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

Wetlander's Pick of the Posts How to Survive the Spring Rains! Find Your Closest Wetland

The Wetlands Conservancy – April 19, 2016
Putting on your rain boots, tromping through tall grasses, searching and exploring the squishy world of wetlands will inspire both your kids and your sense of wonder. Wetlands play a role in your everyday life cleaning and collecting water, but sometimes we forget to seek them out as nature’s playground. For full story, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereSpring Cleaning – In Your Medicine Cabinet

By Megan Keegan – EPA Healthy Waters Blog – April 28, 2016
Trees are blooming, the grass is greening, and its finally time to throw open the windows for a little spring cleaning!  This year, don’t just dust the corner cobwebs and air out the linens—take this opportunity to clean out your medicine cabinet! For full blog post, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst

Over the last three years, ASWM has conducted studies focused on better understanding various attributes of state wetland programs and both state wetland and stream-related policies and practices.  These efforts have manifested themselves in two major reports – State Definitions, Jurisdiction and Mitigation Requirements in State Programs for Ephemeral, Intermittent and Perennial Streams in the United States and Status and Trends Report on State Wetland Programs in the United States.  These projects have specifically focused on developing national comparative reportsanalyses and have laid the foundation for longitudinal studies of trends over time.  Rigor has included building on a foundation in policy theory, implementation of research best practices, and strong attention to creating replicable research designs with consistent measures designed to allow for analysis between and among states.  While it’s not critical to understand what goes into creating these national studies, I always find it useful to know the background and inner workings of research I use.  This blog provides insights into how we think about our research and what goes into developing our comparative studies.  Through these efforts, ASWM strives to create a better understanding of the complex factors and relationships influencing wetland programs, policy implementation, and policy outcomes.

Anchoring Analysis in Public Policy Theory

waubesaAs we approach studies of wetland and stream policy, we have looked not only at the literature on wetland management, but also on public policy theory.  Public policy theory can explain a range of topics, from how decisions are made to who has power and how they exert it.  ASWM’s recent studies have been grounded in what is called policy implementation theory.

Policy implementation theory works to explain specific dimensions that influence a policy’s ability to produce results or impacts, including cost, feasibility (e.g.  state capacity to implement), and the acceptability of certain policies by relevant stakeholders (both those affected by the policy and those tasked with implementing them).  The literature on policy implementation has emerged in many stages with the goal of explaining who has influence on how policy is implemented.  Is policy implemented top-down from federal government to state and local government?  Is it the street-level bureaucrats that really control what happens?  Or is it a hybrid set of ongoing interactions influenced by context?   This has led to consideration in our research of both federal and state influences and measures that capture the range of those influences.

Using Qualitative Research to Identify the Breadth of State Wetland Program Characteristics and Development

When conducting our research, we have focused in these recent studies on understanding the breadth of state program capacities to implement wetland and stream regulations at the state level.  We have looked at the components of regulation — Who is responsible for different parts of the regulatory process?  What controls exist for the state program?  What limitations do they have in terms of staffing and funding to enforce the controls they have?  This research not only helps identify needs, gaps and opportunities for supporting these programs, but it also contributes to implementation theory.  It demonstrates the challenges that the state context provides for the national implementation of Clean Water Act sections §404 Dredge and Fill and §401 Water Quality Certification programs, as well as other Clean Water Act programs that protect wetlands in different ways (e.g. Clean Water Act Section §402).

coloradoparksTaking on the Task of Measuring and Comparing Diversity

As ASWM approached the 2014 Status and Trends/State Summary Project, the organization’s policy analysts already knew they faced tremendous diversity based on previous state summary reports that had been conducted in regular intervals since the 1980s by both ASWM and the Environmental Law Institute.  The question became how to measure and compare this diversity in a meaningful way.   ASWM relied on a national project workgroup to help determine measures to use building on existing literature, past state summaries and the practical usefulness of the measures for informing state wetland programs and those who support them.  In the applied research world, the usefulness of the research is paramount.  The workgroup included ASWM analysts, representatives from state wetland programs, US EPA, wetland nonprofits, and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The workgroup decided to build data collection first around the EPA’s ESTP four Core wetlandmonitoringElements Framework, a set of essential components for state wetland programs to protect state wetlands.  Measures for each of these core elements were developed and vetted by the workgroup, building on previous state summaries and key measures in the literature (both gray and peer-reviewed).  The workgroup essentially “groundtruthed” the proposed measures.  This process not only strengthened the methodological components of the research, it also ensured that the information that was collected would be useful to people making decisions about program development, determining what models and practices could be borrowed from one state for use in another and identifying where capacity building is most needed and feasible at the state, regional or even national level.

