By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

The year 1970 was a very important year, not just because it’s the year I was born (although of course that makes it much more significant!), but because it was the year that began a series of federal protections for the environment and volunteer efforts to clean up pollution and toxins accumulated from over 200 years of unfettered industrial activities. It was the year that President Richard Nixon and Congress established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as the year that Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to raise awareness about environmental issues and force them into the national agenda. Twenty million people demonstrated in cities across the nation to show their support for stronger federal protection of our nation’s wildlife and resources.

A couple of years later, the Clean Water Act was established and the year after that we saw the Endangered Species Act get passed by a nearly unanimous vote of Congress – a far cry from the political environment we are faced with today. However, although the ability of Congress to unite behind a common cause has clearly diminished over the last 40 years, we still have a lot to celebrate. Our air and water are cleaner. We have saved several species from extinction. Our knowledge and understanding of the natural world around us is significantly greater. And our increasing ability to forecast future scenarios based on current land use practices has improved our chances of responding and adapting to climate change. Although we still have a lot of work to do, Earth Day provides us an opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments and share our knowledge and love of the natural world with others around us.

Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22 every year since its inception in 1970. This year Earth Day falls on a Tuesday, but there are events planned all week at various locations across the country. Earth Day offers us a great opportunity to shake off the winter blues and get outside to enjoy the spring sunshine, warmth and marvel at the year’s first buds and blooms. Get a group of co-workers or corral your family and friends to join you in a day stewardship and celebration. We have provided a few links below for Earth Day activities at wetlands in various parts of the country, although these are just the first that showed up on our online search. There are certainly many more that will be happening at a wetland reserve near you, so call your favorite local wetland organization and find out what they have planned! You can also go to the Earth Day Network website for ideas and information on various activities. Many of these activities require pre-registration, so be sure to follow the links provided below or ask your local reserve about pre-registration to get all the important information.

CA: Public Service Day at Bolsa Chica, Saturday, April 26, 2014
9:00 am- 12:00 pm
Location: 3842 Warner Ave, HB 92649
Description: Come join us in restoring Bolsa Chica! Our habitat restoration efforts include: removing trash and non-native plant species, planting native species, and raising public awareness and understating about the Bolsa Chica Wetlands and its importance to our community!

CA: Friends of Ballona Wetlands annual Earth Day celebration, Saturday, April 19, 2014
From 9am – 12pm at the Ballona Saltwater Marsh & Dunes located at the southwestern edge of the Ballona State Ecological Reserve. This year, in addition to our regular restoration projects and creek cleanup, we will also be part of a release of a rehabilitated bird from South Bay Wildlife Rehab!

IN: Earth Day with Wesselman Nature Society, Saturday, April 19, 2014
At Wesselman Woods Nature Center & Preserve, Howell Wetlands & Garvin Park (Evansville, IN) Free & open to the public

NJ: Edison Wetlands Association Earth Day Festival, Saturday, April 26, 2014
At the Triple C Ranch and Nature Center in Edison, N.J., from 1 to 5 p.m. with a rain date of May 3, at the ranch which is located at 206 Tyler Road in Edison.

OR: Earth Day of Service Project with Wetlands Conservancy, Saturday, April 26, 2014
Volunteers will have a chance to learn about the beach environment before spending the morning cleaning up debris from the beach. After a lunch break, volunteers will be cutting ivy off the bottom of trees as well as some other projects (that don’t involve clean-up).

OR: Fairview Woods Wetlands Park Earth Day Event, Saturday, April 26, 2014

Join SOLVE, Friends of Fairview and the City of Fairview for an Earth Day Event at Fairview Woods Wetlands Park. Come out to celebrate Earth Day by helping to clear invasive species and clean up litter to help keep the park beautiful! Coffee and pastries will be provided for all volunteers! Activities include: Invasive Plant Removal, Litter Cleanup.

If you can’t make a formal event, then take some personal actions to celebrate Earth Day. The U.S. EPA has been offering easy common sense tips to start living a “greener” lifestyle every day this month. Check out their “Take Action” webpage and commit to just 5 actions that you can do every day at home, at work, at school, while shopping, on the road, or in your community to  help make the world a healthier place. It’s easy, it’s fun, and every little effort contributes to a much bigger collective effort and truly makes a difference. And you just might find that you enjoy doing them every day!

