diversity, including specific criteria for waterbirds, fish and other taxa.  There are a total of nine criteria, only one of which has to be met to qualify a wetland site for consideration by Ramsar.  For a complete list of the criteria go here.

How many Ramsar sites are there internationally and in the United States?

Internationally, there are over 2,000 Ramsar-designated Wetlands of International Significance sites.  To see a map of these sites, go here.  In the United States, there are only 37 Ramsar wetland sites, a number that the US National Ramsar Committee seeks to sandlakenat42315increase significantly over the next several years.  Sites range from the Connecticut River Estuary and Tidal Wetlands Complex and Cache River-Cypress Creek Wetlands to Everglades National Park and the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park.  For links to all the Ramsar sites in the US, go here.

How does a wetland get designated as a Wetland of International Significance?

Any wetland which meets at least one of the criteria for wetlands of international significance and has been designated by the appropriate national authority can be added to the Ramsar List.  In the United States, the national Administrative Authority is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Sites interested in applying need to work with the US National Ramsar Committee to complete all elements of the application process, which includes scientific documentation of the specific criteria being submitted as the justification for designation, evidence of community and state support and a range of other information, including plans and commitments for preservation and management in perpetuity.  Once the application is complete, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sends the recommended designation, with a completed Ramsar Information Sheet, directly to the Secretariat.  The Secretariat ensures that the data and map meet the standards set by the Conference of the Parties, and then adds the information on the Site to the Ramsar Sites Information System.

What are the benefits of becoming a Ramsar Site?

Ramsar sites gain access to a variety of technical supports, including communication, education and participation and awareness (CEPA) resources; access to three grant programs; the ability to participate in regional initiatives; and guidance from science and technical staff.  Designation also carries with it political capital in many areas, where the recognition as a site of international significance provides additional political ashmeadow42315ammunition to protect the site from development and other impacts.  Where a Ramsar Site’s ecological character is threatened, the Contracting Party can request a Ramsar Advisory Mission (RAM).   A RAM enables countries to apply global expertise and advice to the problems and threats that could lead to a loss in ecological character to a wetland.

Where can I learn more?

We encourage you to celebrate National Wetlands Month by Joining ASWM and EPA’s Upcoming Webinar on Ramsar and efforts to increase the number of designated sites in the U.S. Please join us for the webinar, by checking on ASWM’s main webpage for registration information.  Registration should open next week.

The best place to get more information is from the United States National Ramsar Committee (USNRC).  The USNRC is an organization formed to support the goals and objectives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands within the United States and internationally. The USNRC provides support and advice to initiatives that promote the conservation and wise, sustainable use of domestic and international wetlands. For more information on the work of the USNRC, go to their website here.  To join the USNRC as a member, go here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsForest garden bearing fruit as both food producer, water filter

By Whitney Pipkin – Bay Journal – April 15, 2015
To reach the patch of land he manages near Bowie, MD, Lincoln Smith crosses a cul-de-sac and a soggy cornfield left bare in winter but for the tender shoots of a cover crop. This is what most food-growing fields in the Chesapeake Bay watershed look like in late winter, he noted as he slushed through the mud during a recent visit. But, in the field next door, Smith and his business partner, Benjamin Friton, are growing an alternative. “This is a forest garden,” Smith said as he stepped inside a towering fence that separates this field from the other and protects burgeoning plants from the region’s ravenous deer.
For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereReport recommends model better account for influence of urban streams, trees on nutrient pollution

Chesapeake Bay Program – April 10, 2015
A new report from an advisory committee of scientific experts recommends the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Watershed Model be adjusted to better account for the influence of stream corridors and tree canopy on pollution from urban areas. For full blog post, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

Venice, Italy, a World Heritage Site, is often identified as one of the cities most vulnerable to sea level rise.  Built 100’s of years ago entirely on wetlands, it’s been on my list of places to visit for many years.  Earlier this month I got to do just that, and to think about some of the similarities and differences between Venice’s challenges and those of our coastal cities.

cw41715-1Venice is both beautiful and also in a visible state of decay.  In many of the buildings along the Grand Canal, first floors are no longer inhabitable due to higher water levels over time.  Seaweed and algae cling to marble steps.  Many doors have flood barriers left in place in anticipation of a high water event.

cwvenice241715In addition, the city itself presents many challenges to its inhabitants.   There is no motorized transportation anywhere in the city. It is necessary to walk or use a boat to get everywhere.  Everything must be transported by boat along one of the canals and then offloaded and placed in carts that are pushed up and over bridges over other smaller canals as they are moved into the city.  The process is reversed to move trash and other materials out.  While the buildings and art and beauty of Venice provide a wonderful and unique experience for tourists, it can be challenging for residents in this day and age.  And the city is losing thousands of residents annually.

