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

cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

There is perhaps no more iconic symbol of the wetlands and waterways of the nation than the Great Blue Heron.  This beautiful bird is found year round throughout much of the lower 48 states.  Loved by some and reviled by others for its dedication to building dams, beaver are also found throughout the lower 48 states as well as Canada and Alaska. It’s therefore not surprising that they coexist and, in fact, that a pond created by beaver can create the perfect habitat of standing dead trees (also called snags) for a heronry.  There is such a place about five miles from the Association of State Wetland Manager’s offices and a visit there in the spring when the herons are on their nests is a special treat. It’s a reminder not only that our work to protect, conserve and manage wetlands is important, but also that nature, including beaver, has a lot to teach us about how to build and sustain wetlands.   Below are some pictures of one of my favorite wetlands. Enjoy!

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bos2Intact mangroves worth twice as much as rice paddies

By Emma Bryce – Anthropocene – June 9, 2017
Conservationists frequently say that ecosystems are worth more when they’re left untouched. But to whom? Local communities who could potentially farm the land might wonder, what’s the real benefit of leaving wild areas intact? In the Bhitarkanika mangrove in Odisha, India, a group of Indian researchers grappling with this question have arrived at a surprising answer. By leaving the mangrove intact, they say, Bhitarkanika’s surrounding communities can in fact reap almost double the economic benefits they’d get from simply converting the mangrove to crops. For full story, click here.

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wppChesapeake Bay’s Misguided War on the Ray

By Jared Lloyd – Hakai Magazine – June 14, 2017
The state of Maryland has imposed a moratorium on a blood sport that had been taking place across its slice of the Chesapeake Bay for nearly a decade. Each year, contestants congregated with boats and bows and arrows. Their goal: to hunt and kill as many cownose rays as possible. Thousands of dollars in cash prizes were dished out for killing the most and biggest rays. Tournament organizers profited. And the otherwise plankton-rich emerald waters of the Chesapeake Bay turned red with blood in the name of misguided conservation. Welcome to The Cove, America. For full article, click here.

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

I just returned from the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) annual conference which was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico this year. Quite a different world from where our home office is located in Windham, Maine. The Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) has a Memorandum of Cooperation with SWS, so I have participated in their conferences for the last three years. I puertorico061517have to say I was not unhappy with this year’s location. Leaving the cold, cloudy, rainy Maine spring climate for 90 degree, sunny weather was a more than welcome change.  But truly, Puerto Rico is like a whole other world compared to the northeast not only from a weather perspective, but also from a cultural, culinary and ecological perspective. I knew that I was going to have to work a little harder to communicate with the locals just to get around, as not only our native language, but also our customs are very different. 

My situation fit in very well with the communications-focused, conference symposium that I developed with my co-worker Brenda Zollitsch, PhD, who co-chaired the all-day symposium with me and our colleague Dr. Megan Lang from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Our symposium was entitled, “How Can I Make My Work Matter? Exploring Ways to Bring Sound Science into Wetland Management and Public Policy.” As many others have come to recognize, we believe that as scientists, wetland program managers, and policy wonks, we have to find better ways to communicate scientific findings and the implications of those findings in order to gain broader support for incorporating sound science into decision-making.  In a world where the idea of “alternate facts” actually has traction, the legitimacy of sound science is at risk.

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There is no one way to pursue this goal, however, and the path that each of us chooses is a personal choice. Many who work in local, state or federal government have professional restrictions that impede their ability to take on an advocacy role, and some simply believe that the role of the scientist is to remain politically neutral. Others have chosen to use their scientific expertise to bolster advocacy efforts. The March for Science certainly highlighted the “scientist as scientists” versus “scientists as advocates” divide. Personally, I believe both tactics are important avenues for communicating science to a broader non-technical audience.

With this perspective in mind, the symposium was designed to explore the multiple ways of bringing sound science into wetland management and public policy. The day was split into three sessions, each with individual presentations that were followed by 40 minutes total for questions and answers, and a panel discussion. The Q&A and panel discussion periods were designed to stimulate and provide a space for in-depth explorations and sharing of lessons learned so that participants and speakers were able to hold constructive and informal conversations in a participatory way.

aswmcommunications061517For the first session, we set the stage with a presentation by Brenda about a recent project we have both been working on that was designed to help wetland professionals improve communications planning, better target messaging and capitalize on opportunities to initiate behavior change through targeted wetland communication strategies and products. During this presentation, Brenda shared a suite of case studies, identified common elements that have been shown to influence outreach success, and presented key recommendations for developing effective communications efforts.