Happy Earth Day/Week/Month/Year!

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsGulf oil spill: how wildlife is still challenged four years later

By Mark Guarino – The Christian Science Monitor – April 8, 2014 – Video
Four years after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill released more than 200 million gallons of crude into the water, a leading environmental organization says the migratory and reproductive cycles of area wildlife have been severely altered and at least one species of sea turtles is close to extinction. For full story and to view video, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereEncouraging Investments in Wetland and Water Quality Improvements on Private Property through Low-Interest Loans

By Glenn Barnes – Environmental Finance Center – March 13, 2014
Restoration and protection of wetlands is one of the four core elements of a wetland program, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Some restoration and protection takes place through wetland regulatory activities, such as during the 401 certification of a development project that disturbs a wetland.  In other cases, wetland restoration and protection is voluntary—restoring and protecting the wetland is not tied to a specific regulatory activity but is desired to achieve overall water quality goals.  If that wetland is on public land, the unit of government that owns the land can, if funds are available, protect it. But what about wetlands and other water quality features that are on private property?  How can a unit of government encourage the voluntary protection of those crucial water quality features? For full story,
click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch

In May 2014, the Association of State Wetland Managers will release a study on the status of stream identification, delineation and mitigation in the United States.  Telephone interviews were conducted with staff from forty-seven states, collecting data on terms, definitions, practices, programs and needs.  ASWM’s final report provides an executive summary of findings, comparative tables, national maps and descriptive text for each study question, as well as data tables for each state in the accompanying appendices.  To entice you to read the full report when it is published, here are just ten of many more interesting findings from the report:

1. A Snapshot in Time for Stream Work

Stream mitigation is a relatively new practice and it is evolving rapidly. Stream mitigation is relatively new in most states across the United States.  Most programs and practices have been formed only since 2008, when the Army Corps of Engineers introduced new mitigation guidance.   Knowing that the findings will be out of date the minute it hits the Internet, ASWM designed the study to serve as a baseline for comparison, documenting the breadth of terms and practices used in an emerging field.  The report will provide descriptions of current guidance documents and tools that can be reviewed and adapted for use in other states.

2. What’s in a Name?

Because stream mitigation is new, there is immense diversity in the definitions and concepts that are used to describe stream mitigation work. Terminology differs extensively across the nation, with few terms consistently defined or interpreted between states.  For example, the terms “ephemeral stream” and “stream enhancement” elicit clear definitions from most practitioners and regulators.  These terms may even be defined in regulations or state statute.  However, when compared between states, these definitions were found more frequently than not to mean different things to different interviewees.

3. Applying Best Professional Judgment

Currently, many practitioners rely extensively on best professional judgment as their basis for making decisions about stream identification, delineation, assessment, mitigation, and evaluation.  When identifying bed and bank, evidence of flow, selecting which activities to approve in a mitigation proposal or looking at whether the mitigation has been successfully completed, practitioners do not have an established body of practices available and rely on best professional judgment.  While this does offer flexibility that some states insist is critical, it also points to the needs to invest in development of standardized practices in order to ensure that this judgment is well-informed through adequate training and education.

4. Finding Clarity

Most states report that they seek greater levels of standardization, transparency, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness for their stream practices. While BPJ may be the most common source of decision-making, they agree that clarity and structure is especially important to ensure that there is a consistent application of requirements and for legal defensibility of their decisions.  A number of states have evolving tools that can serve as basic frameworks for adaptation.  A few states argue against too much formalization, promoting the value of flexibility and discretion offered by less restrictive approaches.   A recommendation of the report is to work towards identification of adaptable tools, model language and case studies, to conduct analysis on effectiveness, and to share lessons learned.

5. Bracing for an Expansion

Most states predict a significant upswing in the number of permit applications if the economy improves. Whether a state is doing a lot, a little or a modest amount of stream mitigation work, there is agreement that a slow economy is likely keeping the number of dredge and fill permits and associated mitigation activities below normal levels.  Across the country, by far the largest number of dredge and fill permits are for infrastructure (transportation, development, utilities).  If a sharp increase in permitting applications occurs, accompanying resources and staff time will need to be allocated to address this change.  States and the Corps need to take this scenario into consideration in their long-term planning activities.

