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

Salameander: National Climate Change Adaptation Strategies: Where are the Wetlands?

The topic of climate change will lead you everywhere – into all aspects of natural resource management, and virtually every sector of human society.  In the context of water alone, national agencies and organizations have developed multiple strategies to address habitat and ecosystem management, potential impacts on waters supply and infrastructure, public safety measures related to flooding, intense storms, and drought, and measures to continue fundamental progress on federal Clean Water Act goals.

While experts agree on the importance of collaboration across program boundaries, they are still focused on the enormous task of defining priorities for specific programs.  And wetland managers seeking climate adaptation recommendations face a unique challenge in that while references to wetlands can be found everywhere in water planning, there is often limited focus on wetlands and their potential place in a national adaptation framework.  This is unfortunate in that wetlands play such a critical role in the nexus – sorry but there is no good synonym for that legally hot button word ! – between aquatic systems and terrestrial environments, between ecosystem services and watershed management.  Wetland scientists are experts at multi-objective management, but we have work to do to more clearly define our role in climate adaptation.

Although they do not provide a clear roadmap for wetland managers to follow, current national strategies do provide directional arrows—the kind that point to cities that are still 500 miles away rather than to local attractions, but still a starting point.  The links below will take you to sometimes daunting national strategies, and also to a more accessible fact sheet, executive summaries and updates.

The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force includes representatives from more than 20 federal agencies that envision a broad national effort.  This group has prepared three separate National Action Plans – one for freshwater resources, one for oceans, and one for fish, wildlife and plants (the last released in final format this week).

If you look for references to habitat in the freshwater resources plan, you will find them to be limited – but what appears as a gap is actually addressed in a different plan.  The fish, wildlife and plants strategy is organized based on impacts to 8 primary U.S. ecosystems (with wetlands included in background papers on virtually all of them, including forests, inland waters, coastal, arctic tundra, and deserts) —except in its encouragement of collaboration spends limited time discussing water quantity or quality.  Documents on oceans and coastal environments appear to provide more integrated information on coastal habitats and water management, as expected in addressing issues such as sea level rise.   Here are links to these reports:

Federal agencies have also been tasked with development and implementation of more specific program strategies.  Thus the National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change developed by the U.S. EPA provides more direct attention to wetlands, including “Watersheds and Wetlands” as one of five programmatic elements.  However, like most broad national goals, there is limited specific direction.

As state, tribal and local governments work with nonprofit organizations and the private sector seek to bridge the gaps between land and water management, and among various public sectors, it will be up to wetland managers to show how wetland protection, restoration and management may often provide a keystone to climate change adaptation.

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