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

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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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Cape students help create vernal pools in Falmouth and Chatham

By Doug Fraser – Cape Cod Times– April 5, 2016
The backhoe operator rested the knuckle of the big shovel on the peaty turf at the edge of a sand and clay pit.
He leaned out the window and waited as Thomas Biebighauser helped Jaiden Wiles, a seventh grader in science teacher Melinda Forist’s class, extend a fiberglass “stick” upwards from the center of the pit until a sensor on the tip detected the beam of a laser from a surveying instrument in the woods, and started beeping. Biebighauser, a recently retired wildlife biologist and wetland ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, explained how the laser helps ensure they were digging the 40-foot diameter hole to the 24 inch depth required to attract the right woodland species to two vernal pools they were creating on land adjacent to the Monomoy Regional Middle School in Chatham. For full story, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst

I traveled to Rhode Island this week to spend the day with professionals from a variety of backgrounds talking about the intersection of amphibians, habitat and stormwater wetlands.  The meeting I attended was framed as a “Stormwater and Amphibians Roundtable” and drew scientists, regulators, land trust managers, teachers, nonprofits and even a zookeeper.  The movement to promote green salamander040816infrastructure across the nation to manage runoff and reduce nonpoint source pollution creates an opportunity to explore other benefits or challenges that arise from new construction and restoration activities to create more natural-looking stormwater management infrastructure. Here is what I learned from the discussion.

To set the stage for group discussion, the convener of the group, Greg Gerritt, arranged for a number of presentations from several experts.  Scientific evidence on a variety of research on amphibians, constructed wetlands and the impact of stormwater pollutants on rare amphibian species was presented by two Providence College professors — Dr. Jonathan Richardson an evolutionary biologist and Dr. Nancy Karraker from the Department of Natural Resources Science, who both conduct research that informed our discussion.  The following are interesting tidbits that I learned from these presentations.  (Note: If you are interested in getting citations for this research, contact me at and I can send you more information and/or connect you with the presenters directly):

sal040816There are limited studies connecting constructed wetlands and amphibians.  Those looking at these links have shown that leading predictors of amphibian diversity and persistence are hydroperiod, canopy coverage and the upland habitat surrounding the pond/wetland.  Other variables for consideration include depth, log area, and habitat fragmentation.

sal040816Creating habitat to equally welcome all amphibian species is not viable.  Various amphibian species will thrive in different (and contradictory) conditions.  This means that when planning amphibian habitat, decisions need to be made about which amphibian(s) the habitat is being designed for.

sal040816Because amphibians have two different phases in their life cycle — one where they live in the water and one on land — the land adjacent to the wetland/pond is critical to their lives as adults.  Restoration or planning activities should consider this larger habitat when planning to support amphibian communities.

sal040816Studies comparing constructed and natural wetlands have shown that constructed wetlands are more likely to have higher pH, greater presence of invasive species such as Phragmites and Duckweed, and higher levels of light infiltration, all of which are threats to many of the more rare amphibian species.

sal040816While connectivity among natural ponds has been shown to be critical for amphibians, little research has been conducted on the role connectivity plays in constructed pond/lake habitats.  Connectivity issues should still be considered in constructed habitats.

sal040816The most critical challenge of constructed wetlands/ponds that gather stormwater is the presence of toxicants.  While some species can evolve and develop tolerance, rarer species such as the spotted salamander and the wood frog have not been found to adapt to these conditions.

sal040816Studies have explored the impacts of road generated contaminants including road deicing salts (including MgCl, CaCl, and KCl), metals (copper, aluminum, zinc, lead and cadmium), nitrogen and phosphorus, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The most impactful of these pollutants for rare amphibian populations has been shown repeatedly in studies to be deicing salts.  Chlorides have been found up to 175 meters from their road source, often finding their way into wetlands that are not perceived as impacted. Impacts included degraded water quality in ponds used by amphibians for reproduction, reduced reproductive success, lower survival of eggs into hatchlings, the inability of juvenile amphibians to complete metamorphosis, and negative impacts on growth and development.