Next we heard from David Behar, Climate Program Director at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. David spoke about the benefits of the “co-production” of actionable science for decision making.  In such an endeavor, managers, policy makers, scientists, and other stakeholders first identify specific decisions to be informed by science, and then jointly define the scope and context of the problem, research questions, methods, and outputs, make scientific inferences, and develop strategies for the appropriate use of science. And in the third and final presentation for the first session, Megan Lang (Chief Scientist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) National Wetland Inventory Program and Team Lead for the US FWS Wetland Status and Trends Project) spoke about how the National Wetlands Inventory geospatial dataset and Wetlands Status and Trends reports have been used to support the development of wetland management approaches and policies at multiple organizational levels.

mcdavit061517In our second session, we focused on addressing science gaps to inform management and public policy. Our first speaker was Michael McDavit, Chief of the Program Development and Jurisdiction Branch in the EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds. Mike spoke about the 2011 National Wetland Condition Assessment and how it’s publicly available data can be utilized to provide sound scientific support to management decisions and policies. Our second speaker in this session was Brian Topping, an Environmental Protection Specialist in the regulatory program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. Brian spoke about how compensation program performance evaluations can be used to guide researchers, inform management policies and fill information gaps with the goal of improving ecological outcomes for compensatory mitigation projects. And then our third speaker in this session was Dr. Robert Brooks, Professor of Geography and Ecology, and Founder and Director of Riparia at the Pennsylvania State University. Rob’s presentation examined outcomes from three case studies that involved public entities as collaborators at some point in their projects. How each case study entity translated and communicated complex science into message and tools appropriate for informing public policy decisions was discussed. 

marla061517And last but not least, the third session focused on effective ways to advocate for wetland protection using sound science. Dr. Astrid Caldas, a Senior Climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists shared lessons learned from case studies in Louisiana and Florida where scientific information was communicated effectively with local stakeholders and led to acceptable and equitable outcomes that moved policies in positive directions. The last speaker of the day was myself, and in my presentation, I shared strategies and tactics for effectively translating scientific findings to non-technical audiences, including the general public, the media, and elected officials.

Overall I believe the symposium was a success and that everyone, speakers and participants alike, walked away with new knowledge and ideas for ways to improve the understanding, acceptance and use of sound science for management and public policy decisions. What was made very clear was that regardless of who you are, where you come from or what your professional circumstances are, there are a wide variety of communication approaches that can be utilized to get sound science incorporated into management and public policy. So For Peat’s Sake, I hope you’ll take some time to think about how you communicate science and how you might do so more effectively – the future of our wetlands depends on it.

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bos2Putting the Local in Marine Conservation

By Amorina Kingdon – Hakai Magazine – June 5, 2017
First, do no harm. It’s a guiding principal of all physicians and one that environmental researcher Nathan Bennett would also like marine conservationists to respect. The researcher, affiliated with both the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington, says the desire to protect the ocean can sometimes harm the people who rely on it. In a new paper, he and his coauthors call for a marine conservation code of conduct. For full article, click here.

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wppIn the Land of Lost Gardens

By Heather Pringle – Hakai Magazine – June 6, 2017
The neatness, the orderliness, the sheer scientific preciseness of the death lying at our feet is impressive. It is a sunny spring day near the mouth of the Big Qualicum River on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island; Nancy Turner is hard at work. With long, straight, graying hair tucked behind her ears, brow slightly furrowed, the 69-year-old ethnobotanist arranges hundreds of newly cut plants, 20 to a bunch, into two neat green lines along a gravel lane. Turner straightens, satisfied. The greenery arrayed below is death camas. Its teardrop-shaped bulb contains enough poison to kill a child, maybe even a small adult. For full article, click here.

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bos2Throwing Dead Fish for Fun and Ecological Profit

By Frances Backhouse – Hakai Magazine – June 1, 2017
On a chilly January morning, four-year-old Eli Burger stands on the bank of Douglas Creek, on the outskirts of Victoria, British Columbia, hugging a dead salmon half as long as him against his red parka. He looks up at his father, Andrew Burger, who nods encouragingly. “Go ahead,” he says, “chuck it in.” Eli shuffles forward until his blue rubber boots touch the edge of the creek and heaves the fish as far as he can into the shallow water. It lands with a splash and drifts for a moment before settling against a boulder. “It’s floating!” Eli exclaims, his delight in the salmon’s buoyancy eliciting smiles from several nearby adults. For a moment, it’s almost as if the handsome coho could wriggle back to life. For full article, click here.

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wppUPDATED: Trump Budget Would Still Increase Water Pollution

By Jon Devine – NRDC – May 25, 2017
The Trump administration released its more detailed budget proposal yesterday, following up on an outline that it announced in March. Even though its initial proposal appalled people across the political spectrum as a cruel attack on essential programs, the administration didn’t pay any attention. Yesterday’s version is just a more specific run-down of how comprehensively the administration wants to do away with initiatives that improve people’s health and well-being. For full story, click here.

