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

bos2A River’s Return

By Melissa Sevigny – Edible Baja Arizona
The Colorado has reached its delta in the Gulf of California only intermittently since the 1960s, the last time during the wet El Niño winter of 1997-98. Much fodder for despair has been found in the lower Colorado, labeled “utterly devoid of vitality” by Philip Fradkin in his 1981 book A River No More. But the river still has champions. In October 2002, 55 resource managers, scientists, and environmentalists met in Tijuana to discuss the region’s plight. They calculated that restoring just 1 percent of the river’s annual flow could help the delta revive. Francisco Zamora, director of the Sonoran Institute’s Colorado River Delta Legacy Program, called their report “a map of the possible”—a listing of riparian areas that could be protected or restored. For full story, click here.

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For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM and Peg Bostwick, Senior Policy Analyst, ASWM

Last Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) unveiled their proposal to reissue the Nationwide Permits (NWPs), including general conditions, definitions and modifications. The NWPs authorize activities under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 that will result in no more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects. Essentially it’s a way to expedite obtaining COE approval for projects that will result in minor disturbances to regulated waters in order to balance the needs for economic development and the needs for environmental protection.

federalregistery052616The updated NWP proposal will be published in the Federal Register within a few days.  The public will have 60 days to provide comments to the Corps.  However, this is only the first step in reissuance of the Nationwides before the current ones expire in March, 2017. Perhaps more important to states and tribes will be the subsequent issuance of a Public Notice by each Corps district proposing regional conditions. States and tribes will need to consider both the national and regional conditions proposed in determining how to respond to the Corps’ request for §401 Water Quality Certification and Coastal Zone Program consistency determinations. Given that the final NWPs will control decisions regarding thousands of proposed actions over the next five year period, the states’ attention to this issue is extremely important. ASWM will be providing additional information to the states and tribes to help them navigate this complex but very important process.

The new proposal to reissue the existing 50 NWPs includes some modifications, including revisions that are intended to clarify requirements to make the regulations more easily understood by the regulated public, government personnel and other interested parties. It is hoped that by increasing clarity, the new NWPs will increase compliance and therefore, improve environmental protection. Regional conditions (added at the District level) can also add another layer of review and greater protections for the aquatic environment.

noaaphoto052616Currently, there are 50 NWPs that were published in 2012 and expire on March 18, 2017. The COE is proposing two new NWPs for 2017: one for the removal of low-head dams and one for living shorelines. Twenty-one of the NWPs, including the two proposed new NWPs, require pre-construction notification (PCN) – the purpose of which is to give the district engineer an opportunity to review a proposed activity to ensure that it is authorized by the NWP. For the 2017 NWPs, the COE has developed a standard form for PCNs.

Among other things, the Corps is seeking comments on changes in the terms and conditions of the NWPs and the views of NWP users on how the 2015 Clean Water Rule might affect the applicability and efficiency of the proposed NWPs. The COE is also seeking comment on acreage limits of certain NWPs and on whether to require compensatory mitigation for all losses of intermittent or ephemeral stream beds authorized by NWPs 21, 29, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 50, 51, and 52 through a district engineer’s written waiver of the 300 linear foot limit. Any comments received will be considered when preparing the final decision documents for the NWPs. After the NWPs are issued or reissued, division engineers will issue supplemental decision documents to evaluate environmental effects on a regional basis (e.g., state or Corps district). Instructions for submitting comments are included in the Corps notice of the proposed NWPs.

delaware052616The new NWP for living shorelines is of particular interest to the Association of State Wetland Managers, as this addition indicates a significant shift in federal policy to better accommodate green infrastructure and nature-based solutions to address problems such as coastal flooding and shoreline erosion. The COE summary sheet for the new proposed NWPs includes this description: “Authorize construction and maintenance of living shorelines for shore erosion control. Living shorelines consist of natural and man-made materials to establish and maintain marsh fringes or other living elements to reduce erosion while retaining or enhancing ecological processes. May include stone or reef structures to protect the shoreline from low to moderate waves. Does not authorize beach nourishment or land reclamation activities.”

