View from the blog-o-sphereIn a Changing Climate, We Can’t Do Conservation as Usual

By Valerie Hickey and Habiba Gitay – The World Bank – October 16, 2014
At the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity happening right now in Korea, there has been a lot of talk about adaptation. Most importantly, how can nature help countries and communities adapt to climate change?  Ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA), or using nature’s own defense characteristics to reduce the vulnerability of people and capital, is an essential component of climate-resilient development. EBA isn’t about how we can protect nature. It’s about how nature – through the ecosystem services that constitute EBA, be it flood protection, water provision during droughts, or wave energy attenuation, among other things – can protect people and their capital.  For full blog post, click here.

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Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

I spent the first part of this week in Denver at a meeting of the National Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Workgroup.  And, even though I know that wetlanders are an innovative bunch, I was a bit surprised when a number of states talked about their potential use of drones to collect data. Some of the meeting participants responded with glee to this idea while others groaned – depending I assume on one’s preference for high tech or muddy boots.

So today I took a quick wander through the web to get a little more up to speed, and found that I am even more out of touch than I thought.  peg103114-1Widespread use of drones for conservation purposes is in place from here to Abu Dhabi.   I found out that former military drones turned over to the U.S. Geological Survey were used in 2010 to monitor sandhill cranes using a heat sensor – count the light spots in this image – a method found to be as accurate as counts from manned flights.  This was the first non-military use of the drones, but the technology was quickly applied in many other biological surveys as described in the New York Times article listed at the end of the post.


And here’s a piece of equipment that looks right out of Star Wars, being used in Abu Dahbi to track flamingo populations in a wetland preserve, in a cost effective manner that importantly minimizes human disturbance.

In Michigan, wetland biodiversity studies are being carried out at Central Michigan University by Dr. Benjamin Heurmann using an unmanned helicopter drone.  Click here for an article about this work, including a recording of a National Public Radio (NPR) report on the project.

peg1031014-3As noted by Dr. Heurmann, FAA has put restrictions in place that limit the use of drones for research without FAA permission.  Final regulations are still under development, but interim regulations have proven problematic for some research projects as noted in recent articles from the New York Times and the Boston Globe.  This is an issue to be aware of before placing your order with Amazon.  It should also be noted that use of drones for environmental research appears to be almost completely limited at this point to public lands – flying drones over private property is not something that anyone is comfortable doing at this point.

However, the use of drones is likely to gain acceptance as we become familiar with the technology, and as privacy rules are sorted out.  Agricultural interests have already moved beyond the obvious benefits of present-time low altitude photography, with the addition of other sensors to gather data on plants and soils.  Here is a link to another NPR interview with a very enthusiastic Professor Bruno Basso of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station.  Dr. Basso describes the use of drones to evaluate soil and plant moisture in fields of growing crops to guide irrigation decisions (with clear implications for water conservation).  Levels of nitrogen deficiency in plants detected from a drone can also provide a precise guide for fertilizer application, saving farmers money and saving water resources from excessive and needless nitrogen runoff.  The benefits to the landowners are such that some farmers are obtaining their own equipment.  Dr. Basso also discusses costs, benefits, and regulatory issues.

It will be interesting to see how this technology develops over the next few years. The appeal of a drone will likely be irresistible in remote areas, in wetlands where walking on the surface is difficult, or in sensitive and easily disturbed habitats.  But keep your rubber boots handy – nothing substitutes for a hands-on look for many purposes.  And those drones aren’t digging soil pits… yet.