6. What Counts?

Across the United States, a wide variety of mitigation activities are accepted to offset stream impacts. Many states are willing to consider a variety of mitigation proposals, but the vast majority prioritize in-stream restoration, riparian/buffer work, hydraulic modification and enhancement efforts.  Some states also promote preservation.  There is less agreement about whether specific practices, such as cattle exclusion, are acceptable as stand-alone mitigation. Also, some states are starting to approve mitigation plans based on design to achieve functional uplift.

7. Getting Functional

Functional assessment is increasingly being integrated into stream mitigation decision making. While only ten states currently have functional assessment for streams in place, many more report that they want mitigation in their state to move in this direction. This trend is not uniform across the country, however.  There are states that feel strongly that functional assessment requires consideration of elements that are beyond the permittee’s control (i.e. upstream activities that impact the mitigation site).  Other interviewees identified challenges related to implementation of functional assessment, such as identification of which functions to measure, which metrics to use, how to combine them with other measures effectively, and how much uplift to require.

8. Avoid, Minimize — then Mitigate

Some states report little if any stream mitigation activity. In these states, they are usually either: a) focused on the first two tiers of the mitigation hierarchy — avoidance and minimization, b) a state with very few impacts on streams in their state that need to be addressed, or c) in the process of developing stream mitigation practices.   States that keep primarily to avoidance and minimization tend to be concerned about the message that a compensatory mitigation program sends, i.e. that it’s ok to impact a stream in the first place.   A related finding indicates that states vary dramatically on views about the potential for use of low impact development (LID) in minimization or mitigation project proposals.

9. Measuring Success

Few states have strong mechanisms and/or enough resources to adequately evaluate stream mitigation success In order to improve mitigation practices, it is important to look at the successes and failures of past stream mitigation projects and to determine what lessons can be learned from them.  In those few states where outcomes are actively reviewed, evaluation is seldom required for more than 3-5 years, a timeline that research has shown to be too short to determine actual success.   In states where there are less formalized practices and more limited resources, interviewees report that they often have to take the applicant’s word that mitigation was successful.  Consequently, mitigation success is poorly understood and lacks the necessary feedback loop needed to promote an evolution of sound stream mitigation practices.

10. Stream “Creation” is a Bad Word

No one reports doing stream “creation”, even though states use practices that look a whole lot like it. State interviewees indicate that none of them place streams where there has never been one before.  However, many do allow for stream relocation, increasing of sinuosity and other practices.  Most of these actions are considered by states to be stream enhancement activities. In a few states where mining is prevalent, streams are being “created” because the altered hydrology prohibits direct replacement of streams.  Many interviewees had a strong reaction to the word “creation,” with one interviewee going so far as to say, “Stream creation?!  That’s crazy talk?”  This begs the question – what is stream enhancement and what is stream creation?

Conclusion: To Strengthen State Stream Mitigation Programs and Practices, National Dialog is Needed

Perhaps the most resounding finding from this report is that stream mitigation practices are rife with diversity – diversity in terminology, definitions, interpretations, and techniques. Consistent definitions and interpretations, and the ability to develop practical best management practices that jointly address the unique circumstances of multiple states are needed.  This is further complicated by different regional environmental considerations, economic constraints and political priorities.  Interviewee’s desire for standardization, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness are coupled with a desire to identify and implement tools that can guide them.  Absent a national dialog to understand how these ideas compare across political and environmental boundaries, efforts to create best practices and templates will have limited success.  Having clear terminology and concepts will also help practitioners that are endeavoring to integrate stream and wetland planning with other interdisciplinary and cross-program work.  The report’s conclusions support future conversations about terminology, meanings, and practices, as well as access and support for training and support for the evaluation of mitigation success.

