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

For Peat’s Sake: New Federal Efforts Recognize our Interdependence with Nature

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

It’s been a great autumn for nature. On Wednesday, October 7th, the Administration released a new memorandum directing Federal agencies to factor the value of ecosystem services into Federal planning and decision-making. And on Thursday, October 8th, the vote of the U.S. Water Resources Council was unanimous in favor of accepting the “Guidelines for Implementing Executive Order 11988, Floodplain Management, and Executive Order 13690, Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input.”

moose101615Scientists and advocates have been extolling the benefits of “the natural and beneficial functions” of natural ecosystems, such as wetlands and floodplains, for decades. The Administration’s new memorandum recognizes this and states that “nature provides vital contributions to economic and social well-being.” The new memorandum directs agencies to develop and institutionalize policies “to promote consideration of ecosystem services, where appropriate and practicable, in planning, investments, and regulatory contexts.” The goal is to better integrate consideration of the full suite of ecosystem benefits and trade-offs inherent in decision-making, including “benefits and costs that may not be recognized in private markets because of the public-good nature of some ecosystem services.”

Some benefits, ecosystem “goods”, are accounted for in our market system (e.g., commercial fish and shellfish harvesting, and silviculture). However, many ecosystem “services” (e.g., buffering against storm surges and attenuating floodwater) are not. There is no price tag associated with these important functions that are not bought or sold directly on the market, and therefore damages to those ecosystems and their subsequent functions are not accounted for in our market system. However, the loss of them has been felt profoundly, both socially and economically, by many communities who have experienced the destruction of natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding, and drought. The impacts on habitat have also negatively affected wildlife.

wabash101615Executive Order (EO) 11988 – Floodplain Management, issued in 1977, was amended on January 30, 2015 by President Obama when he signed EO 13690 – Establishing a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard and a Process for Further Soliciting and Considering Stakeholder Input. On October 8, the Water Resources Council approved the recommendations of the Mitigation Framework Leadership Group to issue the revised Guidelines for Implementing EO 11988 and EO 13690. The new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS) now includes a directive for agencies to use, where possible, natural systems, ecosystem processes and nature-based approaches when developing alternatives for consideration.

If an agency has determined to, or proposes to, conduct, support, or allow an action to be located in a floodplain, the agency shall consider alternatives to avoid adverse effects and incompatible development in the floodplain. Where possible, an agency shall use natural systems, ecosystem processes, and nature-based approaches when developing alternatives for consideration. (Guidelines for Implementing E.O. 11988 and E.O. 13690, p. 22)

The spotlight on the benefits of ecosystem services and the natural and beneficial functions of nature is intricately tied to climate change planning. In fact, President Obama states in EO 13690 that the impacts of flooding “are anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats.” Climate change, in other words, has forced us to reevaluate our relationship to nature. The other night I was talking with some friends about the fact that the term “sustainability” has been around for many years – in fact I was first introduced to it in college in the early 1990s and the concept of sustainable development was formally introduced by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations back in 1987. But it didn’t really gain any traction until the reality of climate change began to seriously impact our lives. Now we are moving on from “sustainability” to “resiliency” and “preparedness.” It’s an indicator that we’re at a point now where we’ve crossed floodingdelaware101615a threshold. Sustainability is still an important concept and practice that we should employ, but now that we are experiencing the impacts of not living sustainably for so many years, we must now also find ways to be more resilient and prepared for the impacts of natural disasters associated with climate change. It’s the difference between mitigation and adaptation. We have to tackle this issue from both fronts.

This is good news for nature and for humankind. Nature always has a way of finding balance – it is its own natural imperative. We can learn a lot from studying nature’s functions and processes – we are, after all, an integral part of nature and if we fully recognize our interdependence with it we can achieve balance as well. We are making great strides but we need to up our game.

In the words of Aldo Leopold: “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

So for Peat’s Sake – let’s celebrate these great accomplishments and keep making even greater strides to ensure a healthy, safe, sustainable and resilient future for all.

This entry was posted in adaptation, climate change, ecosystem services, floodplains, mitigation, natural hazards, sustainability, watershed, wetlands. Bookmark the permalink.

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