For more reading and listening:

  • Flying unmanned helicopters for science in Michigan: click here for a story and link to NPR recording
  • Regulation of research drones:  click here and  here
  • Flamingo monitoring in a wetland reserve in Abu Dhabi:  click here
  • A Drones Eye View of Nature – New York Times:  click here
  • Expert: Drone technology – a game changer in agriculture:  click here for a link to the NPR recording


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View from the blog-o-spherePrepare for climate change — or else, says FEMA 

By Chuck Hegberg – GreenBiz Blog – October 9, 2014
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helps communities recover from natural disasters, is making a big policy change. It’s been in the works for a couple of years, but in July, President Obama announced that to qualify for preparedness funds, states soon will be required to include details on how they are preparing for climate change impacts. It will put states led by climate deniers in an interesting position. For full blog post, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsStrengthening and protecting the Clean Water Act

By Jimmy Hague and Jan Goldman-Cater – Providence Journal – October 24, 2014
The Clean Water Act, which turned 42 this month, is the most successful tool our country has to protect our water. In the past four decades, it has been responsible for reducing pollution, making our drinking water safer. It has increased hunting and fishing opportunities, and provided an economic boost to a myriad of industries, including outdoor recreation, beer brewing and many more. For full opinion, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch


I was watching the movie Jurassic Park with my family this past weekend.  I have always been quite taken with Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcom and especially his campy and somewhat misguided delivery of the concept of Chaos Theory.  I was reminded of Dr. Malcom’s wry remarks as Marla Stelk (my fellow policy analyst at ASWM and the one who brings you News of Interest and Wetland Breaking News each week) and I discussed some recent news items.  We scan a range of news issues, including conservation, natural resource management, biodiversity research, wildlife management, green infrastructure, climate change, energy and land use planning, among many, many more each week.  What strikes me frequently during this review is how many pieces of the ecosystem puzzle are in motion in ways they’ve never been in motion together before —so many innovations and conflicting developments, all happening simultaneously, all without knowledge or consideration of the other parts of the equation.


Thinking back to recent posts we have read or discussions in which we have taken part, I am reminded of the Dr. Malcom character’s delightfully dry line, “See?  I’m right again.  Nobody could have predicted that…”

  • A state that bans fracking lets it slide that fracking waste is being put on their roads for snow and ice melt despite the investment of millions of dollars battling stormwater pollution to streams, wetlands and coastal waters;
  • An environmental outreach group concerned about controlling invasive species recommends the application of Roundup to eradicate the unwanted plants in a highly sensitive ecosystem;
  • A company capitalizes on a new way to sidestep GMO restrictions by nurturing mutant genes in crops because that approach is not yet regulated;
  • While Ohio’s rivers aren’t burning, the State’s waters are green with record-breaking algal blooms which have caused widespread drinking water disruptions;  and
  • Many, many more what I would refer to as “shake your head” news developments.

    b77“Crazy” things have always happened.  Innovations have been escalating in scope and impact for centuries.  Human influences on the environment have been survivable for thousands of years.  However, as a systems thinker, I find it increasingly disturbing to recognize how many parts are indeed in motion in ways they never have been.  Migratory flyways are changing.  Species are changing their ranges.  Lifecycles are changing and inter-species interactions upon which some species rely are being disrupted.  New competition is being introduced.  Resiliency is being reduced.  Invasive species are capitalizing.  Habitat is being lost at staggering rates.  A World Wildlife Fund report indicates that more than half of all wildlife on the planet has disappeared in just the last 50 years.  We are at a hugely complex moment for the environment – where human influences, choices and behaviors are colliding with natural shifts in ways that make modeling and prediction increasingly challenging.

    While all these changes seem perhaps counterproductive, they are far from irrational.  Deciding to capitalize on natural genetic mutations rather than genetic modification to increase output is rational behavior if it opens a market and increases food supply, as is trying to find a way to create beneficial uses from a fracking byproduct.  In its most basic economic form, rational behavior does not require decision-makers to take into consideration ethical, environmental, social and other outcomes unless these things limit economic benefits to the immediate decision-maker.  And the result of all this rational decision-making is now an odd set of highly complex circumstances and impacts interacting with one another in highly unpredictable ways.

    b55This is the world in which we are working to protect ecosystems and wetlands.  However, instead of being surprised by these decisions and changes, we need to start thinking about alternatives to the standard ways we have been addressing increased precipitation (e.g. pipes, canals and levees), drought, hurricanes, eroding beaches, invasive species, fire hazards, flooding and other challenges. Instead of waiting for people to make decisions that will reverse climate change or end the blame game, we need to acknowledge that whatever the cause or the ways to stop it, we need to deal with climate volatility right now.  And wetlands need to be part of that discussion and planning process.  In many of these circumstances, one way to increase resiliency is to integrate wetlands.