While traditional gray infrastructure certainly has its place, studies have shown that bulkheads and shoreline hardening can have significant detrimental effects to adjacent and nearby properties as well on aquatic habitat. This new provision for the use of what some folks are calling “hybrid infrastructure” will hopefully pave the way for future considerations of the effectiveness and benefits of ecological restoration in inland aquatic environments – particularly inland floodplains. However, the extent of construction allowed under the proposed Living Shoreline NWP may be more appropriate for marine environments than for the Great Lakes or smaller inland lakes. State and tribal managers are encouraged to review the provisions for the new NWP, and to work with their Corps Districts to develop any regional conditions or limitations that may be needed in a specific geographic area. It is expected that national general permit criteria will be modified as needed by specific regional conditions in order to be most effective and appropriate for a state or tribe.

Currently it can be very challenging to navigate and complete all the permit conditions to implement wetland and/or floodplain restoration because historically the NWPs were designed to expedite traditional gray infrastructure solutions. It will be exciting to see how this new effort progresses, and what lessons it can teach us in our efforts to incorporate nature-based solutions to our nation’s water quality and quantity challenges. ASWM will let you know when the proposed rule to reissue the NWPs is published in the Federal Register. ASWM is also planning to offer information sessions to assist states and tribes in completing 401 Certification of the reissued NWPs in the coming months. So for Peat’s Sake, we hope you’ll participate in the public comment period for the federal regulations. Even more importantly we hope states and tribes will make the most of this opportunity to tailor the Nationwides to their specific state or tribal needs by working with their Corps district(s) as the process unfolds.

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bos2Why I Love Wetlands

By Carol Petrow– EPA’s Healthy Waters – May 19, 2016
May is American Wetlands Month which makes it a perfect time to talk about a passion of mine. Wetlands are the vital link between land and water.  What is not to love about them?

EPA proclaims that “Wetlands are natural wonderlands of great value.”  My sentiments exactly! They provide important benefits to people and the environment by regulating water levels within watersheds, reducing flood and storm damage, improving water quality, providing important fish and wildlife habitat, and supporting educational and recreational activities. For full blog post, click here.

 

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts The Secret History of Bioluminescence

By Ferris Jabr – Hakai Magazine – May 10, 2016
In the late 1990s, marine biologist Steven Haddock paid a visit to fellow scientist Osamu Shimomura at his laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The two researchers shared an obsession with bioluminescence: light produced by chemical reactions in the bodies of living things—most famously the firefly, but also in fungi and a multitude of ocean creatures. At one point during their meeting, Haddock recalls, Shimomura poured what appeared to be large sesame seeds out of a jar and into his hand, dribbled some water onto them, and crushed them into a paste in his fist. Then he shut off the lights. His palm glowed a transfixing blue, as though it held a fairy. For full article, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst

In celebration of National Wetlands Month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just released a fun and fascinating new online resource called “What’s Wild in Our Wetlands?”  This new website is a delight for anyone who is looking to get to know the creatures that live in their coastal wetlands and understand the roles wetlands play in each coastal region of our nation.  The site has been designed to share the importance of wetlands to fish and shellfish (including both commercial and recreational fisheries). The site is especially focused on helping citizens understand the relationship between wetlands in their backyard and the species that live in them.

nona051916The site’s base page shares about the range of values coastal wetlands contribute to each region.  From there, the viewer is enticed to “click here” to explore coastal wetlands in greater depth. A single click of the mouse brings the viewer to an interactive map of the United States.  The map allows the user to select one of the following coastal regions: North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf Coast, California, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico.

wetlands051916

Once on one of the regional pages, the viewer can learn about each primary kind of coastal wetland in that region and some representative species that live there.  The visuals are beautiful yet scientifically accurate depictions of each species and they are accompanied by just enough information to be intriguing.