Posted in ASWM, delineation, mitigation, streams | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Wetlander's Pick of the PostsTed Turner: Time to finally protect wetlands, streams

By Ted Turner – CNN Opinion – April 2, 2014
Clean water is vital to every single American. Families should be able to turn on the tap and have safe drinking water for their children, vacationers expect healthy rivers for fishing and swimming, and businesses need a steady supply of clean water to make products. The administration is proposing a clean water rule to better protect America’s most vulnerable waters — the streams and wetlands that feed our larger rivers, lakes and bays. These bodies of water were clearly protected by the Clean Water Act when it was passed more than 40 years ago. Unfortunately, two convoluted Supreme Court decisions, actions of the previous administration and inaction by Congress have left these water bodies in a legal limbo. This poses a threat to all of us. To read full opinion, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereStudy: Fox News botches climate-change coverage

By Erik Wemple – The Washington Post – April 7, 2014
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has put together an awful pie chart for Fox News.
Those proportions come from a look at Fox News coverage of climate change in 2013, when UCS found 50 segments to examine for accuracy. Of those, 72 percent “included misleading portrayals of the science.” The breakdown goes further than the network-wide coverage, delivering a sharp elbow to one of the Erik Wemple Blog’s favorite shows on cable news:

More than half of Fox’s misleading coverage (53%) was from one program, The Five, where the hosts often instigated misleading debates about established climate science. In general, Fox hosts and guests were more likely than those of other networks to disparage the study of climate science and criticize scientists.

For full blog post, click here.

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By Terri L. Turner, AICP, CFM

The 18-county Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) which includes both the community where I live in South Carolina and the community where I work in Georgia suffered an ice storm of historical proportions in mid-February of this year.  The older populous in our community say that they “remember three or four ice storms that caused some damage,” but nothing in comparison to the catastrophic damage that Mother Nature wreaked on this area’s urban forest over the four day period from February 11 to February 14, 2014.

Trees that had reached the century mark lay broken and in ruin, to sadly include “irreparable damage” to the iconic and historic loblolly pine at the Augusta National  known as the “Eisenhower Tree.”  It was not just the older forest that suffered, however.  Old and young trees alike found the burdensome weight of successive days of ice on their frame just too much to bear.   Additionally, a wetter than normal Summer and Fall season prior to the ice event left root systems compromised and unable to be the sturdy foundation that they once were.

Local experts have estimated that between 80 to 90 percent of the area’s trees were affected in some way during the ice event.  According to Roy Simkins, a local arborist and Chairman of the Augusta Tree Commission, “about 25 to 30 percent of the area’s pine and oak species were completely lost.”

Clean-up has resulted in massive debris piles, causing one on-looker to describe the recent ice event as “Mother Nature’s selective pruning.”  Let us just suffice to say, Mother Nature’s lopping, cropping and trimming was widespread and dramatically extensive.

So, as cleanup of damaged trees and limbs continues, I turned my attention to the lesser noticed victims of “Ice Storm Pax” – our area’s wetlands and riparian areas.  The devastation within their boundaries is just as egregious as that found elsewhere within our community, but what, if anything are our communities going to do to deal with all of the destruction?  Jeanne Christie with the Association of State Wetlands Managers (ASWM) and Thomas Biebighauser with the Center for Wetlands and Stream Restoration were gracious enough to supply that answer for me.  The answer is nothing.  “Debris is part of the natural process of wetlands even in a dramatic winter like this one,” Jeanne Christie writes.   “Removal of fallen trees and limbs should only address any safety issues associated with people visiting the wetlands, but it’s likely a lot of new habitat was created, and natural succession will replace what is lost. The exact tract that the natural succession takes may be impacted by larger climatic changes such as sea level rise, and precipitation changes.”

It is understandable that the wetlands and streams will look pretty awful with the amount of nature’s canopy that has been leveled and reduced to ruin.  However, what might appear to be ruin to some, may be nature’s bounty to others.  Thomas Biebighauser tells us that the “great density of snags created by an ice storm can be of great benefit to roosting bats, and to primary and secondary cavity nesting birds.”

Mr. Biebighauser experienced a similarly devastating ice storm in Kentucky in 2003, and described what he learned by observing their wetlands over an eleven year period. “We found that the large woody debris that had fallen into wetlands greatly improves habitat for turtles, birds, and salamanders such as the marbled salamander.  A bonus was that the fallen trees curbed the illegal use of ATVs in areas, where these motor vehicles had been damaging wetlands and riparian areas.  The trees that fell in the woods were also used by small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.  Another observation revealed the importance of an open canopy in the forest to neo-tropical birds.  The diversity and density of songbirds detected on the bird survey points I was taking in ice storm damaged areas increased many times from pre-storm levels as the forest under-story responded to full sunlight. We have found a great diversity of native plants now growing on the large trees that fell into the wetlands.”

