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

by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst, ASWM

The last weeks have been great fun in our household.  Watching the 2016 Summer Olympics with my nine- and five-year-old children has been inspiring and the cheering and antics have been very amusing.  The Olympics have been a coveted event in our family since my childhood, when my father (who comes from Germany) would sit and watch the Olympic gymnastics events with us.  As a youth, he was on Germany’s Junior National Gymnastics Team.  A torn Achilles tendon eventually forced him to turn away from the sport and pursue a career in academia, but he still races canoes and outriggers and is an avid sailor.  My brother, who grew up with this same love of the Olympics became a nationally-ranked kayaker and earned a spot as alternate for the U.S. Olympic Team.  Needless to say, we have all been very proud.


When it comes to me, however, it is not quite the same story.  I have had my heyday bike racing, scuba diving and being a whitewater rafting guide (having mucked and swam through the best and the worst of Maine’s waters), but the likelihood of ever attaining a seat on the world athletic stage has been a pipedream…that is, until now.  Little did I know that the combination of my wetland, rafting and diving skills might actually all be preparing me for greatness.  Add to that my love of mud and amphibians and well it turns out I might just have been born to compete on the world stage after all.  Move over Michael Phelps, Katy Ledecky and Simone Biles — I might just want to throw my hat (or rather snorkel) in the ring to compete in the World Alternative Games in the World Bog Snorkelling Competition!

World Bog Snorkelling Competition?  That isn’t a real thing, is it?  Why yes.  Yes it really is.

According to that most trusted of information sources, Wikipedia, “bog snorkelling is a sporting event that consists of competitors completing two consecutive lengths of a water-filled trench cut through a peat bog in the shortest time possible.”  Every summer, bog snorkeling is part of the “World Alternative Games,” which is held annually in Britain’s smallest town, Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales. In recent years, the competition has enticed more than a hundred competitors to join the mucky fun. In 2015 the bog snorkellers included participants from France, Holland, Poland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Australia, Japan, Canada, the USA and other countries.  The current world record was set in 2015 by Haydn Pitchforth with a time of 1 min 26.00 secs.  These World Alternative Games include not only bog snorkeling, but other enticing competitions such as underwater hockey, world bathtub championships, stone skimming and the ever controversial but wildly popular “wife carrying.”  We know all about the last one here in Maine, as it is a staple of local competitions in the state.

bogsnorkeling1082616While the basic event still runs, organizers have upped the ante’ in recent years.  Bog snorkeling has become part of a larger event, called the World Bog Snorkelling Triathlon.  The triathlon has official rules and regulations.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records (of course they would be involved), to cross the finish line, “competitors have to run seven-and-a-half miles, complete two lengths of the town’s infamous 135-foot long, six-foot deep bog and cycle 19 miles across the most demanding of mountain terrain.”

Competitors in the bog snorkelling section of the triathlon must wear a snorkel and flippers and complete the course using flipper power alone. Wet suits are not compulsory, but are usually worn.  But of course that is not all.  This muddy extravaganza would surely be incomplete without an array of hand-crafted costumes (alternative uniforms, if you will).  Take out your binoculars on competition day and you are likely to see human frogs, shark fins, superheroes and much more. They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  I will do you one better.  I invite you to enjoy the following short video clip, sharing the excitement and wonder of the bog snorkeling event:

In this week’s world that is shaken by earthquakes, deluged by devastating floods, recovering from tornadoes and dealing with political turmoil, taking a mental flight of fancy to imagine ASWM’s team entries into the World Bog Snorkelling Triathlon is very good medicine indeed.  While this blog usually introduces thought-provoking ideas and developments relevant to the wetland world, it is nice for a moment instead to don my literary flippers and share with you instead this wetland amusement in all its glory.  At 6’1” I can become The Hen Harrier of the bog, the lesser known cousin of The Albatross of former Olympic fame.  And if I can’t make it to Wales, there are other bog snorkeling events in Australia, Ireland and Sweden.

This year’s event takes place this weekend, but there is always next year.  Bog snorkeling.  I.  Was.  Born.  For.  This.

