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

bos2 The infrastructure opportunity nobody is talking about – yet

By Steve Cochran – EDF Voices: People on the Planet – February 28, 2017
In the divisive political atmosphere of 2017, there is one issue that leaders across the spectrum agree on: The immediate and compelling need to rebuild America’s worn and damaged infrastructure. Governors from 49 states have already sent a list of more than 400 projects they want President Trump to target with his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which the president is expected to address in a speech tonight. With so much urgent work to choose from, how do we know which investments give us most bang for the buck? For full blog post, click here.

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wppShips Struggle To Battle Invasive Species As Global Trade Surges

By Kristen Minogue – Shorelines – March 20, 2017 – Video
In the battle against invasive species, giant commercial ships are fighting on the front lines. But even when they follow the rules, one of their best weapons is coming up short, marine biologists from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) discovered in a new study  published in PLOS ONE Monday. As ships move goods around the world, they often inadvertently ferry invasive species as well. These new species can come over in the ships’ ballast water—the water ships pump on board for stability, to keep them from becoming top-heavy. But when the ships arrive to port, they often discharge their ballast water from distant global regions, along with the unseen, unwanted hitchhikers. For full blog post, click here.

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bos2 The Trump Skinny Budget and Federal Flood Protection

By Julie Minerva, Scott L. Shapiro and Andrea P. Clark – The Levee Was Dry – March 16, 2017
This morning the Trump Administration released its America First Budget (aka the Skinny Budget) for FY18. The text of the document contains much of the same rhetoric you heard in the President’s inaugural address as the budget proposes to focus on advancing the safety and security of the American people. Overall the budget proposes to increase spending for the Department of the Defense by $54B and it does this by eliminating or reducing most domestic discretionary budget items by an equivalent amount. For some agencies the America First Budget cuts straight into the bone. For the potential impact to flood protection programs, read on! For full blog post, click here.

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wppWhy the Headwaters Matter for Natural Infrastructure

By Julie Fair – American Rivers Blog – March 10, 2017
When most people think about water infrastructure, they picture reservoirs, canals, and levees. However, the forests, meadows, and snowy mountain peaks above are critical components of water infrastructure, as well. These lands form the headwater source areas that supply the water to our rivers and reservoirs. Historically, this natural infrastructure has gone unrecognized, to the detriment of rivers and water users downstream. Luckily, managers and decision makers have begun to recognize the importance of maintaining and improving this natural infrastructure, but there is still a long way to go to catch up on overdue maintenance and to utilize natural infrastructure for maximum benefit. For full blog post, click here.

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cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

This month the Association of State Wetland Managers published a paper describing “Priorities for State Wetland Programs in the New Administration” which outlines six areas of importance to state wetland managers:  1)  Supporting open communications between Federal and State Agencies, 2) Encouraging state assumption of the Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Program, 3) Fully funding prioritesaswmClean Water Act programs including Wetland Program Development Grants, 4) Offering technical support and training to state wetland programs to ensure compliance with state requirements,  5) Providing accurate maps of the nation’s aquatic resources and 6) Leveraging opportunities to reduce pollution and natural hazards, protect drinking water and reduce costs through natural infrastructure solutions.

We believe these priorities provide a solid framework for working with the New Administration, their federal agencies, states, and the many partners ASWM has cooperated with over the years.  Priority #1 – Supporting open communications between Federal and State Agencies, for example, is even more important when the federal government is planning significant changes in programs and policies.

Healthy wetlands are intrinsic to sustaining clean water for the Nation as a whole and the work of individual state wetland programs is essential to sustain these and other aquatic resources. They are also important to sustaining a healthy economy.

outdooreconomyFor example Outdoor Industry Association in its 2012 report estimated annual expenditures of $91.9 billion in gear- and travel- related sales, $34.7 billion generated in jobs, and $12.1 billion in federal, state and local taxes from fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing alone[i]. Sustainable fish and wildlife populations to support these industries are heavily dependent on healthy wetlands. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment gave wetlands world-wide a value of $15 trillion in 1997[ii]. A report on the impact of wetland restoration on local economies found that every dollar spent on coastal wetland restoration returns $1.90 in economic activity[iii].  Industry-based risk models indicate that coastal wetlands saved more than $625 million in avoided flood damage from Hurricane Sandy[iv].  And so on.  Changes in domestic programs have the potential to affect both the environmental and economic benefits of wetlands.

coastalwetlandsTherefore in the coming months supporting open communications between Federal and State agencies will be extremely important.  Discussions about the potential effects of proposed changes from the state perspective will provide important insights into the often unintended consequences of proposed changes.  These changes may not be on the radar of those thinking about the issue on the national level.

