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

wppThe Evolutionary Trick that Lets Bowhead Whales Grow So Big

By Jason G. Goldman – Hakai Magazine – July 25, 2016
A bowhead whale is made for eating. The creature’s eponymous, scoop-shaped head takes up an entire third of its body. Lining its upper jaw are 640 baleen plates: thin, flexible pieces of keratin with a bristly fringe it uses to sieve food from the sea. These plates, which can grow to nearly three meters long, are huge even for a leviathan. But to grow such massive bodies, bowhead whales must circumvent an evolutionary catch-22. Like other baleen whales, bowheads feed by filtering seawater through their baleen plates, trapping about two tonnes of zooplankton each day. But when they’re young, bowhead whale baleen is too small to filter more than a fraction of the food the animals require. To grow, the whales need massive amounts of food, but to filter enough zooplankton, they need to be large. For full article, click here.

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bos2New report finds ample oyster growth on restored Eastern Shore reefs

By Timothy B. Wheeler – Bay Journal – July 27, 2016
With the Hogan administration still on the fence about resuming federally funded oyster reef restoration in Maryland’s Tred Avon River, a new report says large-scale restoration work completed on a nearby Eastern Shore waterway is doing well so far. The report, released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, concludes that a dozen restored oyster reefs checked last fall in Harris Creek show “healthy restoration,” despite indications some of its oysters have been poached. For full article, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Let me take a moment to share with you a story about what I now call “The Little Webinar that Could…”

Over the last year, ASWM’s national Wetland Training Workgroup has been working to conduct needs assessment, determine training options, identify and promote existing training opportunities, evaluate different training models and develop plans for pilot online training.  Our goal is to better understand training needs and options and capitalize on this knowledge to improve access to what wetland professionals need most.

We have identified many challenges for wetland professionals, and state wetland program staff in particular, trying to access high quality, low-cost, accessible training.  We gathered this information through ASWM’s restoration projects, stream study, and status and trends study on state wetland programs, as well as many other sources over the last five years.  Wetland training budgets and travel approvals for training have been cut across the country.  Only a few states have experienced growth in wetland staffing numbers, with most coping with growing responsibilities and fewer staff to plan and implement these activities.  We have found that new staff members need training when they are hired which can occure any time during the year.  While high quality training may exist in many locations, the cost of these trainings is often prohibitive for state wetland program budgets.  And while research shows there are essential elements of training on wetland topics that must be taught in the field, there are other elements that can be taught remotely. Thus, ASWM is exploring the feasibility of providing remote training.

soil1072816For the last year, we have been working with ASWM’s national wetland training project workgroup (comprised of wetland program and other stakeholders).  One of the lead training needs from all the information gathered was found to be hydric soils.  Our data supported this conclusion, as did anecdotal feedback from numerous other sources.  Once the topic was identified, ASWM was able to connect with what I refer to as a “Dream Team” of soil scientist educators — Lenore Vasilas, National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Bruce Vasilas, University of Delaware; Lee Daniels, Virginia Tech; John Gailbreth, Virginia Tech; Annie Rossi, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Rich Webber, NRCS.  We were honored when they agreed to work with us to design a series of webinars that would later be adapted into online training modules.

And here’s where it all gets wild and worthy of tale-telling.  On the Friday before the Fourth of July Weekend, ASWM posted its first promotion of its first soils training webinar.  We, the planning group and the soils training presenters all had deep concerns about the timing of the course, because of summer field seasons, staff vacations etc.  HOWEVER, when our staff returned to the office on the Tuesday, following the holiday, we found that not only did we have a few participants signed up — we had 800 registrants!!

soils1nrcs72816When we think about the importance of conducting needs assessment, we think about trying to target resources wisely.  We try to identify critical gaps that need to be filled.  On that Tuesday  we realized that we had not only identified a gap – we had located a canyon!  Also,  we were approaching our GoToWebinar account capacity for day-of-event participation (1,000 real-time simultaneous participants). Over the following days, registrations kept rising.  By the day of the webinar, we had 1,154 registrants — the largest enrollment in a single training event (online or on the ground) in ASWM history.

The week prior to the webinar, ASWM learned and innovated over and over again — figuring out strategies for webinar wait lists, crafting emails about attendance, preparing multiple technical redundancies for the webinar itself to prepare for possible technical issues associated with nearing capacity with software and bandwidth issues.  In addition for the first time we were experimenting with developing the capacity to test webinar participants on knowledge acquired during the webinar. We had to create ways to share the quiz with a thousand people and document their participation in a timely manner.

The day came and thankfully despite one software system glitch, the webinar went according to plan with the superb content contributed by our Dream Team presenters and great questions from our participants.  From the extensive feedback we have received, the speakers did an amazing job of boiling down complex concepts into digestible elements, sharing high quality pictures, and offering participants a training many had been waiting years (or in one case a whole career) to receive.

