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

For Peat’s Sake: Tidbits of Knowledge from the Society of Wetland Scientists Annual Conference

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

Last week I had the honor and privilege of representing the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) at the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island. The theme of this year’s conference was “Changing Climate, Changing Wetlands.” Since climate change is a topic I’ve been sws61115following for more than twenty years, I was eager to attend and learn as much as I can from the multitude of extremely smart people at the conference. And I was not disappointed. The bad news is that we are not well-positioned to understand all the potential impacts because of a lack of long-range studies. In other words, we’re exploring new territory and so we’re going to have a steep learning curve – there will be some impacts that are simply unavoidable. The good news is there are a lot of people much smarter than myself who are diligently studying how climate change is currently impacting wetlands, what future impacts may be, what those impacts mean to humans, wildlife and plants,  and what we can do to mitigate and adapt to those impacts. So we’ve got a really great team working on it.

Here are some interesting tidbits I picked up while attending various sessions:

  1. carbon2611151 in 10 Americans do not know that 97% of scientists are in consensus that climate change is real and is happening.  The best way to educate people about the reality of climate change is through face-to-face conversations among friends and family. The four primary focus frames for communicating about climate change are: risk management, clean energy (e.g., business opportunities), human health, and national defense.
  2. Some scientists are breaking from taxonomic models and are focusing instead on restoring “native functions”. “Riparian Response Guilds” indicate what kind of system you’re working in and allow you to model what trade-offs happen to plant guilds when water budgets change.
  3. Native plant seedbanks are a good rationale for allowing sediment to stay on-site during restoration, assuming there are no bad contaminant issues.
  4. The carbon market is anticipated to grow by 300% by 2020. The main reason for companies and agencies to buy carbon credits is to reach climate reduction goals.
  5. Becoming a certified Professional Wetland Scientist is a good and smart thing to do. You can find out more at www.wetlandcert.org.
  6. We need to develop a conservation model that helps us preserve what we can because we won’t be able to preserve it all.
  7. Connectivity is super important but complicated.
  8. Plants are going to have a very difficult time adapting to climate change because they move very slowly (think about the Ents in The Hobbit).  But we can remediate some tree stress through short duration fresh water remediation. We can also explore assisted migration by starting to plant southern trees more northward. Pre-settlement conditions as a land management and restoration target are unsustainable because of climate change.
  9. In regard to restoration of agricultural lands in parts of the mid-Atlantic, soil removal results in a loss of carbon capture in restoration sites – it is better to plug, berm, etc. Soil organic carbon in these types of sites recovers very slowly in restored wetlands compared to natural wetlands. If you have a thicker surficial aquifer and thick soils, groundwater will avoid nutrients. A compacted soil layer limits the amount of groundwater that can run through and denitrify a site. If top soil is removed during restoration, phosphorous is less likely to be sent to a river, but removal of top soil is not good for carbon sequestration. These results may vary depending on what type of wetland you are restoring, its history, and its location on the landscape.
  10. 29 species of Prairie Pothole Region birds are experiencing an average 32.5% decline in range. The Wilson Snipe is faced with a 90% reduction. Species extinction and loss of biodiversity is a serious threat from climate change.
  11. Climate change is creating fewer groundwater connections and less storage capacity for Prairie Pothole wetlands resulting in greater surface flow. We need a better understanding of the role of water budgets on the landscape.
  12. wetland261115All wetlands eventually have a net cooling effect unless they are disturbed. High salinity estuarine wetlands emit very little methane. Carbon oxidation can be used to offset methane emissions through rewetting.
  13. Cranberry production is moving to the Midwest (from the Northeast) leaving many sites available for restoration.
  14. Ecosystem service valuation is a good communication tool and is generating a lot of interest and support. There are efforts going on to develop defensible ecological indicators to use in ecosystem service valuation. It is equally important, however, to develop approaches that allow for comparisons of benefits in an economically sound way without monetary values.
  15. We need to incorporate carbon services into existing federal legislation which should lead to more habitat conservation and climate mitigation – but to do so we need a better understanding of carbon systems.
  16. Hybrid infrastructure (green + gray) is a promising strategy to address rising sea levels on the coast but we need more information on the storm protection value of natural infrastructure.
  17. Vernal pools and frog populations can be restored along linear projects in Maine (e.g. power lines) and attain performance goals.
  18. It is important to have an independent designated specialist during restoration construction. It is also important to: educate the client during scoping; be part of the construction process; have a specialist on site – saves a lot of money compared to having a construction crew redo the site after making serious mistakes; start early with communication about design and construction techniques – during the pre-construction meeting; and having a good contractor is worth every penny.
  19. usgs2There are always trade-offs among ecosystem services when doing wetland restoration, e.g. biodiversity and nutrient processing.  Managers should try to exploit synergies to gain multiple objectives. Not all objectives can be maximized which underscores the need for a watershed approach.
  20. The carbon cycle in relation to wetlands is extremely complex and needs much more research.

So For Peats’ Sake, although we are in unchartered territory and we cannot perfectly predict the future, there are a lot of ways in which we can mitigate and adapt to the negative impacts of climate change.  We must continue to protect and restore wetlands, perform research, communicate effectively to all of our stakeholders and the general public, collaborate through strategic, interdisciplinary partnerships, and encourage the development of the political will to do what needs to be done for adaptation and mitigation.

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