This was very apparent during the development of the Clean Water Rule under the previous Administration.  States, state organizations, and others were very concerned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not engage in robust consultation prior to issuance of the proposed rule.  When the proposed rule was reviewed by the states, issues were raised about impacts of changes in jurisdiction on development of water quality standards, total maximum daily loads, identification of stormwater facilities, etc.  These were issues not considered during rule development.  The lack of consultation and the opportunity for active engagement in addressing these concerns prior to publication of the proposed rule left many states uncertain over how the changes in jurisdiction would impact a number of Clean Water Act programs, and ultimately undercut state support for the Clean Water Rule.

The current Administration has signaled its intention to rescind and replace the Clean Water Rule by directing the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Army to define ‘navigable waters’  “in a manner consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006).”  This seems to signal the intention to significantly restrict waters subject to the Clean Water Act.  In his opinion for the plurality, “Justice Scalia ultimately concluded that Waters of the United States should include only relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water because, according to him, that was the definition of “the waters” in Webster’s Dictionary”  If the Administration is pursuing a Clean Water Rule that will significantly reduce waters that have been protected under the Clean Water Act for decades, early and detailed consultation with the states and many others is imperative since states will take on the responsibility of deciding whether or not to protect those waters under state programs after federal protections are removed.

New administrations are often slow to gain an understanding of the intricate balancing act that has been pursued between state and federal programs in the arena of environmental protection.   This Administration is clearly pursuing ambitious plans to roll back federal environmental protections and provide the opportunity for states to take over.  If those efforts are going to be successful, they must be coordinated with the states.  Hopefully, there will be a commitment by this Administration to do that in the coming weeks, months and years.

[i] Outdoor Industry Association. 2012.  The Outdoor Recreation Economy
[ii] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC
[iii] Restoration Returns: The contribution of Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Coastal Program Restoration Projects to Local U.S. Economies. 2013. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
[iv] Narayan, S., Beck, M.W., Wilson, P., Thomas, C., Guerrero, A., Shepard, C., Reguero, B.G., Franco, G., Ingram, C.J., Trespalacios, D. 2016. Coastal Wetlands and Flood Damage Reduction: Using Risk Industry-based Models to Assess Natural Defenses in the Northeastern USA. Lloyd’s Tercentenary Research Foundation, London.

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bos2Hunting and Fishing Groups Leery of Weakening Clean Water Act

By Ben Long OutdoorLife March 7, 2017
Take the water out of a freestone trout stream and you’ll be casting to a bunch of rocks. Drain the wetlands of America’s prairie pothole “duck factory” and you’ve got empty skies come hunting season. That’s why groups like Trout Unlimited are worried about a move in Washington D.C. that would gut the Clean Water Act’s ability to conserve headwaters and seasonal wetlands. For full blog post, click here.

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wppWhat Slashing the EPA’s Budget by One-Quarter Would Really Mean

By Marinanne Lavelle – InsdieClimate News – March 10, 2017
The Trump Administration’s proposed slashing of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget threatens to reduce the agency’s resources to levels not seen since its formative days, long before demands from Congress and the public expanded the scope of the agency’s missions. Spending reductions of nearly 25 percent and layoffs of thousands of employees have been floated. Climate change-related programs have been targeted for outright elimination. But that’s also enough to cripple some of the agency’s core activities, according to experienced agency veterans and outside experts. For full story, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst, ASWM

As a mother of two elementary school-aged children, I always have my eye out for interesting weekend or evening activities that we can go to as a family that have hands-on learning opportunities and provide a chance to get the kids out of the house and un-bounced.  Whether a picnic at a local park, a science 1schoolagedfestival, an outdoor movie night or a night lantern making event with a community parade, these kinds of activities are gold for families and others seeking to get out into their community and even learn something new.  Not all parents seek these activities out, but lots and lots do.

While checking my email from a colleague in Delaware, I learned about an event they are hosting, called “Unearth the Wonderful World of Wetlands!”   It is a day of wetland celebration at a state park and…I want to go!  While that’s just not possible at this time, it brought to light how “possible” it is to create interesting and engaging trips and events that encourage the public (some of whom might not have visited wetlands otherwise) to visit wetlands and learn about them.  Both research and practice show that if a person experiences the wonder and beauty of something first hand, they are more likely to want to protect it.