A total of 697 “participants” took part in the webinar the day of the event.  In addition, there were many sites where 10-30 people had gathered in a room to view the webinar together (under one participant login).  We estimate that approximately 800 people received the training during the live webinar.  Of these, 419 took the associated quiz and 348 requested documentation of their participation (largely for use in obtaining professional CEUs).  We were able to pilot the quiz, both technically and in terms of question formulation and identify areas for improvement.  We will be utilizing new quiz development software for the second webinar and are working with a service provider to help us automate the creation and distribution of certificates of participation.


aswmquiz072816We recorded the webinar and, in accordance with our training development plan, will next be post-processing the recordings from each speaker into individual training modules with an associated quiz and ability for users to access anytime training with the option to obtain documentation of completion for use obtaining CEUs, a service we have only been able to provide for participation in live webinar presentations to date.  These modules will be posted on our website and piloted as part of our training initiative.  We have received a great number of emails and phone calls asking if people can view the webinar at a later date, as they were unavailable in July.  We hope that the online modules will meet an additional need – allowing people to access training at their time and location of need year-round.  The first three 30-minute modules are planned for release in the coming months.  Keep your eye out for their rollout here.

I want to share three big takeaways from this story of The Little Webinar that Could

idea0728161) Taking the time to conduct needs assessment and planning around a real need has been invaluable in helping ASWM put a finger on the pulse of training needs; needs assessment has always guide ASWM’s planning.

2) Working with a group of incredible experts who have experience teaching wetland professionals and are willing and eager to share their knowledge and training skills with the world through this pilot project has truly been a dream come true – they helped us build it and they sure did come.

3) We OURSELVES learned ten times as much our training participants.  Like participants we gained knowledge about hydric soils from watching the webinar. In addition, we have adapted, innovated and tested new online training tools and approaches in response to demand.

It is exciting to be able to provide a training service that state wetland staff and other wetland professionals are seeking.  We are learning with each new training webinar and will continue to as we produce each new webinar and online training module along with the systems required to support them.  We hope you will continue to join us for the ride. As always, we welcome your ideas and suggestions.

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bos2PA Environmental Council’s Interactive Water Resource Mapping System Now Online

PA Environment Digest Blog – July 19, 2016
The PA Environmental Council Tuesday unveiled a new website–– ( that allows the public to identify water quality impaired streams, illegal dumpsites, areas covered by stormwater management plans and much more. For full blog post, click here.

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wppOur Dangerous Conservation Crisis

By Dan Ashe – Field & Stream – July 20, 2016
Editor’s note: At the TRCP’s presidential campaign forum in Colorado last month, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe gave a speech that stunned those in attendance. A version of the speech that Ashe had originally delivered at this year’s North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Management Conference, it wasn’t just another recounting of the uncertain state of fish and wildlife these days. Instead, it was a literal, and moving, demand to take action. Ashe pointed out that unless hunters and fishermen conscientiously work to get new people involved in our pursuits, fish and wildlife will soon become irrelevant to America. For full blog post, click here.

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final one againBy Melissa Mullineaux, Summer Intern, ASWM

I began my summer internship with the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) just a few weeks ago and I am amazed with all of the interesting information about wetlands I have learned about already. Of course there are the very important basics about wetland functions and their immense ability to filter and improve water quality, retain flood water, and provide living habitats for many species of animals, among other things. Because of this, it seems obvious healthywaters1to me that wetlands should be valued and safeguarded due to the vast amounts of benefits they offer societies around the world. Fortunately, there are laws and policies in place in the United States that enable the protection and restoration of these vital resources and there are also many wonderful citizens who come together to work toward these goals (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2002).

Even with all of the science and knowledge proving their significance, however, I am learning that many still view wetlands as agricultural or waste areas or unimportant locations that can and should be altered in order to use the land for development purposes. In fact, most of the history of our nation’s wetlands proves quite shocking to me as to how negatively wetlands have been viewed within human society and I would like to share the information I have learned with you in the case that you, too, do not know the history of the relationship this Nation has had with its great wetlands.

swamp1Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century, citizens and policy makers were focused on draining and filling wetlands or “swamps.” Wetlands were perceived to serve no purpose. They were seen as “evil,” “dismal,” and “depressing,” and were believed to be full of malaria and disease (Horton, 1999; Cech, 2010). In these early times, people found that once most of the water was drained from the “swamp” areas, the land became much more fertile for agricultural growth. Due to these findings, they developed innovative ways to effectively drain these wetland areas to “reclaim” the land for more economical purposes and they set out actively to eradicate as many wetlands as they could in the lower 48 states. The first thing they did was establish “Swamp Land Acts” that legally distributed the ownership of the “swamp lands” to the states where they were located (prior to this the federal government had ownership of these lands). States and private owners were granted full permission and control to drain and fill them as they saw fit in order to convert them into usable land (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1907, p. 8, 9; Connolly, Johnson & Williams, 2005, p. 3).

