View from the blog-o-sphereLeaving a Downstream Legacy

By Jackie Ostfeld – Huffington Post – The Blog –December 4, 2014
Eighty percent of Americans live in urban areas with limited opportunities to experience nature. The restoration of our urban rivers and watersheds provides an opportunity to leave behind a downstream legacy that provides ways for people to connect with nature while cleaning our waters.

This week, Sierra Club joined forces with twenty-seven other non-governmental organizations, including several members of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, to pledge support for the Urban Waters Federal Partnership. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsThe 7 psychological reasons that are stopping us from acting on climate

By Chris Mooney – The Washington Post Blog – December 11, 2014
You may have noticed: We can’t act on climate change. Granted, very devoted people are in Lima, Peru, right now, trying to change that. But inaction has been the norm on this issue, especially in the United States. When a gigantic threat is staring you in the face, and you can’t act upon it, it’s safe to assume there’s some sort of mental blockage happening. So what’s the hangup? That’s what a new report from ecoAmerica and the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute — entitled Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication – seeks to help us better understand. For full blog post, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

“Now the people are scratching all over the street
Because the rabbits had nothing to eat”
Pete Seeger 

Many wetland professionals I’ve talked to have had lyme disease.  Working in wetlands often requires tramping through fields and forests to get to the wetlands, so it’s not surprising that they encountered ticks and acquired the disease.  I am one of their number.  I’ve had it at least once and possibly twice.  Both times my doctor reacted to my symptoms (high fever, bulls eye rash) with a sustained dose of antibiotics.  I am one of the lucky ones.  I have had no recurring problems.

But it troubles me that increasingly I hear people say they don’t want to go into the woods because they might encounter ticks.  It got me wondering why ticks and lyme were spreading across the country.  A number of reports tie the spread of ticks to increasing deer populations but here where I live in Maine the numbers of ticks and incidences of lyme disease have been increasing annually while deer population has been holding steady and dropping in the state.  It’s not only Maine where ticks are spreading while deer populations are holding steady or decreasing.




Some long term studies have identified one of the chief “culprits” responsible for the spread of disease is—indirectly– acorns, an important food source for the white footed mouse.  A bumper crop of acorns leads to a sharp increase in the mice population and there is a closer correlation of changes in white mice populations to the spread of ticks and lyme disease than to deer.

But there is more.  Acorn crops are highly variable from year to year, and when there is a bumper crop, white footed mice populations increase.  If it is followed by a scarce crop, the population decreases.  This means that the ticks have fewer mice to feed off and therefore more likely to be on the lookout for alternatives. Therefore ticks (who must feed three times during their life cycle) will be looking for a meal from another food source, including people.




Next there is the changing distribution of four legged predators to consider.  Red foxes prey extensively on mice and provide a check on their populations.  But their numbers are down because gray wolves were hunted to the edge of extinction and eliminated from the eastern U.S. This created a vacant ecological niche that has been filled over the past few decades by the eastern coyote – a cross between the western coyote and the red wolf.  It turns out the eastern coyote does not rely on mice as a primary food source, but they are very fond of red fox. See here and here.

It was interesting that I could not find any information about any mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile or insect that fed extensively on ticks.  You’ll find a lot of articles recommending guinea fowl or chickens, but a search for the actual studies behind these recommendations leads to the information the guinea fowl, chickens and other animals will eat ticks, usually only the adults, if they come across them, but none prefer them above other foods.  In addition, all the information I found indicated that the animals studied fed on adult ticks, not the nymphs who are responsible for 80% of the spread of the disease. It seems to me there is a distinct possibility there must be, or more likely, use to be, a large population of a critter or critters in the environment that were voracious eaters of ticks and nymphs.  I suspect, although I did not find studies that hypothesized or attempted to prove it, that something is largely absent from the landscape that once ate a lot of ticks. The trouble is we did not start studying the issue until the tick population was on the rise, and after the critter was largely gone.

The more I researched this topic, the more I became convinced that:

1)   It’s complicated
2)   There is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and
3)   There are missing pieces to the reasons for the spread of ticks and lyme disease.

There are two detailed articles well worth reading to gain a greater understanding of the complexity of trying to address the spread of ticks and lyme disease:  Deer, predators, and the emergence of Lyme disease  and Controlling Ticks and Tick-borne Zoonoses with Biological and Chemical Agents.