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bos2Taking a Buyout from the Beach

By Jackie Snow – Hakai Magazine – August 18, 2016
Coastal communities are under threat—from erosion, sea level rise, and, in some cases, increasingly powerful storms and floods. People who live on degrading coastal land face a difficult choice: they can stay and risk increasingly hazardous conditions, or leave and suffer potentially heavy financial losses. In a new paper, lawyer Emily Nellermoe argues that a market-based solution known as transferable development rights, or TDR, could be used to help homeowners vacate coastal properties without overextending government budgets. For full article, click here.

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wppA Rural Alaskan Native Village’s Journey for Safe Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais – EPA Connect – August 11, 2016
I recently returned from a work trip to Alaska, where I met with colleagues from EPA’s Alaska Operations Office and Alaska’s Department of Conservation to discuss a variety of water-related  issues and tour a few facilities, communities, and projects. I expected to be to be wowed by the good work Alaskans are doing to protect their waters while strengthening their communities, but what I didn’t expect was to be so moved by one native village’s journey to provide their families with in-home piped water and sewer lines for the first time. For full blog post, click here.

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final one againBy Melissa Mullineaux, Summer Intern, ASWM

As many of you may know, Louisiana is currently in a state of emergency according to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, due to recent torrential rainfall and flash flooding in the Baton Rouge area. The federal government is declaring it a major disaster and, at the time I am writing this, 40,000 businesses and homes have been flooded, at least eleven people have lost their lives, 30,000 people have been rescued, and 40,000 have registered with FEMA for disaster assistance.

These floods have been deemed record breaking as, according to Climate Nexus, during this storm nine river gauges read record high levels. In fact, rivers in Baton Rouge remain above flood stage levels and Gov. Edwards is declaring it a “truly historic event.” That is because Baton Rouge saw double the amount of rainfall in a 24-hour span of time than it would see, generally, the entire month of August. For example, CNN reports that “one river, the Tickfaw, rose 20 feet in 14 hours, breaking a previous crest record by more than three feet.” Wow! This flood is unprecedented! I can’t help but keep wondering, though, if this disaster has been exacerbated by wetland loss.

flood2In my last blog post, Where Have all the Wetlands Gone?, I talked about wetland loss throughout the years in the United States. And, in the spirit of keeping the pattern going, it only seems fitting for my second blog to talk about this tremendous flood in Baton Rouge in relation to wetland loss in Louisiana.

So, what does wetland loss have to do with it, anyway? A wetland, as you probably know, is like a giant natural sponge that soaks up excess flood water through its abundance of live plants, roots and vegetation and also through its decaying plant matter. This process also slows down the flow of flood water and helps distribute it back into the floodplain more gradually. The combination of storing excess water and releasing it more gradually work together in not only lowering flood heights but reducing damaging erosion. In turn, this helps keep homes and businesses safe from floods!

wetland081816As I mentioned in my last blog, over 50% of our nation’s wetlands have been destroyed by being filled, dredged or drained to use for some other purpose. That means that many of them are no longer there to assist with keeping businesses and homes safe from flooding. That seems very scary to me.

I recently read a surprising statistic on EPA’s website that says “the bottomland hardwood- riparian wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained.” If all of Louisiana’s wetlands were still intact would this rainstorm have been as damaging as it was to the affected communities? Eric Holthaus (2016) states that this storm is considered a “500-year rainstorm,” meaning “a downpour with an estimated likelihood of just once every 500 years, and roughly three months’ worth of rainfall during a typical hurricane season.” At least the wetlands, if they were still around, might have held a portion of the water and might have lessened some of the damage. However, even a sponge can get so filled with water, it can’t absorb any more. Also the size and location of the sponge (i.e. wetland) determines whether it will absorb floodwater that would otherwise reach a community. At best the presence of wetlands can only be part of a solution to avoiding flood losses.  But they can be an important part and have the potential of become more important in the future.