sal040816Some of the research conducted by Dr. Karraker found (what I would refer to as “disturbing”) common malformations in hatchlings exposed to elevated levels of chloride (high conductivity waters).  These included kinked tales, abdominal ademas, and what she called “circle salamanders” — hatchling salamanders misshapen into crescents and only able to swim in circles as the membrane of their eggs did not expand properly due to a lack of absorption of water due to the presence of chlorides. Additionally, egg clutch sizes were smaller when collected near roads where salt was applied.  Timing of amphibian species metamorphosis is in the early to mid-summer, when chloride concentrations are highest as water volume lowers.

sal040816Dr. Karraker also found that metal pollution impacted amphibian survival to multiple life cycle stages, including hatching, metamorphosis, growth and development.

sal040816Despite these findings, some researchers have posited that there may be some role for stormwater basins/wetlands to serve as habitat for amphibians where no habitat at all currently exists, especially in urban settings.

Framed by this background information, the roundtable participants then launched into discussion about the viability of creating amphibian habitat from constructed water bodies.  As you can imagine, the dialogue that followed about developing stormwater ponds/wetlands for amphibian habitat toxins040816was animated.  Here are some of my takeaway thoughts from our discussion.  Integrating stormwater management with development of habitat for rare species is a laudable aspiration.  A presentation at the roundtable by staff involved in Providence College’s stormwater master planning effort shows that the opportunities to create beautiful ponds and wetlands that treat stormwater are both real and cost-effective

However, there are potential unintended consequences from well-meaning efforts to find breeding grounds in developed areas for these creatures.  These may include:

  1. The inability to protect amphibians (and other organisms) from toxins and other pollutants such as excessive sediment and temperature;
  2. Challenges in regulatory control since currently constructed wetlands designed for the purpose of stormwater treatment are not regulated by state and federal environmental agencies — but wetland habitat within jurisdictional control is.  When a constructed wetland is designed as habitat in addition to stormwater treatment, regulatory waters are muddied; and
  3. Serving as population sinks for rare amphibian species — stormwater wetlands/ponds, if not placed and constructed taking amphibian populations into consideration, may serve as population sinks for rare species.  While intending to serve as habitat to support frogs and salamanders, instead they could be damaging or reducing population numbers.

woodfrog040816It is easy to see why it makes sense to explore whether or not there is a way to capitalize on these efforts.  With the growth and promotion of green infrastructure, finding ways to create multiple benefits from limited resources is important.  However, we must tread carefully.

Next steps include exploring the possibility of inventorying existing populations of amphibians in current stormwater ponds and wetlands; additional research on impacts; and working on identifying examples of demonstration sites or studies where stormwater management and amphibian habitat have been harmoniously created.

Rhode Island’s state regulators and research scientists raised deep concerns about moving too quickly to promote the joining up of these two areas of work that are shared by the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM). However everyone around the table, including ASWM, is open to exploring new ideas and finding circumstances where this kind of work would be beneficial.  One such possibility is establishing clean or pretreated stormwater wetlands as habitat.

As we explore these engaging and complex topics, we always love to hear your thoughts.  If you have any experience, studies, or ideas about this topic, please send them to me at .

Posted in constructed wetlands, stormwater, stormwater pollution, wetland regulation, wetland restoration, wetlands, wood frogs | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Turning Stormwater Runoff Into Everyone’s Business

By Julian Spector – CityLab – March 18, 2016
When it rains heavily in D.C., the surrounding ecosystem takes a beating. A full 43 percent of land in the city is impervious to rainwater. As it flows down the streets, it picks up motor oil, pet waste, fertilizers, garbage, and whatever else is lying there, flushing it into the sewer. For two-thirds of the city, that all empties into the nearest river or stream, with enough force to gauge the banks of the smaller tributaries. For full story, click here.