cwvenicepop41715“The population of Venice decreased from 184,000 inhabitants in 1950 to less than 90,000 at the beginning of the 1990s; at present the resident population is reduced to 70,000 inhabitants, with an increasing percentage of old people. This demographic decline is due to various causes; one of the most important is the progressive reduction of industry with an attendant increase in unemployment. In addition, because of the state of decay of the houses, the increasing frequency of floods, the relatively high cost of living and the peculiar Venetian way of life, which is not always appreciated by the younger generation, increasing numbers of inhabitants are moving from the city to the urban centers of the terra firma…Tourism is Venice’s most important economic resource, but also a major source of pollution, and negatively influences the quality of life of the inhabitants.

                        –From Coastal Flood Risk Italy (see section on Venice)                                                                        

cwvenice541715Venice is located in the Adriatic Sea along the eastern shore of Italy.  This whole area of the coast, not just the islands, is very vulnerable to sea level rise. In addition, subsidence and plate tectonics create additional threats.  There is a very expensive plan underway, called the Moses project, to erect a series of barriers and gates to block the major inlets to the lagoon where the city is located. Venice, Italy tests $7 billion flood barriers.  This effort may or may not ultimately be successful in saving the city itself. cwvenice741715But what about the local population?

The beautiful parts of Venice that I visited were inhabited largely by tourists and the stores and hotels and restaurants were in historic buildings now entirely geared to a tourist industry.  It wasn’t a theme park. But, for me, it didn’t have the feel of a living city either.

My stay in Venice led me to wonder about whether our focus on building sustainable infrastructure in response to sea level rise and climate change perhaps falls short of anticipating the difficulties that will ultimately be experienced by people living in those areas even when those efforts to slow and hold back the cwvenice841715sea are wholly or partially successful.  Venice offers some unique challenges it’s true.  But will people be willing to continue to live in coastal areas as the oceans encroach and affect their quality of life?  I don’t know the answer to that, but it is a very important part of the equation when we think about sustainability. We need to anticipate that ultimately residents may abandon these communities in large numbers if our definition of sustainability fails to consider livability as well.  Design resilient cities: don’t assume resilient people.  I was delighted to visit Venice, to glide up and down the Grand Canal, to watch the gondolas cruise by, to walk the narrow streets and encounter not only Italians, but people from around the world there like me to have the opportunity to see this extraordinary place. But I was also saddened to see firsthand what a community looks like that is experiencing the exodus of its population in response to changing conditions.  It’s an experience I’ll never forget.



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View from the blog-o-sphereDear Humans: Industry is Causing Global Warming, Not Your Activities

By Aaron Huertas – Union of Concerned Citizens – April 7, 2015
Scientists and climate policy wonks usually say global warming is caused by “human activities.” This shorthand obscures an important point: while we humans are certainly responsible for climate change on some level, just a few of us – particularly in industry and government – are a lot more responsible than the rest of us.
After all, I like humans. I like activities, too. And it’s industry practices and government policies that largely determine how much heat-trapping emissions our human activities produce. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsTell Us Why #CleanWaterRules

By Travis Loop – EPA Blog-It’s Our Environment – April 7, 2015
I’m lucky to work every day for clean water. It’s vital to everyone’s life and an important issue for our country. But, it’s especially fulfilling to work for clean water because it’s central to who I am as a person. My daily duties at my job have taught me so much about the protection of clean water. Despite the advanced knowledge gained at  our agency, it still comes back to what I learned in elementary school – water flows downhill. We need clean water upstream to have clean water downstream. We can’t protect our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters if we don’t protect our streams and wetlands. For full blog post, click here.

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

A “wicked” problem is what planners call a situation that is “difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements.” A wicked problem often requires a critical mass of people to change their worldview and behaviors – a situation that we are facing with climate change.  The World Bank describes climate change as a wicked problem “due to its complexity, severity, and apparent political intractability.” At ASWM’s annual State/Tribal/Federal Coordination Meeting this past March, we dared to show a controversial documentary called “This Time Next Year” that explores this challenge in the context of rebuilding efforts by the Long Beach Island (LBI) community after Hurricane Sandy. Overall, the film directors seemed to promote the concept of “resiliency” as rebuilding.  It focused on the devastating emotional and physical impacts to the community and their process of finding the strength to support each other and rebuild. The film got mixed reviews from our crowd – all of which were charged with deeply ingrained values and emotions – many of which expressed frustration and anger that federal tax dollars were being spent on rebuilding efforts.