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cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

Executive Order 13777,  issued 2/24/17, directs agencies to establish a Regulatory Reform Task Force to oversee the evaluation of existing regulations to make recommendations about potential repeal, replacement, or modification. In response the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked for recommendations from the public on priorities for repealing, replacing or modifying EPA’s existing regulations.  This included a public comment period which ended May 15, 2017.  Hundreds of thousands of individuals and organizations provided comments representing very diverse interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Environmental, Conservation, and other nonprofit organizations, and the Association of State Wetland Managers.evaluationAccording to a Washington Post article many of these comments supported continuing rather than repealing environmental protections.

The Association of State Wetland Manager’s comments provided the following recommendations:

  • The EPA should recognize the potential adverse impacts of regulatory modification on interwoven federal, state/tribal, and local regulatory frameworks. ASWM would like to emphasize both the complexity and the benefits of federal, state, tribal and local collaborations in managing and protecting vital water resources. ASWM urges EPA to consider the repeal, replacement, or modification of federal regulations within the context of their application in collaboration with other federal, state/tribal, and local agencies and not in the narrower view of the language of an individual regulation.   The implication of parallel changes in the federal budget and provision of funds for both federal and state programs should also be considered.  It should be recognized that regulatory modifications have the potential to adversely affect collaboration, understanding and certainty among state, tribal, local and federal programs to the extent that review and approval of a proposed action impacting water resources may well be delayed significantly, rather than expedited.  It should also be recognized that in many states with smaller water resource programs, resources to respond to federal modifications may not be available, seriously disrupting water management at the state level.
  • Clarify the extent of assumable waters under Section 404.   Under CWA Section 404, a qualified state or tribe may be authorized to assume administration of the 404 Permit Program for many, but not all, Waters of the United States.  To date, however, only the states of Michigan and New Jersey have assumed the program.  ASWM recommends clarification of the scope of assumable waters through revision of the Section 404 State Program Regulation at 40 CFR Part 233.    In 2015, EPA established a subcommittee to provide advice and recommendations on assumable waters under the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT).  This subcommittee presented its final report to NACEPT earlier this month.  We urge that EPA consider acting expeditiously on the majority of recommendations contained in this report.  Revision of the Section 404 State Program Regulations that clarify the scope of potentially assumable waters will allow interested states and tribes to determine the efficacy of proceeding with their pursuit of assumption.
  • Provide technical assistance and funding to states to support program development. Many states and tribes that are not in a position to assume full Section 404 authority nonetheless play a major role in the regulatory process, through a range of program options.  These include collaborating with the Corps to develop Regional General Permits that address the specific needs of a state to expedite similar categories of activities; review of proposed Corps permit actions through CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification Programs and Coastal Management Programs; and development and implementation of State Programmatic General Permits, under which Corps decisions are streamlined based largely on actions taken by a state under the state’s regulatory framework.  ASWM recommends that EPA continue to provide both technical support and funding to state wetland programs to develop assessment methods, expand the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related technology that can expedite the identification and evaluation of stream and wetland resources, improve mitigation methods, and otherwise support state and tribal contributions to protection of waters of the U.S.    While states and tribes provide major support for their own resource management goals, they often do not have the financial resources to support major research and development projects that are more feasible at the national level. 

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  • Pursue actions other than extensive revision of CWA jurisdiction as an alternative means of regulatory reform.  We recommend to EPA and the Army that alternative forms of “regulatory reform” beyond rulemaking be considered to address areas of ongoing uncertainty in CWA jurisdiction.  The United States has very diverse wetlands and other aquatic resources as well as a diversity of land use practices that impact these resources.  Therefore, providing predictability and consistency will ultimately require development of regional approaches. We recognize the extreme difficulty of defining jurisdictional boundaries on a national basis given the variety of types of wetlands and other waters present in the landscape, and the impact of vast geographical differences on wetland/aquatic resource ecology and public benefits.  We encourage EPA and the Army to work with the states as well as local and tribal governments to identify areas where development of regional approaches will enable jurisdictional decisions to incorporate regional variation.  This approach has been used very effectively in the application of Corps Nationwide General Permits, which may be modified with regional conditions, or through regional agreements with states and tribes (such as State Programmatic General Permits).  Another example is the regionalization of wetland delineation criteria carried out in recent years.  We are hopeful that similar approaches can be used to address areas of ongoing uncertainty and meet the needs of various states, tribes and local governments while retaining federal jurisdiction over those waters that may have national and interstate significance in many regions of the United States.     

The Environmental Protection Agency has many comments to review. We hope they will consider the comments provided by the Association of State Wetland Managers.

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bos2New analysis shows national monument support dominates public comment period

By Aaron Weiss – Westwise – May 25, 2017
As 15-day public comment period on the designation of Bears Ears National Monument comes to a close, a new analysis of comments submitted and gathered so far reveals nearly unanimous support for the monument. For full story, click here.

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