 

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View from the blog-o-sphereMud, Shuck, and Spat

By Andrew David Thaler – Hakai Magazine – March 15, 2016
“No one has killed anyone since 1958,” says Martin Gary, head of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, looking out at a roomful of fishermen, aquaculturists, conservationists, and oyster managers. It’s a hell of a way to open a management meeting, but when it comes to the Chesapeake Bay oyster fishery, it’s an apt way to summarize the industry’s tumultuous, and sometimes violent, history. For full article, click here.

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

In November, 2015, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment. Essentially it’s a directive for federal agencies to “adopt a clear and consistent approach for avoidance and minimization of, and compensatory mitigation for, the impacts of their activities and the projects they approve.” In response to the memorandum, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has drafted their proposed revisions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mitigation Policy which was released to the federal register on March 8, 2016 for a public comment period. They will be accepting comments from all interested parties until May 9, 2016.

Eager to learn about the FWS newly revised mitigation policy proposal, I downloaded the PDF and began reading through it this week. Aside from the details of the new policy, I found some very interesting facts about land use trends in the United States. Here is what I learned:

By 1982, approximately 71 million acres of the lower 48 States had already been developed. Between 1982 and 2012, the American people developed an additional 44 million acres for a total of 114 million acres developed. Of all historic land development in the United States, excluding Alaska, over 37 percent has occurred since 1982. Much of this newly developed land had been existing habitats, including 17 million acres converted from forests. A projection that the U.S. population will increase from 310 million to 439 million between 2010 and 2050 suggests that land conversion trends like these will continue.

As someone who is over 40 years old, I have been around long enough to witness a substantial amount of land conversion in various parts of the U.S. where I have lived. I was aware of current consumer and demographic trends and that the world’s population was rapidly increasing, leading toward a greater loss of habitat and a greater increase in developed, impervious surfaces. But when I read the statistic that “of all historic land development in the U.S., excluding Alaska, over 37 percent has occurred since 1982” – that took me surprise. So I decided to dig around a bit and get a better idea of what all these numbers in the millions and billions are really telling us.

landuse032416The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has been a leading source of land use estimates for over 50 years, so I started there. According to their 2007 report on Major Uses of Land in the United States (which is an overview of data from 14 Major Land Uses reports by region and State from 1945 to 2007), the United States has a total land area of nearly 2.3 billion acres. Their estimates of land use include forestland at 671.4 million acres, grassland pasture and range at 613.4 million acres, cropland at 408.1 million acres, special uses at 313.5 million acres, miscellaneous uses at 196.7 million acres and urban land uses at 60.6 million acres. Of note is that Alaska somewhat skews their land use estimates since, relative to the contiguous 48 States, it has minimal cropland and pasture but large swaths of forest-use, special-use and miscellaneous other land use.

surfacearea032416The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) is another widely used source of data on land use trends in the U.S. According to their 2012 Natural Resources Inventory Summary Report, published in 2015, “The contiguous 48 states, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands cover over 1.94 billion acres of land and water; about 71 percent of this area is non-Federal rural land – nearly 1.4 billion acres.” This is a bit different from the ERS estimate of total land area at nearly 2.3 billion acres – by about 360 million acres. And it appears that the ERS estimate only includes land surfaces, not water, so the difference could be more significant. Nonetheless, here is how NRCS breaks down surface area by land cover/use for 2012: Federal land at 405.3 million acres, cropland at 362.7 million acres, CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land at 24.2 million acres, pastureland at 121.1 million acres, rangeland at 405.8 million acres, forest land at 413.3 million acres, other rural land at 45.4 million acres, developed land at 114.1 million acres, and permanent open water at 52.1 million acres.

