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

Special Feature: Ripples of Climate Change Intersecting Wetlands, by Peg Bostwick, ASWM’s Senior Policy Analyst

We know how climate change will ripple through the natural world.   Warmer air, warmer water, impact weather patterns and alter the habits and the habitats of fish and wildlife.  Altered habitat affects air temperature and moisture content, adding to a knot of chemical, physical, and biological feedback loops.  Our human society may be subject to extreme storm events or drought, and may need to modify agricultural practices or water management.   Human effects include economic consequences, which in turn color our response.  The more that we try to understand the whole picture, the more overwhelming it becomes.  Like ripples in a downpour, the patterns are increasingly complex and unpredictable.

In the midst of this uncertainty, wetland managers are in the somewhat enviable position of being able to readily incorporate climate change adaptation planning into our ongoing programs to provide multiple “no regrets” benefits.   Protection and restoration of wetland habitat can increase water storage while improving the resiliency of wildlife habitat.   Re-establishment of floodplain and riparian areas can limit flood damage while connecting corridors for wildlife migration.   Restoration of living shorelines provides an economic protection from storm surges, while maximizing aquatic habitat.   The multiple ecosystem services provided by wetlands can, in short, contribute significantly to climate change adaptation planning.   Like intersecting rings, they provide both ecological and economic reasons to protect, manage and restore wetlands.

ASWM recently prepared a white paper for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality outlining a potential Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Coastal and Inland Wetlands in Michigan, supported with funding from the MDEQ Wetland and Coastal Management Programs. This paper summarizes likely climate changes impacts on Michigan wetlands, provides examples of how other states are viewing wetlands and climate change, and then recommends a number of adaptation measures that can be considered in the context of ongoing wetland management including strategic planning, voluntary conservation and restoration, regulatory considerations, and integration with other water programs.  The white paper also acknowledges work that has been completed by the Michigan Climate Change Coalition. Other freshwater climate adaptation efforts in the Great Lakes region are cataloged in a new report by EcoAdapt, The State of Climate Change Adaptation in the Great Lakes Region. And, many of the recommendations in the ASWM white paper can be effectively linked to the new Michigan Department of Natural Resources  – Waterfowl Legacy program. Ripples.

The need to take action is great; scientists tell us that actions to prepare for climate change should be accelerated.  We cannot afford to be blocked by complexity and uncertainty.   If a focal point is needed, try starting with one ongoing wetland project or program.  Look at other climate change strategies for wetlands that have been developed.  Think about how your project may provide increased resilience to climate change, and whether modest shifting of priorities or modification of design might enhance the climate change focus.  Evaluate your outcomes.  Talk to others doing similar work.   And watch the ripples spread.

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