For example, I went to the Mid-Atlantic Region and picked sea grass beds as my coastal wetland type.  Up came a page of beautiful images and a little bit of text describing each image.  I learned that the scientific name for blue crab means “tasty, beautiful swimmer.”  I was already aware that crab is popular seafood in the region, but I had not previously thought of them as “beautiful swimmers.”  Now I have to say that I want to find a YouTube video of a blue crab just to check out their swimming skills[1].

Until I read the information on this site, I had little knowledge of or (let’s be honest) interest in the tautog fish. But thanks to this page, I can now picture a mottled brown spiny-finned tautog gnawing on barnacles with its powerful teeth….and the flounder changing colors to blend in with its surroundings.  I know just enough to want to know more.  I am able to visualize what is happening beneath the waters in wetlands along the coast and that’s an important part of creating first awareness, which opens the door to education and a desire to protect these valuable aquatic resources.

fish051916But there is something more I want to point out about this site.  I have two young children and I am familiar with the formula of Freddie the Flounder who has some adventure and learns his lesson.  Kids have read a million stories about what I would call “alliterated animals” who find their way in the world.  However, when I showed my kids this site, they loved it.  They were laughing about this one’s tooth or that one’s diet.  These creatures are fascinating enough on their own; they don’t need a campy backstory.  They don’t need to be anthropomorphized.  This is thanks to the great work NOAA has done to find factoids that a non-scientist would find interesting about them.  By doing so, I feel they have done a great service to coastal wetlands and the creatures that live in them.

On another page of the site, I was able to view information on Alaska’s Fresh Marshes.  I knew there were many different types of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,  but the layout on the website made it clear the differences which were clearer than other explanations I had read…and also the critical similarities — especially that they are all reliant on wetlands for part of their lifecycle.

fishfacts051916For students writing a paper, there is just enough information specifically on these pages to write about differences in coastal wetland types or the range of animals that live in coastal wetlands or to pick a creature from their local coastal wetlands that interests them and then go find out more about them.

One thing I do wish the site offered is links to additional information about each wetland creature, but with the power of Google and other search mechanisms, this is hardly a barrier.

In summary, I am impressed with the stunning visuals, the easy-to-use layout, and the intriguing factoids.  For a group of scientists to find that right balance between what one CAN learn about each species and what the general public, especially kids, would find the “just right” amount is remarkable.  My hat is off to all who worked on the project.  We here at ASWM will share the resource as broadly as we can. We hope you will link your sites to it and share it with schools in your region. But don’t take our word for it — take a moment yourself to check it out in celebration of National Wetlands Month and all that wetlands contribute to our environment, economy and well-being every single day of the year.

To learn what you can do to help protect coastal wetlands go here.


[1] And of course, yes I did (check out this overdramatized GoPro video of blue crabs getting caught in a trap or this juvenile blue crab swimming.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts 7 Citizen Science Projects for Bird Lovers

By Lisa Feldkamp – Cool Green Science – March 30, 2016
Looking to go birding and help conservation? See the picks for some of the best bird-related citizen science projects. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereInevitable Changes to Water in California

By Administrator Gina McCarthy– EPA Connect – May 2, 2016
It isn’t just the groundwater that has to be sustainable; it’s the management too. That’s why the title of this post shifts from the more familiar “sustainable groundwater management” to “groundwater management sustainability.” This perspective doesn’t come from the world of hydrologic or climate or environmental science, but from political science and other disciplines focused on human institutions and behavior. For full blog post, click here.

 

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cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie

On May 11, 2016 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the first ever report on the condition of the Nation’s wetlands.  Past reports from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have evaluated overall changes in wetland acreage (net loss). This report is different.  It evaluates how healthy wetlands are nationwide.

This report is one of four National Aquatic Resource Surveys carried about by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in partnership with states and others nationwide.  cwnationalwetlands051216The other assessments cover coastlines, Lakes, and Rivers and Streams.

The good news is that nationally 48% of the wetlands are in good biological condition.  However 20% are only in fair condition and 32% are in poor condition.  It’s reasonable to anticipate that those in good condition also do a good job of providing the benefits we value – improving water quality, attenuating floodwater, supporting fish and wildlife. However, those in poor condition provide more limited benefits.