Findings of Vast Diversity in State Wetland Programs Begs the Question “Why?”

On April 8th, I presented the findings of ASWM’s Status and Trends Report at the Midwest Political Science Conference in Chicago, Illinois.  The paper I presented (still in draft form) discussed our findings in the context of contributions to implementation theory.  The conference session discussant repeatedly commented on his surprise at the diversity of state wetland program types and capacities, wondering where these differences came from.  Our project focused on measuring the breadth of characteristics and how these compare between and among states.  But this does beg the question “Why?” as well as “how does this capacity change over time?”

southcarolinaWhile ASWM’s research to date does not answer this question, other research on wetland policy and management provides clear insights.  Studies show that state wetland programs have emerged from a range of origins.  Some states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut had internal regulations in place before the Clean Water Act was enacted.  In addition, state regulations can be based on statutes related to navigation, water pollution, protection of wildlife habitat and other provisions of state law.  In California, for example, the state regulated its waters long before the Clean Water Act was enacted. Today, the state’s regulatory program must balance requirements in its own Porter Cologne Act with requirements of the Clean Water Act.  ASWM’s recent findings are not surprising.  Connecting the dots between these studies would be a fascinating future undertaking.

Applied Research: Designed to Inform Decision-Making

northfolkTo date, the ASWM’s Status and Trends Report has been used by states, regional wetland groups, federal agencies, nonprofits, university researchers and consultants to identify both what is happening in individual states and the status of state wetland programs across the country as a whole.  Project products include a national comparative analysis report and fifty state summaries that provide a rich baseline of information about the diversity and range of state wetland programs and practices across the United States. These are being used to further inform other findings and initiatives.  One example is the opportunity to provide insights to the findings from the forthcoming 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment Report.  The status of state wetland programs within an NWCA study “ecoregion” has relevance to thinking about how state and federal agencies can help address areas of the country where the largest amount of wetlands are found to be in poor condition.

Next Steps: Analysis over Time and Answering New Questions

In addition to the findings of the Status and Trends study, the study has opened the door to many more questions that remain unanswered.  Findings on each core element, climate change work by state wetland programs and integration activities between wetland programs and other state water programs all lead to additional research questions that would likely benefit from deeper analysis.  How can quality of implementation be measured for each core element?  What level of implementation is adequate?  How do states with limited resources implement regulatory requirements? What efforts to transfer a policy or practice from one state to another are more likely to be successful?  The report itself includes a final section on recommendations for future research.

carIn addition, ASWM is interested in looking at how wetland programs change over time.  One opportunity under consideration is to pursue support for development of a formal longitudinal dataset (a dataset designed to capture the same specific measures of state wetland programs over time).  This would allow for the formal tracking and analysis of trends.  To date these trends have only been captured in an informal way and few inferences can be drawn.   Working with statisticians, state wetland program staff and a range of stakeholders, ASWM would be positioned to develop robust study designs and employ statistical analysis.  Taking into formal consideration what researchers call “confounding variables” and a variety of explanations for findings, specific research questions could be explored, including how the implementation of wetland regulations changes over time, which variables may influence these changes, and what impacts specific initiatives may have on state wetland programs.