Mr. Bighauser advised that “[t]his is a perfect time to decide what roads and trails you want to open for use by the public.” He explained further, that in areas where they had removed ice storm damaged trees from streams and wetlands, they found great damage to these habitats.  “Rubber tired heavy equipment was used to remove the trees.  This meant that skid trails, or low standard roads had to be built to access wetlands and streams.  The ruts from the heavy equipment in these saturated soils caused deep ruts.  Water flowed in these ruts, causing head-cuts to form, resulting in significant erosion.  The erosion was bad news for fish and wildlife that continues today.  The heavy equipment that was used for logging brought in an invasion of non-native invasive plants.  The areas not logged remain free from these species.  The rubber tires and tracks on the heavy equipment moved an unwanted diversity of non-native plant species over the areas affected by the ice storm.”

I learned a great lesson here.  Sometimes, the best answer is to do nothing at all.  Mr Biebighauser sums it up nicely, “the ice storm was a bonus to the plants and animals that use wetlands and streams. You really don’t need to do anything to help these species after an ice storm.”

In the response of these wetlands and stream experts, I am reminded that wetlands and riparian areas are amazing and beneficial ecosystems.  Left to their own devices, our urban wetlands will heal themselves from this tragic ice event.  In fact, if the truth were to be known, the wetland and riparian areas probably fared far better than other locations within our urban forest and will probably fare better in natural events still to come in the future.  But then again, that’s the definition of resiliency – to withstand, to rebound and to adapt.  Our wetlands are modern day examples of resiliency.  They are already bracing for the next damaging storm event, rebounding from the recent ice storm, and adapting in order to withstand for what is to come their way in the future.   They do their job each and every day without very much fanfare and often without notice; yet, left untouched by man (and his bulldozer) they will live and thrive for the benefit and enjoyment of generations to come.

The author, Terri L Turner, AICP, CFM is the Development Administrator / Floodplain Manager / Hazard Mitigation Specialist for the Planning and Development Department in Augusta, Georgia.  Ms Turner is the current Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) Region 4 Director and the ASFPM No Adverse Impact (NAI) Committee Co-Chair.  She has been awarded many prestigious awards in her career to include the 2010 ASFPM Local Floodplain Manager of the Year Award, the 2010 Mary Fran Meyers Scholarship from the Natural Hazards Center and was named a White House Champion of Change in 2012.  Ms Turner spends most of her free time writing for national publications and traveling across the country lecturing on sound floodplain management, hazard mitigation, climate change adaptation, and sustainability and resiliency issues.

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View from the blog-o-sphereSorry, New York Times: The Climate Report Won’t Change Any Climate Change Deniers’ Minds

By Philip Bump – The Wire – April 1, 2014
The new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is stark, detailed and unflinching in its depiction of climate change. And despite The New York Times‘ hyper-optimistic predictions, it will not change a thing. For full story, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the Posts Protecting Streams and Wetlands Under the Clean Water Act

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition – March 27, 2014
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) have released a much-anticipated proposed rule to clarify Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauds EPA and the Corps for moving forward with this important rule, which will bolster the Clean Water Act’s legal and scientific foundation and protect the streams, wetlands, and other waters that feed our Nation’s rivers, lakes, and bays. For full blog post,
click here.

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Like much of the country we are weary of winter in southern Maine. Nearly every conversation—whether it’s with a friend or a total stranger– begins with “I know I’m tired of winter, I bet you are too.” But I am old enough to remember longer colder winters and I have always been much struck by the power of bad weather to bring people together. Years ago when I lived in northern Minnesota we all carried jumper cables in our cars. It was not uncommon to need to give a stranger a jump to get their car started in the grocery store parking lot in bitterly cold weather. I remember once losing control of my car on an icy road driving home on a dark night. I didn’t need a tow truck. A half dozen young men descended on us out of the dark moments after the car slid into a snowbank and pushed us back on the road. People don’t stop to ask questions or make judgments when the weather is dangerous; they leap to assistance. So while I too am tired of the cold weather and snow, I will never weary of the sense of belonging and community that comes with it.

Stay warm,

Jeanne Christie
Executive Director

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