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

Salameander: April Showers, Adaptation, and Earth Day

As I write this, the forecast for Earth Day in mid-Michigan is for a mix of sun and showers.  Right now, it is all showers.  Saturated fields, localized flooding, and bank full cocoa-colored creeks —  all of this is good for groundwater recharge say the farmers.  True, but what do we do with the additional 1-3 inches of rain forecast for the next day or two, or storms with every increasing intensity projected for future years?  Will it be enough to sustain us through summer drought periods?

A large county drain running bank full through mint farms (historic wetlands) in Riley Township, MI on April 18, 2013

Flooding of the Looking Glass River in Watertown Township, MI on April 18, 2013.  During the summer, the river runs clear, and is appropriately named.

At the time of the first Earth Day back in 1970, the nation tackled rivers-on-fire levels of pollution, and set broad national goals for clean water.  Much has been accomplished.  Now, the challenge is to tampdown rising temperatures on a global scale, while adapting to somewhat unpredictable, but inevitable (at least for the near term) changes in everything related to water – flood, drought, habitat, drinking water supplies.  While optimism regarding our ability to address climate change successfully may be at a premium, many groups are out there rolling up their sleeves (or pant legs) and getting to work.

Anne Hokanson – Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Ecologist at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) reported back from the National Adaptation Forum held earlier this month in Denver.  Anne contributed a poster presentation on Michigan’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Coastal and Inland Wetlands, which was developed jointly by ASWM and MDEQ with backing from Michigan’s Coastal Management Program.   The full plan was released in September of 2012, and is available here.

To view the poster, click here.

Anne reports that her poster display was received with interest by forum participants, especially by other state wetland programs.  Hopefully, others can successfully build upon Michigan’s approach.

I asked Anne about other general themes arising from the forum, and she noted the following:

  1. Many participants felt that while there has been a lot of planning across the country, relatively little has been done in the way of implementation.  While this is understandable given the breadth of climate change impacts on various sectors, participants are eager to put projects on the ground.
  2. In a sampling of presentations of on-the-ground implementation projects, Anne found that wetland restoration was a key element in virtually all of those that she attended.  Wetlands may not have been the focal point, but wetland restoration was a part of the plan to improve habitat, reduce erosion, provide flood storage, or to provide other functions.

Policy makers face considerable challenges in development of realistic and effective strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation across multiple sectors of our society.  This is as true for wetland managers as for others concerned with climate change, and our ability to select priority projects, model outcomes, and improve the resiliency of wetland resources will no doubt improve with time.  But, as we celebrate this Earth Day – with or without rain gear – we can also celebrate our ability to act now to take reasonable, no regrets actions by restoring wetlands to meet multiple goals.

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