We welcome your thoughts regarding research that ASWM should consider to provide theoretical, methodological, or analytical insights to our work, as well as any research questions you think would benefit state and tribal wetland programs.  We also encourage you to check out our research reports and products, which are available on our website at www.ASWM.org.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Breivogel habitat restoration video

By Tom Biebighauser – Wetland Restoration and Training, Inc.– April 21, 2016 – Video

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View from the blog-o-sphereWhen Beach Nourishment Kills

By Lily Strelich – Hakai Magazine – April 20, 2016
In 2012, the San Diego Association of Governments and the United States Army Corps of Engineers dumped 1.76 million cubic meters of sand onto eight eroding county beaches. Replenishment projects like this are meant to bolster the coastline for human needs, but adding millions of cubic meters of sand to the shoreline has a big effect on local wildlife. And according to a recent study of the project, the negative effects of beach replenishment on coastal ecosystems seems more extensive than previously thought. For full article, click here.

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

Last week I had the privilege of vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was a bucket list trip for me – one I’ve wanted to make my whole life. As a child, I grew up taking vacations with my family that were jam packed full of activities – our time was spent going from one historical site to another with very little opportunity to stop and smell the roses. I begged my parents to take us to a beach resort stthomas1somewhere where we could just relax for a week. I finally got my wish – somewhat – when we went to Australia after my high school graduation. My mom signed up for a conference with the International Reading Association in Sydney, so we made a 3 week trip out of it and traveled from Cairns to Sydney and out to Ayers Rock.

While we were there, I had an experience of a lifetime – I got a quick crash course on scuba diving and got to dive the Great Barrier Reef. It was the most amazing experience and the beauty of the coral reef and sea life was mind blowing – so many colors and alien looking creatures. The immense diversity of life was humbling. My freshman year of college I decided to get PADI certified, but I did not have another opportunity to see any coral again until I went to Thailand with the San Francisco State University’s Wildlife Extension Program my senior year.

stcrispinsreefI went there to study the impacts of tourism and development on Thailand’s culture and environment for my senior thesis. While there, I had the opportunity to do some extensive snorkeling in the Andaman Sea off the southwestern coast. Once again, the colors of the corals and the immense diversity of sea life were extraordinary. But even then, they were worried about the health of their corals from the impacts of snorkelers who insisted on standing on and abusing the coral reefs, from destructive blasting practices by fishermen, and from the raw sewage that the resort towns poured directly into the ocean. That was in 1992 and the researchers that I interviewed at the Phuket Marine Biological Center were already sounding the alarm about the dire outlook for the future health of their coral reef ecosystems.

Fast forward to last week. I had not had an opportunity to go diving or snorkeling since my trip to Thailand in 1992. Although my vacation on St. Thomas and St. John was truly enjoyable and I would love to go back again, I was deeply dismayed by the condition of the coral on both islands. On St. Thomas I got recertified for diving by “Aqua Amy” at Coki Beach. She was a true gem. When I told her where I worked her eyes lit up and she said “Oh good – now that I know you understand and care about the corals, I’ll show you a project being done by the local university to try to regrow Staghorn coral. They haven’t been by to check it much lately but I measure the growth for them anyway.”

staghornSo we dove around the reef area surrounding Coki Beach and she showed me the university’s project. It was a very small project and I’m dubious if it will work, but who knows – you can’t blame them for trying. I witnessed corals that had no color and that were scarred by illegal anchoring activities by a local paddle boarding company and other boaters. Very little sea grass was present although there was some great sea life and a Parrot fish that decided it was my diving buddy for a while. Two days later, I traveled to St. John and went snorkeling at Maho Beach. The sea grass was much healthier there and supported a small community of sea turtles, but the coral was once again white and scarred; not teeming with life like the ones I had witnessed in Australia and Thailand more than 25 years ago.