landusecomparison032416

Although ERS and NRCS use some different categories and methodologies, there are some noticeable similarities between each agency’s distributions of land uses in the U.S. What pops out at me immediately is that the percentage of developed/urban land compared to total land use is really very similar between each study. ERS estimated it at 3% in 2007. NRCS estimated it at 6% in 2012. Some of the 3% difference can probably be found in what each agency includes in their definition of urban and developed. In short, NRCS has a broader definition than ERS. In both cases, compared to the total amount of cropland, pastureland, and rangeland, the amount of developed urban land is minimal.

pacificecoast32416However, the rate of change is what I find alarming. The NRCS 2012 NRI study claims that “About 44 million acres of land were newly developed between 1982 and 2012, bringing the total to about 114 million acres; that represents a 59% increase. Thus, more than 37% of developed land in the 48 conterminous states, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was developed during the last 30 years.” This is generally in agreement with the FWS text in their proposed revision of their mitigation policy. And it appears that all of this land was developed from either agricultural land or natural habitat.

forestarea032416So what does this mean for wetlands? According to the NRCS study, over half of palustrine and estuarine wetlands are in forest lands (59%). The U.S. Forest Service reports that since 1630, about 256 million acres of forest land have been converted to other uses – mainly agricultural. In 2012, forest land comprised only 33% of the total land area of the U.S. – down from 46% in 1630. That’s a loss of about 257 million acres of forest land since the 17th century (and a substantial increase in fragmentation). A study by Homer et al of the 2011 National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD) states that forests have experienced the highest net losses between 2001 and 2011. The 2011 NLCD documents a continued expansion of urban land use/impervious surfaces. USDA statistics also show that available cropland has been decreasing due to development pressures.

So for Peat’s Sake, all of these trends in land use beg the question – with the world population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, how can we continue to absorb exponential increases in population growth with the increased demand for more cropland to feed an ever increasing number of people who need an increasing amount of developed land on which to live? And of primary importance – how do we accomplish that without severely negatively impacting the ecosystems that underlie our consumption and growth? I wish I could say I have the magic silver bullet, but I don’t. All I know is its going to require a truly significant paradigm shift.

References and Resources

Posted in agriculture, conservation, environment, land use, Land use planning, natural resources, resource management, sustainability, wetlands & agriculture, wetlands protection | Leave a comment

View from the blog-o-sphereTackling Harmful Algal Blooms

By W. Russell Callender, Joel Beauvais, and Beth Kerttula – The White House – March 15, 2016
We all know that plants and algae are important—not only on land, but also in the water. They provide the oxygen we breathe, dispose of the carbon that we put into the air and are the base of our food web. But there can be too much of a good thing. Algal “blooms” occur when colonies of microscopic algae—simple, plant-like organisms that live in the sea and freshwater—grow out of control. Algal blooms can occur naturally, but in most cases they result from nutrient pollution. Various types of algae produce toxins and can also clog fish gills, block light from bottom-dwelling plants and become a hazard to people and wildlife. We refer to these types of events as harmful algal blooms (HABs).  For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts USDA Announces $260 Million Available for Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Contact: Amelia Hines Dortch – USDA NRCS – March 14, 2016
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced the availability of up to $260 million for partner proposals to improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. The funding is being made available through NRCS’ innovative Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and applicants must be able to match the federal award with private or local funds. For full news release, click here.

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By Jeanne Christie

The Zika Virus has been receiving a great deal of attention.  It should.  The documented cases of birth defects and neurological disorders potentially linked to the virus continues to grow.  As reported in a recent Washington Post article: ‘The more we learn, the worse things seem to get’.  The potential for a mosquito bite to lead to significant birth defects is a very serious public health issue, and many people around the world are hard at work trying to identify solutions.  These range from 1) further research to better document whether the Zika virus spread by mosquitos is in fact the source of the health issues, to 2) developing a vaccine, to 3) cleaning up areas that Aedes species of mosquito breed to 4) spraying pesticides to 5) introducing a genetically modified mosquito into the wild to reduce the mosquito population.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has an excellent web page with information about the Zika virus that is updated regularly.  This includes

  • A map of where the Zika virus disease (both travel associated and locally acquired cases are reported.  Note: As of March 9, 2016 there were 193 travel associated cases and 0 locally acquired vector born cases in the States. There are 173 locally acquired cases in U.S. territories -  Puerto Rico 159, American Samoa 13, US Virgin Islands 1.)  It is anticipated that the Zika virus may eventually spread into the states of Hawaii, Texas and Florida and possibly further into the southeastern US over time.
  • A recommended response for states.
  • How the virus is transmitted.
  • Surveillance and Control of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus (mosquitos that transmit the virus) in the United States .