While researching this terrible disaster, I have been coming up upon articles that are making connections between the record breaking rainfall and climate change. This is interesting to me because some climate observers are calling this “500-year rainstorm” a “classic signal of climate change.” Their reasoning behind this statement is based on research that states that warmer climate temperatures enable the atmosphere to hold more water vapor (“about 7% [more] per 1°C warming”) and global warming is producing warmer temperatures. Furthermore, Trenberth (2005) makes the argument that “storms, whether individual thunderstorms, extratropical rain or snow storms, or tropical cyclones and hurricanes, supplied by increased moisture, produce more intense precipitation events that are widely observed to be occurring, even in places where total precipitation is decreasing. In turn, this increases the risk of flooding.” This information is something for communities to think about, as storms increase and weather becomes more extreme, a trend we are seeing more of these days. Finding ways to absorb floodwaters through wetlands and other nature-based methods can be one of many cost effective approaches to reducing flood risk.

As for the folks in Louisiana and other states where this flood has caused havoc, my thoughts are with them. I know many are displaced from their homes and are suffering grief and loss. Healing and rebuilding will follow, but these things take time. I know I have learned some valuable lessons about the importance of wetlands and our natural environment through this process and stay tuned for some more blogs from Counting Cattails so that you may follow me in my journey as an intern here at ASWM.

Here is a link to a YouTube video that shows aerial drone footage of the Louisiana flood of 2016:

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wppBoosting Mill Towns by Busting Dams

By Tim Purinton – Ebb & Flow – July 2016
The term “dam removal” brings to mind the decommissioning of large hydropower facilities in the west and the waging of contentious legal battles to improve wild salmon passage on big, iconic rivers, images of roiling white water, dynamite charges and environmental luminaries like Edward Abbey and Yvon Chouinard come to mind. While these river restoration projects capture the national headlines, in the Northeast, where a myriad of dams dot the landscape like white church spires, dams are being removed for more subtle environmental and social reasons, one of which is the economic revitalization of depressed mill towns. For full story, click here.

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bos2A Reflection on the Gold King Mine Incident

By Mathy Stanislaus – EPA Connect Blog – August 1, 2016
Today, we are releasing a new publication, One Year After the Gold King Mine Incident: A Retrospective of EPA’s Efforts to Restore and Protect Communities. The report details our efforts — including the projects and groups we have funded — to protect the areas around the Gold King Mine (GKM) and prevent another spill like this from happening at other EPA work sites at mines across the country. For full blog post, click here.

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cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

During my summer vacation this year I spent a week learning about “Mushroom Identification for New  Mycophiles: Foraging for Edible boletemushroom081116and Medicinal Mushrooms”. I had become interested in mushrooms for a couple reasons.  Learning about foraging for wild foods has become a topic I’m interested in and mushrooms are part of that.  Also, the role of mushrooms/fungi in sustaining and restoring ecological landscapes including wetlands is poorly understood and possibly very important.

The Maine Mycological Association hosts a series of forays around Maine throughout the summer.  I’d attended a couple of these.  People meet, go out, gather mushrooms, and then come back to identify and share information about the classmushrooms081116mushrooms collected.  For a rank beginner, it’s overwhelming.  The folks are very encouraging and helpful, but I was out of my depth.  I needed a class.

I was acquainted with Eagle Hill Institute located in Steuben Maine.   It holds a whole series of courses and workshops focused on natural history topics hosted each summer.  Their summer weeklong courses offer a unique opportunity to dig in and study natural eaglehill081116history topics such dragonflies, lichen, beetles, slime molds, seaweeds, stream processes and, of course, mushrooms.

The setting at Eagle Hill is rustic: shared lodging, family style meals and open air classrooms.  Most classes spend part of the day inside and the rest out roaming for real life examples of the topic of the week.  For me it is a quintessential Maine experience complete textbook081116with fabulous scenery, eccentric personalities, and ‘gently used’ architecture – all experienced with my fellow students who generously share their knowledge and enthusiasm for exploring the world of nature.

I had a fabulous time: our instructors, Greg Marley and Michaeline Mulvey know their mushrooms and are articulate teachers.  We had a full class of 16 or so and we all got along and enjoyed each other immensely. They were a very special group of people.

