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

For Peat’s Sake: February 2nd is World Wetlands Day!

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

Believe it or not, February 2nd is not just a day to celebrate whether or not Punxsutawney Phil actually sees his shadow or not -a- it also happens to be World Wetlands Day. This date marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Each year since 1997, the Ramsar Secretariat has provided materials to help raise public awareness about the importance and value of wetlands.

This year’s theme “wetlands for a sustainable urban future” highlights the important role of wetlands for cities and urban areas. Wetlands are essential for a sustainable urban future. Today’s current development patterns and rate of expansion is a major concern for wetland conservation and wise use. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) study from 2012:

“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.”[1]

As cities grow and demand for land increases, the tendency is to encroach on urban wetlands as well as rural wetlands and former farm land located on the urban periphery. Yet urban wetlands are essential and contribute to making cities liveable. Coastal cities are growing the fastest and most are experiencing negative impacts from sea level rise and storm surges that threaten infrastructure, habitat and human lives. The National Ocean Economics Program reports that 81.4% of the U.S. population lives in coastal states on 57% of the nation’s land mass. Between the years 2000–2016, 79.3% of growth occurred in coastal states and 29% in shore-adjacent counties.[2]

Some communities, however, are recognizing the benefits provided by natural infrastructure such as wetlands for storm surge protection and floodwater attenuation (among many other benefits such as recreation, wildlife habitat, etc.). These communities are making great efforts to restore natural coastal wetland ecosystems as well as implement green infrastructure techniques such as living shorelines and constructed wetland systems to mimic natural wetland functions and mitigate the impacts from sea level rise. Many municipalities are employing talented urban designers and landscape architects with backgrounds in ecology to design buildings, parking lots, urban parks, etc. that incorporate natural and created wetlands and other ecological features like rooftop gardens, green roofs, and more.

Urban design has been described as “the art of creating and shaping cities and towns.” It is derived from planning and transportation policy, architectural design, economics, engineering and landscape design. Interdisciplinary by nature, it “draws together the many strands of place-making, environmental stewardship, social equity and economic viability into the creation of places with distinct beauty and identity.”[3] Green infrastructure has developed into a significant component of urban design and offers opportunities for all members of the community, regardless of socioeconomic status, to enjoy the benefits of nature – physically, aesthetically, and financially.[4] Urban wetlands and green infrastructure are integral components for a creative placemaking strategy capable of sustainable development success.

So for Peat’s Sake, we hope you will join us February 2nd on World Wetlands Day and commit to take actions that will retain, restore and preserve urban wetlands.

[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture (2015). Summary Report: 2012 National Resources Inventory. Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington, DC, and Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

[2] http://www.oceaneconomics.org/Demographics/

[3] Urban Design. (2013). The Art of Creating and Shaping Cities and Towns. Retrieved from Urban Design: http://www.urbandesign.org/

[4] Benfield, K. (2010). Distressed city neighborhoods need green investment for community, environment. Retrieved from: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/distressed_city_neighborhoods.html.

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