I returned from my vacation relaxed but with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. Without further research I cannot say exactly what has led to the poor health of the islands’ corals, but I imagine it’s a combination of failing septic systems, stormwater runoff, destructive boating and fishing practices, and the newest threat – climate change. Coral bleaching has become a tremendous threat to coral health around the globe, most prominently now at the Great Barrier Reef, and is most commonly a result of corals being stressed by unusually high water temperatures. I just read an article yesterday in the Washington Post that said Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force has found bleaching in 93% of the 911 coral reefs they surveyed by air. The article also states that “based on diving surveys of the northern reef, they already are seeing nearly 50% coral death.”

bleachedcoralAlthough the U.S. definition of wetlands does not include coral reefs, the international Ramsar definition does. And according to NOAA, “coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment.” They are basically underwater rain forests; chock full of some of the most amazing diversity of life in the entire world. A 2015 fact sheet I found from Ramsar states that 75% of the world’s coral reefs are at risk and 10% are damaged beyond repair. And in certain areas of the U.S. and abroad, coral reefs and mangroves live in a symbiotic relationship, meaning that if the corals are unhealthy, the mangroves are unhealthy. It’s a domino effect that does not have a happy ending.

As I write this, it is April 22nd – Earth Day. So For Peat’s Sake, although corals are not technically defined as wetlands in the U.S., they are in most other areas of the world. So I encourage you to embrace the importance of the world’s coral reefs and do what you can to protect what we have left. Our coastal communities and islands that we love to vacation on depend on it.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Amid dramatic sea level rise, nature itself can provide a much-needed solution

By Shannon Cunniff – Environmental Defense Fund – April 7, 2016
Even if we manage to reach our goals for reducing greenhouse gases, the world will experience a dramatic sea level rise by 2100 – the latest study estimates by as much as six feet. With a water level that much higher than it is today, major coastal cities such as Boston, New York and Miami are sure to be below sea level. So the key question now is, how do we adapt to climate change effects we can no longer avoid? For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereCitizen Science, Environmental Outreach and Water Quality

By Ibrahim Goodwin – The EPA Blog – April 13, 2016
Spring is here, the eaglets in the Anacostia River Basin have hatched and so has another opportunity to make a visible difference in our nation’s watersheds. Here in DC’s Anacostia watershed, EPA and the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) are working together as part of the Anacostia Watershed Outreach and Education Initiative. We’re encouraging citizen science field research with ECC members, students and others. We test for water quality parameters like pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, phosphates, nitrates, salinity, and we’re analyzing samples for aquatic macroinvertebrates (water bugs you can see with the naked eye that are important indicators of water quality). For full blog post, click here.

 

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cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie

The Association of State Wetland Managers, Inc. is an organization that began life in a chicken coop—well actually it was a converted ‘winterized’ chicken coop–but a chicken coop all the same.  It resided in this “repurposed” building behind the home of past Executive Director Dr. Jon Kusler, Esq. in Berne, NY, for well over a decade.  In 2002 the ASWM main office was moved to a barn in Windham, ME which belonged to the new Executive Director, yours truly, Jeanne Christie. In true Maine contractors041416fashion the barn was (and is) connected to the house and the part where our offices resided was also ‘winterized.’

In 2010, ASWM moved across the street from the barn to a small business park providing opportunity for growth, but in the last couple years, space has become increasingly tight with the addition of new staff.  However, as of this week, all that has changed. We now have room to grow!  We are very grateful to our building manager Fred Kinney and our general contractors Tim Curran and Jay Spruce as well as the last minute contributions of Brent and Chris from SystemArchitecture who stepped in to address some unanticipated challenges related to phone and internet wiring. I’d like to also thank the ASWM staff who provided ideas to help us design the expansion and were very patient as we continued to operate at our chrisbret041416offices through all the changes.  Finally, I’d like to thank the Association of State Wetland Managers Board for supporting us throughout!

But it’s not enough to tell you about this; we want to show you. So here is a before, during and after video to show what’s been happening here over the past six weeks.  Special thanks to Dawn Smith for working her video wizardry to create something to share.

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View from the blog-o-sphereThe Deepening Story of How Climate Change Threatens Human Health

By Gina McCarthy, John Holdren, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, and Kathryn Sullivan – EPA Connect Blog – April 4, 2016
Climate change poses risks to human health through many pathways, some more obvious than others. Rising greenhouse-gas concentrations, driven by human activities, result in increases in temperature, changes in precipitation, increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. These climate-change impacts endanger our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breathe, the weather we experience, and our interactions with the built and natural environments. As the climate continues to change, the climate-related risks to human health will continue to grow.For full blog post, click here.

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