But the mushroom part was tough.  There are hundreds of species of mushrooms in Maine and some have never been described. There is no single comprehensive publication keying out those that have been described for the Northeast.  Our ‘textbook’ was Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to Fleshy Fungi by David Aurora written mostly for California and the Pacific Northwest, but covering many species from New  England and other areas of North America.  Finally, for me at least, the dichotomous keys used to identify fungi were very, very challenging.

toothmushroom081116I loved going out with the group looking for mushrooms– just meandering slowly through the woods seeking specimens to collect.  I did learn to distinguish between some of the major groups of fleshy fungi.  I can differentiate between teeth fungi and corals; boletes and chanterelles as well as gilled mushrooms, polypores and puff balls.  And I know some of the important dinnereaglehill081116distinguishing characteristics between members of these different groups—veils, staining, spore colors, etc.  I understand some of the mycorrhizal relationships between some mushrooms and trees as well as some of the biology of mushrooms. There are probably 4-5 edible mushrooms that I would or could (with some practice) feel comfortable gathering and eating.  These are things I did not know before, but I have a lot to learn before I could identify the genus and species of mushrooms common in our woods.  At least now I can participate in the Maine Mycological Association forays and build on the knowledge gained from the week at Eagle Hill Institute.

For those of you interested in gathering or purchasing wild gathered mushrooms to eat, here are a few takeaways:

  1. Take your time to become fully acquainted with the mushrooms you’d like to harvest, where they grow (and don’t grow) time of year they are around, etc.  Our instructors generally spent 3-4 years observing and identifying mushrooms species before harvesting them to eat.  There are many mushrooms that cannot be identified down to the species level in the field. Spore prints are often necessary to key out mushrooms.
  2. Be certain that the mushrooms you gather are very fresh and are processed to eat or store right away.  Examine carefully the quality of any purchased at farmer’s markets. Mushrooms are insect magnets and quickly get infested. Mushrooms in the classroom deteriorated a lot in just 24 hours.  We saw a lot of insects including maggots during our fungi dissections.
  3. Always cook wild gathered mushrooms before eating them.  Eating raw mushrooms can lead to gastrointestinal distress.  Also, don’t eat too many at once for the same reason—a small handful is enough.
  4. Be sure you know how to distinguish the edible species from their look-a-likes.  Some look-a-likes are poisonous and even if they are not life threatening, they may lead to prolonged and intense gastronomic distress.

The world of mushrooms is rich and diverse.  The week-long class was just a start in understanding and appreciating this diverse part of the natural world.  I can understand now why people are inspired to wander through the woods observing, collecting and studying fungi. I am looking forward to becoming one of them.

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bos2What is a “Good” Project? Breaking Down Our Survey Results on Gulf Restoration Priorities

By Teresa Chan – Vibrant Environment Blog – July 28, 2016
In June, the ELI Gulf Team released a survey on priorities for Gulf restoration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It was designed to understand what elements our partners and collaborators think are most important to good restoration projects. For full blog post, click here.

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wppNaturalists Grow Wildlife, Pollinator Habitat

Contact: Jeff Woods – USDA NRCS – FL – August 1, 2016
Billy and Marcia Boothe are naturalists, having spent a lifetime observing, documenting, photographing and teaching about Florida’s plants, insects and wildlife. So when they bought their land in the late 90s, it was to restore the land and preserve its plants, which include the Torreya tree, a very rare conifer that grows only in the bluffs and ravines in Gadsden and Liberty counties and an adjacent county in Georgia. Discovering a robust population of endangered gopher tortoises with 40 burrows scattered throughout the property was a plus. Located between Torreya State Park and Greensboro, Fla., they named Crooked Creek Preserve after the creek running through their land to the Apalachicola River. For full news release, click here.