4915femaIn an old X-Files episode I was re-watching last night, one of the characters quoted his father who told him, “You better respect Mother Nature, because she surely doesn’t respect you.” Nothing could be more true in light of the massive amount of destruction that can occur from a hurricane the size of Sandy, Katrina, Ike or any other recent ones we’ve seen happen over the last decade. Or for the recent floods in Vermont, Colorado and elsewhere either.  But how do you uproot an entire community?

History is rife with examples of displacement and its impacts most typically during times of war or invasion or other human migrations.  The cause differs but results may be similar when it is nature that is changing. How do you tell a community that, well, sorry about your bad luck and sorry that due to the entire world’s contributions to climate change, your community is now uninhabitable and therefore you have to take the brunt of the impacts to which we have all contributed? We’re all responsible for this mess, but we don’t all share the impacts equally. It doesn’t seem fair. Of course, it also doesn’t seem fair to have an entire country of taxpayers foot the bill to rebuild a community that is destined to endure destruction once again in the not too distant future.

4815fema5But life isn’t fair, is it? That’s why we have developed a democratic society with laws and regulations – to provide a fairer playing field and to protect the rights of people regardless of their demographic make-up.  So what are we not doing right when we still have communities demanding to rebuild in harm’s way? I think there are three primary barriers that we need to resolve.

First, many of us need to do a better job of listening and empathizing with the communities who are clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s easy to tell people what they should do. It’s much harder when you understand on a very personal level the loss that not only the recent tragedy has caused them but what they risk losing to relocation. They want life to go back to the way it was, so of course they want to rebuild. These imminent threats of intense natural disasters didn’t have nearly the odds of happening before as they do now. Homeowners in these locations have generations of families who have lived in the same areas without the level of risk that they are facing now. Any person who suffers from PTSD will tell you they just want life to go back to the way it was – even if it’s unrealistic. We need to sympathize with what they are going through in order to gain their trust.

4815fema3Secondly, in contrast to my first point, there are those of us who are trying to do our best to provide assistance and support, but it is often not enough, and in other instances is misdirected.  We are not doing a good enough job of communicating the real risks that these communities are facing by rebuilding in these high risk areas. Instead, we have government programs providing funding to help them rebuild, rather than relocate. Just build higher, we say. Just harden the shoreline with bulkheads and seawalls. Just do some more sand replenishment.

These are not solutions – they are only band aids. These actions will not protect these communities when the Arctic ice caps and the Antarctic ice sheets collapse and all of our sea level rise predictions get blown out of the water (pun intended!). Granted these two specific events are not going to happen immediately – they will unfold over decades. However, our most extreme predictions from 10 years ago have already proven to have underestimated what we are now experiencing particularly along the eastern coast of the U.S.  So let’s stop giving folks false hopes and let’s start creating policies that are based on science and realistic projections and that provide real long term solutions. Let’s stop offering funds to rebuild in areas of high risk and start providing the necessary funds and assistance for relocation. Let’s stop allowing developments to be built and/or rebuilt in floodplains. And let’s restore the natural ecosystems such as wetlands, seagrasses, buffers, etc. that protect us from storm surges and floods.

4815fema6And third, we need to do more to help communities create solid emergency management plans. When disaster hits, it is the local community that typically provides the first responders. The federal and state emergency management agencies can only do so much – it’s the locals who know their neighbors, know who has special needs, knows how to develop immediate support structures to get folks to safety. Without a clear and comprehensive local emergency plan in place, local residents have a harder time getting the assistance they need. When they don’t, they’ll blame their federal and state government for not doing more. One of the most important things these agencies can do is to help local communities be prepared. Realistically, we won’t financially or politically be able to relocate everyone in high risk areas right away – especially with the massive shift of people moving to live closer to shorelines over the past thirty years. But we can help them be prepared and provide the funding they need to recover and relocate when disaster hits.

So we took a chance with showing the film “This Time Next Year” at our annual workshop. And not everyone embraced it. But we need to start having these conversations and we need to build more trust. We need to stop enabling poor decisions. We need to recognize that we are all part of the problem. And For Peats’ Sake, we need to recognize that we’re all in this together and start finding solutions built on a critical combination of empathy, science and common sense.

Superstorm Sandy renews debate of whether to rebuild or relocate

Rebuild or Relocate?

Homeowners in Flood Zones Opt to Rebuild, Not Move

Community faces a tough choice: rebuild or relocate

Rebuild or Relocate? Conference Covers Neighborhood, Community Issues after a Flood

Rebuild or relocate? ‘Yes,’ says public

Posted in climate change, floods, hurricanes, Land use planning, resiliency | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Wetlander's Pick of the PostsThe Significance of the Nexus for Wetlands Jurisdiction: Recent Fourth Circuit Decision Supports the Corps’ Determination of Jurisdiction – March 27, 2015
In a recent unpublished opinion for Precon Development v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling determining that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) had correctly asserted jurisdiction over wetlands pursuant to the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Court’s decision marks another milestone in the 13-year battle over Precon Development Corporation’s proposed housing development in Chesapeake, Virginia and provides greater detail than prior court applications of Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” jurisdiction standard from Rapanos v. United States. Following a 2011 Circuit decision, Precon 1, which addressed the nexus and remanded for proof of significance, this 2015 decision upholds the Corps’ demonstration of significance. The combined opinions in the Precon case are the first to address nexus in detail and to address an evidentiary showing of significance. For full story, click here.