The chief problems found in wetlands that lead to poor health are compaction of soils (called ‘hardening’ in the report), vegetation removal, and ditching.   While it’s easy to understand that ditching wetlands or stripping them of vegetation would degrade a wetland, the concept that wetlands are hurt by hardening (soil compaction) is likely less familiar – at least as it relates to wetland health.  Soil compaction occurs when soil is compressed leading to smaller pore sizes in the soils and that makes it more difficult for air, water, organisms and plant roots to move through the wetland soil.  The movement of vehicles, people or livestock passing through wetlands can lead to soil compaction.  So, for example, if a wetland is ditched, the equipment used to carry out the ditching also created compaction. If livestock walk through wetlands repeatedly, overt time compaction occurs.

assessmentregions051216In addition, the report divides the nation into four major areas to provide additional analysis on the health of wetlands by region.  They are the coastal plain, eastern mountains and upper midwest, interior plains and the west.  The regional analyses provide great insight into the differences in wetland health across the country.  The report concludes that wetlands in the West are in poorer condition than other parts of the country. Specifically in the West, 21% of the wetlands were in good condition while in the rest of the country 44%-54% of the wetlands were in good condition.   To understand how the results of the report reflect these differences, it is necessary to spend a little time learning how to interpret the figures in the National Wetland Condition Assessment.

nwcaresults051216For example, report figures indicate that there was a high incidence of nonnative plants in the West when compared to other parts of the country.

stressorsepa051216In addition ditching and hardening (soil compaction) occurred more frequently.

hydrologic051216This is the first time a report like this has been conducted and it provides state and tribal wetland managers, federal agencies and others with the opportunity to review, evaluate and understand these findings and the insights they provide into how land use practices impact wetlands around the country.

These findings are by large ecoregions and are only statistically significant when applied to these large areas.  There may be additonal information available to provide greater insight into the health of wetlands at the state or tribal level.  To assist states and tribes in providing information about the results of the  National Wetland Condition Assessment and how the report relates to individual states or tribes, the Association of State Wetland Managers has provided templates for fact sheets, briefing materials, press kits, etc.  that can be adapted as needed.

The report is based on data collected in 2011 by the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency, 45 states and tribes, 9 other federal agencies, and 28 other partners.  This is a snapshot of the nation’s wetlands at one point in time.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is carrying out updates to each of the National Aquatic Resource Surveys on a rotating basis. This year, 2016, teams will be out gathering data for an updated assessment of wetland condition which will provide new information and allow for us to understand trends in the health of the nation’s wetlands over time.

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View from the blog-o-sphereEPA “Aim High” Success Stories on Climate and Air Quality

By Administrator Gina McCarthy– EPA Connect – May 2, 2016
The public health case for climate action is compelling beyond words. The interagency Climate and Health Assessment released last month confirms that climate change endangers our health by affecting our food and water sources, the weather we experience, and the air we breathe. And we know that it will exacerbate certain health threats that already exist – while also creating new ones. As we celebrate the recent signing of the historic Paris Agreement by countries around the world, there’s no better time to reflect on EPA’s many ongoing efforts to fight climate change and protect the air we breathe. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Teaching Science on TV: A Search for Salamanders

By Adam Frederick – Maryland Sea Grant – On the Bay – April 29, 2016 – Video
Spring in the northeastern United States brings many pleasures for those of us who enjoy warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours. For naturalists, herpetologists, and nature lovers, this is a peak time of year for refreshing rainfall, the sights and fragrance of early blooms, and trips to springtime pools. Also called “vernal” pools, these temporary bodies of water are formed by snowmelt and rain in forests, along roadsides, and near coastal areas. Some people look at these pools and see only large puddles. Yet, the well informed know that nighttime visits to them yield a veritable hotspot of life. These pools—or wicked big puddles as our northern friends term them — provide opportunities to witness events that only happen for a few days to weeks, depending upon the weather. The emergence of spring peepers and wood frogs after the snowmelt are two of the most common, and very audible, harbingers of the annual “race to mate.” For full blog post and to view video, click here.

 

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