But here is what I learned.  Changes in predator and/or herbivore populations create indirect effects that can lead to dramatic changes, called a trophic cascade. This is why changes to wildlife populations, and in particular the loss of biodiversity matters. The upside is the reintroduction of a single animal can have an unexpected and positive cascading effect as shown in this video about the reintroduction of the grey wolf to Yellowstone National park. “How Wolves Change Rivers”



I don’t want to simply this issue. It’s complicated and this is revealed by additional work done to understand the changes in Yellowstone Park. With respect to tick populations, there is evidence that deer, mice and other animals influence the spread of tick populations.  But the bottom line is that when actions are taken by people that alter wildlife populations, there are unintended consequences.  And ultimately these may have concrete, negative effects on people.  We need to have a better understanding of the consequences of actions to avoid these.

You don’t need to be a trophic cascade researcher to understand the possibilities. Peter Seeger summed it up nicely in “The people are scratching”  from his 1966 album “God Bless the Grass”.


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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsUpdate on Adaptation Design Work

Director’s Blog – Wetlands Watch – November 17, 2014
Lots of talk about adapting to sea level rise. Toolkits, webinars, academic papers. Where is the real work taking place, on the ground, in a shoreline community, before Katrina or Sandy hits? It’s taking place here, in Hampton Roads, Virginia….in Chesterfield Heights. Wetlands Watch received a Virginia Sea Grant award to see if we could make adaptation real in a Virginia shoreline community. With the help of a core design group, we picked Chesterfield Heights in Norfolk, an historic district along the Elizabeth River’s eastern branch, with homes dating to 1895. Like many shoreline urban neighborhoods, it was built out over time and on top of filled-in wetlands and creeks, complicating the flooding picture. So how do you adapt this community of 350 homes to sea level rise, putting ecosystem values first, consulting with residents on community values, fitting solutions onto the landscape, parcel by parcel? For full blog post, click here.


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View from the blog-o-sphereSteps Toward a Resilient and Sustainable Future

By Alan Hecht – It All Starts with Science – EPA Blog –December 3, 2014
The connection between sustainability and resilience—defined as the capacity to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change—is an emerging theme among a host of environmental organizations. I was happy to explore that important connection further with thought leaders from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Council for Science and the Environment, the Ohio State University Center for Resilience, and the United Nations Foundation as part of a panel at The Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington last month. For full blog post, click here.

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SalameanderBy Peg Bostwick, ASWM

Here we are at the end of the year, so before we start the Christmas celebrations I’ll offer my (former high school teacher’s) highly unscientific wetland report card.  Feel free to complain about the grades… it’s traditional!


sal1We know (from USFWS status and trends reports and other sources) that we are continuing to lose wetland acreage in some geographic areas, and losing more of some ecological types than others.  However, in some states and regions, losses are declining, or we are actually gaining.  There is still great cause for concern, especially where wetlands will play a key role in climate change adaptation.  As a nation, we’re trying hard, but can do better.

The “condition” or “health” or “importance” of U.S. wetlands is much harder to define – in part because there is no one single measure that captures all of the many ways in which wetlands can be good or important.  (It’s like giving a child a single grade for their entire time in school, no comments allowed.)  Nonetheless, we have advanced significantly in our ability to compare existing wetlands with the relatively undisturbed wetlands that existed at the time of European settlement of the continent, or to each other.  And we know more about evaluating functions and services that are important to us and to the many species that rely on wetland habitat.   It will take time to define trends in condition.  While we have learned a lot more about assessing wetland condition, function, and importance, we are still struggling to find the terms to convey those measures to the public.


sal2Ready or not, here it comes.  Although there seemed to be less public denial than in past years, there does not seem to be much of a sense of public urgency, either.  As pointed out in Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything, if the nations of the world had taken serious steps to reduce emissions beginning in 1992 following the U.N. climate convention in Rio, we would have had to make cuts of 2% annually until 2005, and we might be in pretty good shape now.  But instead emissions have mushroomed since then, and as a result we now have to push much harder to avoid a tipping point in global temperature.  We need to THINK BIG and THINK FAST.