    Wetlands are gems at creating resiliency – slowing water runoff; holding water and creating oases of green during droughts, providing safe havens of wildlife when habitat is being destroyed, reducing erosion, buffering wind and tidal surge along coastlines, and reducing fire risk by retaining soil moisture.  In the movie Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcom infamously argues, “Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  Although I think we should all be working to remove perverse incentives that encourage people to contribute to climate change, mess with genetic code, and build homes in hazard zones, b66I personally don’t think we can wait for this revelation.  Regardless of how much change is happening or will continue to happen, wetlands can be a tool to address negative climate impacts… whether changes to the climate are clearly understood or not.   Since wetlands are one of nature’s great buffers, part of our work now needs to focus on promoting wetlands as an essential part of the climate resiliency toolbox.


    Posted in climate change, conservation, ecosystem, fracking, green infrastructure, sea level rise, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Wetlander's Pick of the PostsConfirmed: California Aquifers Contaminated With Billions Of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater 

    Desmog Blog – October 7, 2014
    After California state regulators shut down 11 fracking wastewater injection wells last July over concerns that the wastewater might have contaminated aquifers used for drinking water and farm irrigation, the EPA ordered a report within 60 days. It was revealed yesterday that the California State Water Resources Board has sent a letter to the EPA confirming that at least nine of those sites were in fact dumping wastewater contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants into aquifers protected by state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. For full blog post, click here.

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    View from the blog-o-sphereRebuilding “Who-ville” – Our Lost and Forgotten Underworld Communities 

    By Chuck Hegberg – Center for Watershed Protection – Runoff Ramblings Blog – September 18, 2014
    The old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention” speaks volumes to the efforts being invested to develop the next generation of smart Best Management Practices (BMPs) (1) in our efforts to restore the Bay and meet the EPA’s TMDL requirements. Part of this innovation is the development and pilot testing of a variety of enhanced media and soil amendments. For full blog post, click here.

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    By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

    I was never a fan of history growing up. Instead of getting to go to kid-centric places like Disneyland or SeaWorld, my parents wetlandblogmarla101614-1insisted on taking us on long family vacations to visit historical sites: graveyards, battlefields, museums, cathedrals, monuments, etc. And my folks would stop to read EVERY placard along the way at any and every historical site. As an adult I am definitely grateful for my upbringing – as a child, however, I was convinced that it was an immense waste of time. I could not even begin to understand what any of it had to do with me or my current, modern life.

    I don’t think I am alone, however. In fact, I believe that there are many adults who still firmly believe this – that history is irrelevant to modern life. Progress has made history somewhat trite after all, right? Not at all – especially if you’re considering taking up a wetland restoration project.

    wetlandblogmarla101614-2Tom Biebighauser, founder of the Wetland Restoration and Training Center, has managed to unearth (pun intended – you’ll get it in a minute) what in my mind, is one of the most significant hidden barriers to wetland restoration success: buried historic drainage structures. And they are everywhere. In fact, according to Tom’s research, the B.F. Whartenby Clay Tile Factory in Waterloo, NY made only 3,000 clay drainage tiles in 1838. By 1849, they were producing 840,000 clay tiles per year – a 99.6% increase in production in just 11 years. And they weren’t the only game in town.