Getting People Out into Wetlands – Think Big OR Small

To encourage the creation of this kind of experience for the public, in this blog I outline some simple ideas and considerations for engaging people in wetlands, whether you are a wetland professional or just someone who might take friends for a walk through a wetland.  May is Wetlands Month, so the timing is perfect to get your planning underway.  If you are already connected with a wetland site as a professional or volunteer, such activities could be a guided wetland walk, a nature treasure hunt, outinwetlandsbringing in a wildlife expert to do a presentation, or a clean-up.  This would be an event that you plan and advertise it far and wide.  If you don’t have the opportunity to do something formal that engages the public, getting some friends together and arranging a walk is a great way to interest people in wetlands as well.  I find people are always surprised by the beauty of wetlands and the uniqueness of the ecosystems they support.  If you get them to come to a wetland and teach them about what they are and what they provide, they will likely come away with a new appreciation of wetland beauty and values.

Planning a Public Engagement Event or Just a Wetland Wander

When people arrive at the wetland site, make sure you have created structured, well-planned activities and have plenty of volunteers to help new guests find the fascinating and fun opportunities at your site.  There are all sorts of considerations that help make an event successful, so brush up on these (including adequate bathroom facilities, trash disposal, coverage for inclement weather, and access to drinking water).  While such menial details can be boring and time-consuming, the return on investment in opening new eyes to the wonder of wetlands through positive experiences, are worth it.

experiencekidsThink ahead about the abilities and needs of different groups of people that may attend the event. Some sites are wheelchair accessible and have level walking paths, while others do not.  Inviting people to a site where they can’t participate may negate the response you are trying to accomplish.  This is also true for inviting families with children.  Some sites have well-developed nature centers and bathroom facilities, others are more remote or undeveloped sites.  Information on handicap access should be included in invitation materials.

If you are inviting families to attend, inform them in advance how to prepare.  For example, let them know if kids should be wearing waterproof shoes, bring a change of socks, a warm jacket in case it’s chilly, or a snack and a drink.  If appropriate, remind them all trash is carry-out in advance. With kids, it is important for parents to have appropriate expectations so they can prepare their children.  If there is an area where there are nesting birds or parts of the trail that are not appropriate for children, give them a map and let them know ahead of time.

Don’t Assume Kids Won’t Care: Engage their Natural Curiosity

As I have mentioned in prior blogs, I am a firm believer that we should have higher expectations of children these days.  We assume that if it doesn’t have a screen, kids won’t care.  I frequently take kids out in nature, and not only my own.  Parents are always saying to me “Good luck, little Billy isn’t much of a nature kid.”  But once you get Billy out there and looking for stuff, learning funky wetland facts or doing hands-on experiments, 99% of the time Billy isn’t bored at all.  Time after time, bringing a child to nature and providing engaging guidance about how to interact with it or observe it in a safe and responsible way is eye opening for the child.  They want to come back.

experincewetlandsTo help create this positive experience for families, capitalize on the draw of curiosity.  Children love to explore and do seek-and-find activities, so one option to help kids make the most of their visit is to create a “wetland treasure map” that has images of specific things throughout the site.  On this map might be things to look for, such as a specific signpost, a uniquely shaped tree, frogs’ eggs, a visible bird house or a woodchuck burrow.  The reason something like this is especially good for families is that, unlike a zoo, wetlands often don’t provide reliable opportunities for large wildlife viewing.  While parents may be disappointed, I have found that kids don’t mind, unless their expectations are set up wrong.  By giving them sure-fire finds, they will enjoy the simple things at the site.

Don’t assume young people won’t be interested in bigger concepts either, such as rare wildlife, hydrologic processes, how extreme weather impacts the site, etc. Just make them relevant to their world.  Let them know some of the really exciting factoids about your wetland site — for example endangered species (especially with pictures, so the kids can visualize them even if they don’t see them or only can see them from afar).  Point out specific types of vegetation that make your site a wetland, or even dig a soil pit so that kids can see all the different layers of soil.