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View from the blog-o-sphereHow The Ski Industry Could Sell Off Your Rivers To The Highest Bidder

By Jim Bradley – American Rivers Blog – March 29, 2015
As the snow melts, the National Ski Areas Association turned their attention, once again, to waiving the Endangered Species Act, making it harder to protect rivers that are threatened by poorly performing hydropower dams, and making it virtually impossible for federal agencies to ensure that there is enough water for fish, wildlife, firefighting, and recreation on public lands. For full blog post, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

Last week, ASWM hosted its annual State/Tribal/Federal Coordination Workshop at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  The experience of connecting with wetland folks from across the U.S. is always both exciting and motivational.   At this year’s workshop, we heard lots of interesting chatter about how diverse the agenda stategroup42152was and that participants were pleased to learn about a range of often unfamiliar topics that they found had direct bearing on their wetland work.  To sum it up in one phrase, it was an “eye-opening” experience for many.   Opportunities to learn abounded.  This was surely as true for me as it was for others.

honk4215blog2So what if you didn’t get to make it to the meeting?  What did you miss?  I offer these teasers to encourage you to learn more about some of the topics that were covered at this year’s meeting:

  • BYOB now means “Bring Your Own Beaver!”  Using beavers for wetland restoration in targeted areas has strong potential to have positive impacts in a number of arid states.
  • FERC processes are fascinating — ok well, people were really interested in learning about them.  Be FERC-informed!
  • Forget Fifty Shades of Gray, the Corps’ Red Book offers some tantalizing reading on the nuances of NEPA.  The Corps’ revised volume comes out in just a few months.
  • Long-eared bats may be your next headache (if you are involved in planning or permitting).
  • frec42152What the FACA should we do about assumption?  Join one.  Nominations to serve on EPA’s FACA are due by the end of May.
  • Watch your mottles and learn what they reveal about temporal annual hydrology fluctuations.
  • The term “wetland restoration success” is ambiguous.  Learn more about what the Restoration Work Group is proposing for improving wetland restoration efforts.
  • wik4215“Coastal squeeze” is not your beach date, but it sure will be an important planning consideration if sea level continues to rise.
  •  “Climate change” and “sustainability” are not universally acceptable terms and/or areas of work for wetland program staff.  Keep your eye out for ASWM’s Wetland Program Status and Trends Report and webinar in the coming months!
  • Don’t know about ecological equilibrium?  Take time to learn from Vermont about ecological equilibrium and the roles wetland and floodplain managers can play in disaster planning and management.
  • flood4215Get at least some training in emergency management – no matter what your work or position.
  • Who knew?  We need to get the word out that Ramsar and the US National Ramsar Committee plays important roles in identifying and promoting protections for wetlands of international significance.
  • Blue carbon rocks.  Don’t know why?  Find out.
  • Don’t drink a ten-year old bottle of Jeanne’s homemade wine!
  • The National Wetlands Inventory 40th Anniversay was  celebrated with Broadway show tunes, ‘cause Bill Wilen surely did it HIS WAY!  J

aswm4215What I came away with was not only a mind brimming with new ideas, but also meaningful new relationships with meeting participants, based on hours of discussion and joint discovery.  Although ASWM will be working over the coming years to provide an increasing number of online training and learning opportunities, there is nothing that replaces the benefits of face-to-face interaction and connection.  I want to thank all of you who came up and spoke with me during the meeting.  Your ideas, suggestions and needs are all well-documented from the meeting and part of our planning and implementation efforts for the coming year(s).

If you missed the ASWM Meeting, we are pleased to let you know that over the coming months, we will be posting a portion of the webinars for your continued use.  We will also be providing additional information and opportunities to learn more about the topics referred to in this blog. We encourage you to listen again to those presentations which inspired you and to share them with your colleagues.    Keep an eye out for webinars, reports, and news items on these and other topics at:

A heartfelt thank you to all of you who made the trip to Shepherdstown this March.  We had a great time learning and sharing with you.  And here’s to taking back ideas and models that can improve wetland protection in your state or by your tribe!

Posted in ASWM, climate change, floodplain, wetland restoration, wetlands | Tagged | Leave a comment
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