    Humans have masterfully drained wetlands in this country for over 300 years and there are virtually no records or maps of where they are buried. And to an untrained eye, they’re masterfully hidden. These tiles were made of rock, wood, brick, clay, concrete and plastic pipe – not the kind of material you’ll pick up with a metal detector. But find them you must, because embarking on a wetland restoration project where you are trying to reestablish the site’s hydrology, without finding and taking out the drainage structures, is like trying to fill a perforated bucket with water. It just doesn’t work, dear Liza.

    wetlandblogmarla101614-3333Fortunately Tom’s trainings provide folks with tips on how to spot where a wetland used to be and where one should start digging to unearth these wily drainage structures. At first it feels like you’re looking at an M.C. Escher sketch – trying to decipher what is real versus an optical illusion. But once you know what to look for – the important hidden signs – suddenly you see the landscape in an entirely new light. It speaks to you and tells you a story – a story about our nation’s history and the brave, ingenious, and hard-working folks, who found innovative ways to feed their communities, create jobs and manage the land.

    These early farm steaders lived in a very different world with a much smaller population and with, what seemed like at the time, to be unlimited natural resources. They did not have the knowledge that we now have in regard to the benefits of wetlands and their significant role in maintaining biodiversity, providing habitat, attenuating floodwaters, storing groundwater, etc. Our generation now knows that draining wetlands comes with a slew of repercussions. Now we know that it is far better to work with nature than to attempt to conquer nature.

    wetlandblogmarla101614-4So now it is our turn to roll up our sleeves and work just as hard and just as ingeniously as these early farmers. We can learn from their mistakes and learn from their successes. If we want to restore wetlands successfully, we must learn the history of the land and the history of those who lived here before us because they changed the landscape. Wetland drainage is certainly not a new technique for expanding agriculture. In fact, research suggests that the Maya dug ditches between wetlands to create irrigation and diversion canals. They used the fill to elevate the land area between the canals for intensive farming. Some researchers suggest that wetland drainage by the Maya may have contributed to changing the local climate. It would be interesting to learn the history of how the Native Americans managed the land in the U.S. for agriculture and what kind of drainage systems they may have employed.

    So I guess history isn’t as boring as I used to think it was. It has allowed me to see the present landscape as a product of the past. And more importantly, it has allowed me to envision how we might effectively restore the landscape for the future. So For Peat’s Sake, before you embark on a wetland restoration project, learn about the history of your site and look for hidden signs of drainage – don’t fill a holey bucket!

    For More Information:

    Tom Biebighauser and the Center for Wetland and Stream Restoration 

    ASWM Webinar Recording: The History of Wetland Drainage in the U.S.

    Publications & Articles:

    Wetland Drainage, Restoration and Repair

    Mayans converted wetlands to farmland

    Did Climate Change Cause the Decline of the Maya?


    Posted in agriculture, land use, restoration, wetlands | Tagged , | Leave a comment

    View from the blog-o-sphereCommon Ground Relief opens wetlands center in New Orleans Times-Picayume – October 10, 2014
    Common Ground Relief will open Cabane Coypu and the Wetlands Contemplative Center at its Native Plant Nursery 2.0, which provides plant material needed for its Wetlands Restoration Program, Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the foot of the Judge Seeber Bridge in the Lower Ninth Ward, with the entrance at 1515 Jourdan Avenue, in New Orleans. With the addition of Cabane Coypu and the Wetlands Contemplative Center, the Nursery 2.0 also serves as an experiential learning center and public space. For full blog post, click here.

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    Wetlander's Pick of the PostsOut of Sandy, Lessons in Helping Coastal Marshes Recover from Storms

    By Ashley Braun – NOAA’s Response and Restoration Blog – October 3, 2014
    Boats capsized in a sea of grass. Tall trees and power lines toppled over. A dark ring of oil rimming marsh grasses. This was the scene greeting NOAA’s Simeon Hahn and Carl Alderson a few days after Sandy’s floodwaters had pulled back from New Jersey in the fall of 2012. For full blog post, click here.

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