Offering Experiential Learning: The Magic of Dip Nets and Other Hands-on Activities

Ideally, you will be able to provide a hands-on activity for anyone you bring to a wetland.  The most popular and easiest of these activities is to carry a dip-net.  Being able to lean over a boardwalk or off a dock and gently capture frogs eggs, slimy algae, water bugs or other creatures is a tried and true winner.  Kids love it.  Adults love it.  net1Dip nets open the door to talk about life cycles, food chains, seasons, and biodiversity.  Other activities can demonstrate how wetlands are layered, act as sponges and filter water.  It is also possible to engage participants’ artistic, photographic, and scientific talents.  There are oodles of online lessons to download if you want some guidance on how to structure these activities (see some examples at the end of this blog).

Discussing protecting a wetland can be incredibly important during events like these.  Make the visit a teachable moment about litter, how pollutants travel across the land with stormwater and end up in wetlands and other water bodies, and how nature is better when interacted with gently.  I have a very active 9 year old boy, so I find that having a fun, very physical activity start out the day – a game of tag, a wetland adventure obstacle course in a safe open area or just morning stretches are a good way to start out, so he can be quiet along a boardwalk and see birds or sit still so the tadpoles don’t swim away. Additionally, make sure to leave large well-placed and accessible trash cans in common areas and reminder signs at the start of trails.  If you are leading a walk, bring a trash bag with the group to ensure no one leaves traces of your visit in the wetland.

Invite Them Back and Tell them What they Can Do to Protect Wetlands — They Might Just Do Something!

wetlands2Encourage your participants to come back to the wetland site and to visit other wetlands.  For some their wetland visit will be a one-time event.  Yet others are likely to consider future engagement, especially if they had a very positive experience.  I can’t count the number of times I have been somewhere that the kids had a blast and I grabbed a brochure about upcoming events.  This is true of parents who use caregivers as well.  Often parents won’t allow their children to go somewhere that they have not been themselves, but once they have seen what the site is like, feel comfortable that it is safe and know that their kids liked it there, they will allow a sitter to take them back to that site or arrange for them to go to a camp or day event there in the future.

Finally, at the end of their visit, make sure to ask your participants to do something for the wetland.  Don’t let them off the hook!  If they had a good time in the wetland and learned how important the wetland is to their region, make sure they understand that they can make a difference for that wetland.  Maybe it’s by disposing of trash properly, helping build birdhouses, coming back for trail clearing or helping with a poster contest.  You could ask them to take a picture at the wetland and enter it into a photo contest.  Think ahead about what you can do to engage people over time.  The possibilities are extensive, limited really only by how creative you want to get.

Whatever You Decide to Do, Get Out and Enjoy a Wetland — You Will be So Happy You Did

So today, I ask you to think about ways you can bring people into the wetlands you love — responsibly.  You can do this by planning well-crafted public engagement events for Wetlands Month (May) or any other day of the year, or by simply asking the little Billy in your life if he wants to join you for a walk on the wild side.  Craft your wetland adventure and invite others to join you in it.  In doing so, you will be creating awareness and, most likely, a little bit of wetland magic.

For more information about Delaware’s Wetlands Celebration Day at Trap Pond State Park, go here.

For ideas about wetland engagement activities, check out the following links:

Build a Model Wetland

Middle School Wetland-related Activities

Wetland Plant Detectives

Wetland Metaphors Activity

Make Your Own Watershed Activity

Wetland Preservation Art

Common Questions: Wetland Festivals

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bos2Infrastructure Investment? Time for some Integrated Thinking

By Katherine Baer– River Network – January 30, 2017
Eight years ago, Congress invested big-time in infrastructure, including water infrastructure through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Investing in our crumbling water infrastructure creates jobs and generates money throughout the economy. Already, there are the beginnings of infrastructure proposals on the table from both Democrats and the Trump Administration. Undoubtedly lots of fighting ahead about what exactly to invest in and how to pay for it. For full blog post, click here.

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wppThe Meaning of Water: Trump Orders a Review of Obama-Era WOTUS Rule

By Judith Lewis Mernit – Laws and Nature – March 1,, 2017
As Molly reported on Sunday, “regulatory certainty” is the top priority at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency these says. The agency’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt, extolled it in his speech to staff; he considers it the key to industry’s ability to work within environmental constraints. But with yet another executive order signed today,the “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule,” President Trump took a decisive swipe at what little regulatory certainty exists around at least one of the laws Pruitt is tasked with enforcing, the 1972 Clean Water Act. Read more here.

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