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

Salameander: “Given Climate Change”

Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

Sometime in the 1960’s, the U.S. began to send guys with cameras into space.  Their photos of “blue marble” Earth resulted in a global “aha” moment – Earth is not infinite, and we really don’t have anywhere else to go.  It is hard to say how this new found wisdom influenced the environmental movement, but it no doubt inspired a lot of “only one Earth” posters.

Fast forward a few decades.  Our children were raised on lessons about our environment – they know that we need to keep the air clean and the water clear not only for ourselves but for the rest of the natural world.  We’ve taught generations about the negative effects that people can have on our planet. The wisdom of our children is captured in Earth Day posters.

And now – Americans at large seem to have finally begun to absorb knowledge of the potentially ultimate human impact – that climate change is not only possible, not only likely, but already here.  IPCC reports are discussed on the evening news explaining the need for immediate action. Jokes about our recent bitterly cold winter versus “global warming” were surprisingly absent.  If the blue marble photo brought home the “Only one Earth” message, climate change is a huge “No, Really.”

In spite of knowing about climate change impacts, changing our day-to-day approach to decision making is still difficult, even for scientists that have been well informed regarding climate change for decades.  A new paper posted on CAKE[i] entitled, Agreed but not preferred: expert views on taboo options for biodiversity conservation, given climate change[ii] analyzes the difficulty that conservation experts face in altering traditionally accepted approaches, and in accepting practices that have been considered taboo in the past, e.g. assisted migration.  Although there is a general consensus on the need for such actions, it is clear that those surveyed remain uncomfortable with formerly taboo approaches. We all face the same struggle – to be open-minded, collaborative, and flexible.

The authors also gathered information regarding the perceived (by these experts) barriers to implementing climate change adaptation.  Number 2: “Political, regulatory, and legal uncertainties” – which 76% found to be extremely limiting, actually ahead of “scientific uncertainties”.  Climate change is not only the “newest” environmental issue, it is probably the broadest – influencing and influenced by virtually every aspect of human endeavor. And it is clear that changing direction will come about only in response to the efforts of multiple generations. A new way of thinking about our work, given climate change, needs to incorporate not only new practices in our own discipline, but the impact of our actions on other sectors, and recognition of the broader impacts of all types of decisions.

The EPA and the Corps of Engineers recently released an Interpretive Rule defining agricultural conservation practices that are exempt from permitting under Clean Water Act Section 404 (dredge and fill activities)[iii]. Some of these exemptions encourage soil and water conservation, or restoration of degraded streams and wetlands.  From a climate change perspective and depending on the specifics of the project, facilitating these actions may be a good thing.  Other practices facilitate the clearing of brush and trees to support agricultural practices, or “enhancing” wetlands; from a climate change perspective and depending on the specific project, these may be a bad thing. Overall, one has the sense that this document was not reviewed with a climate change lens. Hopefully, implementation guidelines will make corrections as needed.

Likewise, recent national wetland status and trends reports document the continued loss of wetlands in coastal areas[iv] – certainly one of the areas where wetland protection and even restoration is most critical, given climate change.  Yet, court decisions appear to be driving our regulatory program in a more lenient direction.  As a society, we are working at cross purposes. Maybe we all need to add that phrase, “given climate change” to our proposals, briefing documents, papers and decisions for a while.  Until we get in the habit.

Given that no one person or nation, no one specific human activity, no single generation brought us to this point, it is clear that cooperative thinking and collective action will be needed to change direction. It won’t be simple, and results will take time, but yes, there are many things that you can do, beginning with a change in mindset. If you didn’t take the first step yesterday, take it tomorrow. At the latest. Given climate change.

For more information:

[i] Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (CAKE) – check out

[ii] Hagerman, Shannon M and Terre Satterfield, published in Ecological Applications, 24(3), pp. 548-559.  To read, click here.

[iii] To review information regarding the §404 Interpretive Rule on exemption of agricultural conservations practices, click here.

[iv] To read the Fish and Wildlife Service report, Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Coterminous United States, 2004-2009, click here.

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