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

I won’t lie – I am not an expert on plants – you will not find a barrage of Latin names and scientific verbiage in this blog or in any of my conversations. In fact, my freshman year of college in Florida, I took a plant botany class and we went out into the Everglades to identify various plants. I was so overwhelmed by the immense number and diversity of plants to identify that I thought my head was going to explode. Did you know that in the Everglades Park there are thirty-nine species of native orchids in addition to about 750 other kinds of native seed-bearing plants? I was much more comfortable when I transferred to a different college in Colorado where there were fewer species and I found them much easier to identify. Regardless, I am a huge fan of plants and am constantly amazed at their resiliency and intelligence. “Intelligence” you say? Yes – you heard it – according to Stefano Mancuso, one of the founders of the somewhat new field of “plant neurobiology,” mammals are not the only intelligent species in the world. Having a brain is not a prerequisite for being intelligent.

yournext080416I’ve been doing some reading about this fairly controversial area of study that explores the sensory adaptive behavior of plants and I have to say I find it fascinating. Although I have to admit, the thought of the implications if this theory were proven to be true makes me a wee bit uncomfortable – especially after having seen the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (released in 1978) as a young child (and then the original that was produced in 1956). I remember being so terrified afterward that I was afraid to sleep in my own home for many nights afterward. My mother was, after all, an avid house plant keeper. And of course, “Little Shop of Horrors” came out in the movie theaters in 1986, which by all definitions was very different – a farce of a horror story that was intended to be funny. But after having experienced the trauma of watching “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” first, I did not necessarily find the humor in it.

invasion080416Of course, as is typical of human behavior, what often terrifies us the most also fascinates us the most. And I am truly intrigued by plant behavior. Mancuso defines intelligence as “the capacity and the ability to solve problems.” He argues that science has accepted that plants can breathe, yet they have no lungs. It is also accepted that plants can process nutrients, but without a stomach. So why is it so hard to accept that plants can think and reason without a brain? He points to a study that he and some colleagues of his performed that tested whether the plant mimosa pudica (yes, a Latin name – forgive me for including just one) could learn. To test their theory, they dropped a group of mimosa plants in a pot from a height of 10 centimeters.

Normally, this plant’s reflex reaction is to close its leaves immediately after being touched (which is pretty crazy to begin with) and indeed, this was the same observed reaction after being dropped. But after a few repetitions, the plants were able to discriminate between two different stimuli – they closed their leaves after being touched, but not after being dropped. This, they theorized, proved that the plants could learn. In fact, after leaving the plants undisturbed for forty days, the plants were still able to discriminate between the two different types of stimuli – which indicate a certain level of memory function as well.

Now this theory of plant intelligence isn’t necessarily new. In 1973, the book “The Secret Life of Plants” by authors Peter Tomkins and Christopher Bird was published creating a highly critical buzz in the scientific community. However, much of the science in the book was discredited after several attempts by well-respected scientists to replicate the experiments (offered as proof in the book) ultimately failed. However, in 2006, Mancuso and his colleagues (Eric D. Brenner, Rainer Stahlberg , Jorge Vivanco, Frantisek Balusa and Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh) renewed the debate when they published a controversial article in Trends in Plant Science titled “Plant neurobiology: an integrated view of plant signaling,” that explores three primary areas of study: 1) the potential for long-distance electrical signals to regulate plant responses; 2) the metabolic or signaling role that compounds such as acetylcholine, catecholamines, histamines, serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, GABA (g-aminobutyric acid) and glutamate  (also found in the nervous system of animals) play in plants; and 3) the neurotransmitter-like characteristics of the phytohormone auxin.

Personally, I find this all very exciting – science is, after all, the process of discovery through experiments and observation. We used to think the world was flat – and later, that the sun revolved around the earth. We know of course now that neither of these former beliefs is true. Fortunately throughout human history, we have constantly challenged our assumptions and beliefs, and continued to ask the questions “why?” and “what if?” We have sought, as my favorite science fiction series says, “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, shopofhorror080416to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Certainly this quest has been pursued here on earth even more so than in space. We have learned that, For Peat’s Sake, critical minds work best when they remain open to new possibilities. As long as it doesn’t result in me getting eaten by an intelligent plant!

Posted in aquatic plants, ecology, environment, plants, science, wetland plants, wetland science | 2 Comments
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