1

The Zika virus is not new. It was first identified in Uganda in the Zika forest in 1947 in monkeys and the first human case was reported in 1952.  It is generally spread to humans by Aedes species of mosquitoes (A. aegypti and A. albopictus). These mosquitoes typically lay eggs in and near standing water in things like buckets, bowls, animal dishes, flower pots and vases. They are found in tropical areas and in the southern U.S.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections.  The virus was not linked to microcephaly until late in 2015.

zikaworldwide

The possibility that the Zika virus causes microcephaly – unusually small heads and often damaged brains – emerged only in October, when doctors in northern Brazil noticed a surge in babies with the condition.   There are suspicions that an outbreak in French Polynesia two years ago did follow a similar pattern. However, it has not been proven that Zika does cause microcephaly.  Circumstantial evidence suggests it does. But ultimately investigators may find the main cause is something else. One other hypothesis has been put forward that the problem is caused by a larvicide  – one that is added to drinking water tanks – is the cause of the birth defects.   (Please note that this larvicide is not sold by Monsanto despite some headlines).

So why now and why Brazil?  For the first time the Zika virus is occurring in a place where there is a large human population and a large population of the mosquito species that carry the disease.  The large mosquito population is the result of a couple factors, deforestation which leads to the creation of greatly improved habitat for Aedes species of mosquitoes and a reduction in efforts to control mosquito populations in recent decades in Brazil.

Reducing mosquito populations that spread the disease will not be easy.  Insects can become resistant to pesticides and Aedes species of mosquitoes have demonstrated increased resistance to some of the pesticides most commonly used to control them.  Plus there are a number of reports documenting the health risks that occur from exposure to pesticides for both humans and wildlife.  Another option currently being explored is the introduction of a genetically modified mosquito that (when introduced into the wild) would cause larvae to die.

In Brazil there is an education campaign underway to encourage people to eliminate from their yards containers that hold the still, shallow water that Aedes mosquitos breed in.  A strategy that is not being pursued would be to make large scale land management changes to establish and restore habit that is unfriendly to the Aedes mosquitoes and friendly to their predators.  A number of folks working in wetlands restoration are learning that a healthy wetland with lots of mosquito predators has few mosquitoes.  However, this broader approach is far removed from the current areas of public discussion on controlling the spread of the Zika virus.

In the coming months it will be important to carefully evaluate options.  Sound science is needed to ensure the cause and effect of the spread of the problem has been identified and that the benefits and consequences of different approaches are fully evaluated and vetted with the public. Accurate, timely information will also be essential.  The links above to the Center for Disease Control is a good place to start.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts We Can Save Individual Species – But Can We Save Entire Ecosystems?

By Daniel Ackerman – Ensia – February 23 2016
The 1973 Endangered Species Act has rescued numerous individual species from extinction in the United States — think Rocky Mountain wolves or Florida crocodiles, for instance. But as the climate changes and humans continue to modify the landscape in a frenzy of plows, pastures and pavement, single species are not the only things in need of protection from extinction. Entire ecosystems — biological communities created through millions of years of evolutionary interactions between organisms — are at risk as well. Saving single species alone will not restore the intricate tapestry of relationships that shape ecosystems. To protect the habitat that supports those species and preserve services we humans rely on, from cleansing water for our cities and homes to buffering impacts of climate change, we need to save not just species, but also ecosystems, from extinction. For full story, click here.

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