soil1Once in the hands of private land owners and the states, people got very creative in coming up with successful ways to drain wetlands in order to increase their agricultural farm yields. I watched a webinar that ASWM has posted to their website by a guest speaker, Tom Biebighauser, called A History of Wetland Drainage: How They Pulled the Plug and I learned about great historical innovations used to drain and fill wetlands. For example, early farmers found ways to plough the soil into ridges in order to plant on higher ground so that they would not drown their crops. This grew into techniques where they would either dig manually or plough the ground into deep, far reaching ditches using tools such as a mule scoop, which is a very large rounded scoop shovel.

The ditches would extend the entire length of the “great dismal land” (i.e. wetland) and would empty into nearby streams or rivers. In Virginia these ditches were dug by companies called “Adventurers for Draining the Great Dismal Swamp” and “The Dismal Swamp Land Company” that were spear headed by our great founding father, President George Washington, himself! Many of the ditches dug by Washington’s companies remain intact to this day. They now resemble natural streams, though they do not function as natural streams would, partly because they lack the usual ripples, pools and other natural features found in real streams.

clay2Another interesting and pivotal invention in the history of the destruction of wetlands was by a Scottish farmer named John Johnson who devised groundbreaking (no pun intended) wetland drainage techniques by placing clay pipes under the ground. By doing this, he quickly and successfully drew vast amounts of water away from the land that he used for agricultural purposes and almost immediately yielded greater crops. Many other farmers quickly caught on to this technique and it became very popular (ASWM, 2015).

To accommodate all of the excess water it was common practice to alter natural streams. They would do this by straightening and channelling the streams so that they could hold the excess water that was being drained dredging2into them. Typically, these activities were done by using tools such as dredges and explosives (ASWM, 2015). A document from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1907) discusses recommendations to the states regarding managing “swamp and overflowed lands in the united states.” The document points out “to secure an adequate outlet for draining, it is frequently necessary to improve natural streams, by widening, straightening, and deepening, and to construct new channels where none exist, or to build levees or embankments on private property (p. 11).” These activities were encouraged by the Federal Government and were presented as the best ways for states to handle these situations.

It is startling to me that an estimated 11% of the lower 48 were wetlands prior to the arrival of European pioneers and now that number is reduced to an estimated 5%, with many of the remaining wetlands in poor health (Horton, 1999; Cech, 2010). That means that over 50% of our Nation’s wetlands and their priceless benefits are now gone. I knew that wetlands were not always honored but I had no idea the extent to which our nation had supported actions that removed them from the landscape.

wetlandloss3On a positive note, however, even though early history in the United States acted counterproductively toward the health and protection of wetlands, great strides have also been made toward their safeguarding. As mentioned above, with the growing knowledge of the significance of these vital resources, new policies and laws have been put in place to restore wetlands and to protect and care for the ones we have left. I am excited to further my education regarding the history of legislation in this country that has aided in the protection of wetlands and I invite you to stay tuned for some more blogs from Counting Cattails so that you may follow me in my journey!


Association of State Wetland Managers. (2015, October 2). A history of wetland drainage: how they pulled the plug [Webinar]. In Improving Wetland Restoration Success Project Series.

Cech, T. (2010). Wetlands and wildlife. In Principles of Water Resources: History, Development, Management, and Policy.

Connolly, K., Johnson, S., & Williams. (2005). Wetlands law and policy: Understanding section 404. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.

Horton, T. (1999, March 12). U.S. views on wetlands vary through the years. The Baltimore Sun.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (1907). Swamp and overflowed lands in the United States: Ownership and reclamation (Office of Experiment Stations—Circular 76). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2002, March). Functions and values of wetlands. (EPA 843-F-01-002-c).

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wppThe Time to Invest in America’s Water Infrastructure is Now

By Jim Gebhardt, CFA – EPA Blog – Our Planet, Our Home – July 12, 2016
Communities across the country are facing the immediate challenges of aging and inadequate drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Most of our country’s underground water infrastructure was built 50 or more years ago, and in some older cities, water mains are a century old. The implications of deteriorating infrastructure can be felt nationwide— each year our country experiences about 240,000 water main breaks, $2.6 billion is lost as our water mains leak trillions of gallons of treated drinking water, and billions of gallons of raw sewage are discharged into local surface waters from aging sewer overflows. For full blog post, click here.

