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 wetlands 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.
What 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?
Ramsar 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 increase 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 ammunition 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.