For those of us more focused on adaptation for the changes that are coming, and to an extent already upon us, we need to think BROADLY, COMPREHENSIVELY, and often WAY OUTSIDE THE BOX about the role of wetlands.


sal3Darn, we work hard!  Everywhere I look, I see wetland scientists and managers going above and beyond, out in the mud or bogged down in statistics and spreadsheets, looking for answers.  And, importantly, finding them.  This group has always been motivated, but we see an increase in teamwork and collaborative efforts.

However, wetland managers are frequently surrounded by ever-present, sometimes supportive and sometimes threatening stakeholders.  Wetland staff are asked to be ever more efficient, but efficiency is defined as reduction in funding and/or increased workload to reducing the number of experts working on a task.  As a result, wetland managers that we talk to around the country often exhibit a high level of anxiety, and sometimes burnout.


sal4Based on an internet “pop quiz” the public probably has a pretty sound understanding of wetland importance.   I tried a search for “why wetlands aren’t important.”   My search engine assumed I meant “are” important, and gave me tons of results about the importance of wetlands.  So I tried typing “what is bad about wetlands?”  I got a couple of those Q & A responses, showing the best answers – which essentially said “there is nothing bad about wetlands.”  (One said “wetlands sometime stink.”)  I also asked why wetland regulation is bad.  The answer defined as “best” said that wetland programs are bad when they don’t protect wetlands.

Although it apparently isn’t published much in internet sources, we are still very much aware of opposition to wetland protection – a viewpoint that  will prevail if it is the only one heard in policy circles.   We’re often called by individual members of the public who are shocked to find out wetlands aren’t fully protected. They thought they were. If that’s the case, it is important for them to communicate their concerns with their elected officials.


There you have it.  Nothing that your parents need to sign, but hopefully for you to take your own big picture look at where we stand.   Feedback is welcomed as always.   We’ll see if things look better (or worse) next year….

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsLocal Initiatives May be the Key to Our Future

By Bob Marshall – Field & Stream – November 21, 2014
The mid-term elections may well have served as a primer on how America’s sportsmen can best preserve protections for public lands and waters—the engines that have long enabled us to have the best and most accessible outdoors sports in the western world. If you only read the political analysis of those election results, there seems plenty of reason to be afraid. Some of the loudest voices now in control of Congress have opposed many of the national programs that sportsmen’s conservation groups support. This includes reestablishing wetlands protections stripped from the Clean Water Act; the Roadless Rule and wilderness designations; energy development policies that give fish, wildlife, and outdoors sports equal footing with oil and gas company profits; Clean Air regulations to reduce carbon pollution; reform of mining regulations that allow bad ideas like mountain top removal in the Appalachians and the Pebble Mine in Alaska; and the sale of public lands to states and/or private companies—a move that could wipe out public-land hunting and fishing as we’ve known it for a century. And that’s just a partial list. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereA Plastic Problem in the Chesapeake

By Jeff Corbin – EPA Connect – November 24, 2014
Maybe you’ve heard of “micro plastics.” They’re created when plastic products eventually break down into tiny particles that drift in our ocean waters and can be eaten by fish and other wildlife. They’re a big problem globally, as is trash from plastic products in general. As much as 80 percent of trash in the ocean comes from sources on land, and up to 60 percent of this trash is plastic. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereYour Input Helps Protect Clean Water

By Gina McCarthy – EPA Connect Blog – November 14, 2014
Clean water is essential to our health, our economy, and our way of life. And the Clean Water Act of 1972 is both an environmental success story and one of America’s greatest economic triumphs. Back in the 1970s, 2 out of 3 of our nation’s waterways were polluted. Today, 2 out of 3 are healthy. Cleaning up pollution boosts our economy—by creating jobs, lowering health care costs, and clearing the way for commerce. That’s why we have to make sure the Clean Water Act works the way it’s supposed to. But right now, 60 percent of our nation’s streams and wetlands lack clear protection and 1 in 3 Americans get their drinking water from sources at risk. So earlier this year, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to safeguard the clean water we all depend on. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsCrooks and Dumbasses

By Chad Shmukler – Hatch Magazine – November 19, 2014 – Video
“If you’ve got a politician that’s running for office who thinks he’s smarter than 98% of the world’s climate scientists, they’re crooks. Or, they’re dumbasses.” That’s Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard in the upcoming film CO₂LD Waters, for which the trailer was released yesterday. CO₂LD Waters documents the importance of climate change to anglers, the threat it poses to our fishing and hunting opportunities and what we, as anglers, can do about it. For full article and to view video, click here.


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