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

The Compleat Wetlander: Looking after the people who look after the wetlands

Today is February 2, World Wetlands Day. It’s not only a day to think about wetlands but also about the people who look after wetlands. We call them the Wetlandkeepers. They are the passionate people who dedicate their professional and personal time to protecting, restoring and conserving the nation’s wetlands. They work in many professions including government and nonprofit staff, academics, scientists, teachers, consultants, ecologists, biologists, camp counselors and more. The list goes on and on. Over the years we have been inspired by their stories.

A good place to start to understand the diversity of Wetlandkeepers is the National Wetlands Awards hosted by the Environmental Law Institute The biographies of the winners and near winners is an extraordinary collection of people. For many years I served on the committee that reviewed the nominations and it was always a wonderful experience because it provided a chance to read about people doing great things for wetlands from all walks of life. Meeting the winners at the award ceremonies each year continues to be a special experience. Often these people are wetland heroes that work under the radar in their own community. At the award ceremony I could see this look in their eyes that communicates that they are still a little bit in shock—stunned to receive national recognition for their work.

They didn’t do it to become popular. They did it because they care, because for them it was simply the right thing to do.

A Wetlandkeeper might be a teacher who inspires students to learn about the plants and animals who depend on them.

It might be a drainage expert who creates a new career in wetland restoration.

—or a farmer who turns flood-ravaged farmland into an outdoor wetland classroom for thousands of students
—or a scientist willing to crawl through miles of underbrush in 100+ F to gather information about a wetland
It could be a lawyer who defends wetland laws
—or a legislator who introduces them.

Over the years, we have met and worked with them all — these and many more.

Often, being a Wetlandkeeper is not popular work. I’ve known people who have been escorted from a public hearing by federal marshals because passions against wetland protection ran so high, or have lost their jobs for making a permit decision that protected wetlands.

But those sorts of things occur rarely. More often being a Wetlandkeeper is incredibly exciting. A Wetlandkeeper may watch children gasp in wonder as they hold a spotted salamander for the first time. A Wetlandkeeper may be one of a group of scientists exploring frontiers in wetland knowledge so new there weren’t words to describe the ideas they were exploring. A Wetlandkeeper may know that floods will not reach into a neighborhood anymore because wetlands restored upstream will keep the community safe. A Wetlandkeeper sees whooping cranes lingering in a wetland they restored during spring and fall migration.

Wetlandkeepers need our help. They need information and knowledge. They need to know about breakthroughs in wetland science and new opportunities to work with partners in other programs. They need to avoid mistakes that have been made in the past. They want to hear about the experiences of others and to know who their peers are around the country. They need to know how they can protect wetlands and at the same time address the concerns and needs of other people and other natural resources.

That’s what we do: provide that information. It’s why the Association of State Wetland Managers exists. Looking after Wetlandkeepers is what we do. We work with state wetland program managers, but we also work with so many others because protecting and conserving wetlands is a joint enterprise.

Today we are launching our Wetlandkeepers Campaign to raise funds to provide information and education to Wetlandkeepers. You can help us support the nation’s Wetlandkeepers.

Make a charitable donation.

Become an ASWM member and get involved.

Send us your Wetlandkeeper story that we can share with others (to Jeanne). Send us photos of your experience as a Wetlandkeeper.

So please take a moment this World Wetlands Days to celebrate the wonder of wetlands and the Wetlandkeepers who look after them. They are both very necessary and very special.

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