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bos2The Oil Spill Cleanup Illusion

By Andrew Nikiforuk – Hakai Magazine – July 12, 2016
When the Deepwater Horizon well operated by BP (formerly British Petroleum) exploded and contaminated the Gulf of Mexico with at least 650 million liters of crude oil in 2010, blue-smocked animal rescuers quickly appeared on television screens. Looking like scrub nurses, the responders treated oil-coated birds with charcoal solutions, antibiotics, and dish soap. They also forced the birds to swallow Pepto-Bismol, which helps absorb hydrocarbons. The familiar, if not outlandish, images suggested that something was being cleaned up. For full article, click here.

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cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

In early July 2016, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources released a GIS map of public waters and public ditches requiring permanent vegetative buffers or alternative water quality practices. The buffer map shows landowners and local governments where protective vegetative buffers of 16.5 feet or an average of 50 feet are required, as approved by the Minnesota Legislature in 2015 and revised in 2016. The map can be viewed here.

Specifically, the maps depict:

  • Public ditches requiring 16.5 foot buffers (or alternative practice)
  • Public waters requiring 50 foot buffers (or alternative practice)
  • A few sites labeled as “needs field review,” which will be resolved in a future map update

mnbuffermapThe statewide map was completed following an extensive public input process to ensure the accuracy of the maps by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The public review process resulted in thousands of comments and almost 1500 corrections. There will be an ongoing process for additional corrections. The map includes 60,000 miles of public ditches and waters subject to the buffer protection requirements. The completion of the buffer map by the state starts the implementation phase which will be carried out by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs), and other local governments, who will work with landowners on any questions about buffers or alternative water quality practices.

Minnesota’s interest in protecting the areas along streams—often called riparian areas– with buffers is not unique. Other states have in place or are pursuing efforts to support protection of riparian zones. While the Association of State Wetland Managers has not explored the full extent of these activities, the importance of protection of streamside (riparian) areas was brought up by a number of states during disucssions that occurred in development to the “Status and Trends Report on State Wetland Programs in the United States” and individual state summaries as well as an earlier “Report on State Definitions, Jurisdiction and Mitigation Requirements in State Programs for Ephemeral, Intermittent and Perennial Streams in the United States.”

In support of these efforts, the Association of State Wetland Managers published two new reports this spring to assist states, local government and other parties in understanding what riparian areas are, why they are important and actions that can be taken to protect them by federal, state, local, and tribal government including a model ordinance.

restoring030916The first publication: “Protecting and Restoring Riparian Areas” gives an overview of riparian areas and covers the reasons for protecting riparian areas from the perspectives of 1) water quality/habitat protection, 2) flood hazard risk reduction and 3) private landowner liability concerns. Often individual agency staff or others interested in protecting riparian areas may be considering only one of these aspects. The likelihood of developing sensible programs that protect riparian areas as well as public trust and private landowner interests is greater if all these reasons for protecting riparian areas are considered as part of program development. The report identifies actions that can be taken by federal, state and local government to protect riparian areas. The second publication “Model ‘Riparian’ Protection Ordinance” provides the formal language that could be used in an modelriparian030916ordinance. The model ordinance in this publication is based on language already in use in existing local riparian, floodplain and wetland ordinances. This ‘model’ language is available as a resource to aid local government and other groups interested in the adoption of a local program to protect riparian areas. However, before a local government adopts any model ordinance language including the one provided here, it must be revised and integrated to fit with other relevant laws and ordinances. It should also be fully vetted with local citizens to ensure everyone understands the purpose and provisions for carrying out the ordinance.

The areas adjacent to rivers and streams throughout the United States are very important for a long list of reasons including: flood attenuation and conveyance, erosion reduction, groundwater protection, pollution prevention/treatment, wildlife habitat protection, and recreation opportunities. They are also often areas of historical and archaeological importance. Riparian areas are also subject to intense development pressure and alteration in both urban and rural areas.

In the coming years it is anticipated that there will be greater attention to the land management decisions made in riparian areas and as an increasing number of states are beginning to look more closely at the reasons that additional protection of these areas is merited. The Association of State Wetland Managers will continue to share information about the importance of these and other aquatic resources as well as resources and tools available, including a webinar on state buffer programs later in the fall of 2016.

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bos2Citizens’ Advisory Committee works to elevate voices of watershed residents

Chesapeake Bay News – July 5, 2016
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) has a unique role in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Program established the CAC in 1984 as a means for citizens to express their recommendations and concerns on the cleanup effort to our political leaders. The members—non-paid volunteers appointed by the Governors of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania; the Mayor of the District of Columbia; and the Board of the Directors of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay—reflect a sample of diverse stakeholders and bring their experiences and insights to the Chesapeake Executive Council. For full blog post, click here.

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