by Brenda Zollitsch


I was watching the movie Jurassic Park with my family this past weekend.  I have always been quite taken with Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcom and especially his campy and somewhat misguided delivery of the concept of Chaos Theory.  I was reminded of Dr. Malcom’s wry remarks as Marla Stelk (my fellow policy analyst at ASWM and the one who brings you News of Interest and Wetland Breaking News each week) and I discussed some recent news items.  We scan a range of news issues, including conservation, natural resource management, biodiversity research, wildlife management, green infrastructure, climate change, energy and land use planning, among many, many more each week.  What strikes me frequently during this review is how many pieces of the ecosystem puzzle are in motion in ways they’ve never been in motion together before —so many innovations and conflicting developments, all happening simultaneously, all without knowledge or consideration of the other parts of the equation.


Thinking back to recent posts we have read or discussions in which we have taken part, I am reminded of the Dr. Malcom character’s delightfully dry line, “See?  I’m right again.  Nobody could have predicted that…”

  • A state that bans fracking lets it slide that fracking waste is being put on their roads for snow and ice melt despite the investment of millions of dollars battling stormwater pollution to streams, wetlands and coastal waters;
  • An environmental outreach group concerned about controlling invasive species recommends the application of Roundup to eradicate the unwanted plants in a highly sensitive ecosystem;
  • A company capitalizes on a new way to sidestep GMO restrictions by nurturing mutant genes in crops because that approach is not yet regulated;
  • While Ohio’s rivers aren’t burning, the State’s waters are green with record-breaking algal blooms which have caused widespread drinking water disruptions;  and
  • Many, many more what I would refer to as “shake your head” news developments.

    b77“Crazy” things have always happened.  Innovations have been escalating in scope and impact for centuries.  Human influences on the environment have been survivable for thousands of years.  However, as a systems thinker, I find it increasingly disturbing to recognize how many parts are indeed in motion in ways they never have been.  Migratory flyways are changing.  Species are changing their ranges.  Lifecycles are changing and inter-species interactions upon which some species rely are being disrupted.  New competition is being introduced.  Resiliency is being reduced.  Invasive species are capitalizing.  Habitat is being lost at staggering rates.  A World Wildlife Fund report indicates that more than half of all wildlife on the planet has disappeared in just the last 50 years.  We are at a hugely complex moment for the environment – where human influences, choices and behaviors are colliding with natural shifts in ways that make modeling and prediction increasingly challenging.

    While all these changes seem perhaps counterproductive, they are far from irrational.  Deciding to capitalize on natural genetic mutations rather than genetic modification to increase output is rational behavior if it opens a market and increases food supply, as is trying to find a way to create beneficial uses from a fracking byproduct.  In its most basic economic form, rational behavior does not require decision-makers to take into consideration ethical, environmental, social and other outcomes unless these things limit economic benefits to the immediate decision-maker.  And the result of all this rational decision-making is now an odd set of highly complex circumstances and impacts interacting with one another in highly unpredictable ways.

    b55This is the world in which we are working to protect ecosystems and wetlands.  However, instead of being surprised by these decisions and changes, we need to start thinking about alternatives to the standard ways we have been addressing increased precipitation (e.g. pipes, canals and levees), drought, hurricanes, eroding beaches, invasive species, fire hazards, flooding and other challenges. Instead of waiting for people to make decisions that will reverse climate change or end the blame game, we need to acknowledge that whatever the cause or the ways to stop it, we need to deal with climate volatility right now.  And wetlands need to be part of that discussion and planning process.  In many of these circumstances, one way to increase resiliency is to integrate wetlands.

    Wetlands are gems at creating resiliency – slowing water runoff; holding water and creating oases of green during droughts, providing safe havens of wildlife when habitat is being destroyed, reducing erosion, buffering wind and tidal surge along coastlines, and reducing fire risk by retaining soil moisture.  In the movie Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcom infamously argues, “Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  Although I think we should all be working to remove perverse incentives that encourage people to contribute to climate change, mess with genetic code, and build homes in hazard zones, b66I personally don’t think we can wait for this revelation.  Regardless of how much change is happening or will continue to happen, wetlands can be a tool to address negative climate impacts… whether changes to the climate are clearly understood or not.   Since wetlands are one of nature’s great buffers, part of our work now needs to focus on promoting wetlands as an essential part of the climate resiliency toolbox.


    Posted in climate change, conservation, ecosystem, fracking, green infrastructure, sea level rise, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Wetlander's Pick of the PostsConfirmed: California Aquifers Contaminated With Billions Of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater 

    Desmog Blog – October 7, 2014
    After California state regulators shut down 11 fracking wastewater injection wells last July over concerns that the wastewater might have contaminated aquifers used for drinking water and farm irrigation, the EPA ordered a report within 60 days. It was revealed yesterday that the California State Water Resources Board has sent a letter to the EPA confirming that at least nine of those sites were in fact dumping wastewater contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants into aquifers protected by state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. For full blog post, click here.

    Posted in government, water | Leave a comment

    View from the blog-o-sphereRebuilding “Who-ville” – Our Lost and Forgotten Underworld Communities 

    By Chuck Hegberg – Center for Watershed Protection – Runoff Ramblings Blog – September 18, 2014
    The old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention” speaks volumes to the efforts being invested to develop the next generation of smart Best Management Practices (BMPs) (1) in our efforts to restore the Bay and meet the EPA’s TMDL requirements. Part of this innovation is the development and pilot testing of a variety of enhanced media and soil amendments. For full blog post, click here.

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    By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

    I was never a fan of history growing up. Instead of getting to go to kid-centric places like Disneyland or SeaWorld, my parents wetlandblogmarla101614-1insisted on taking us on long family vacations to visit historical sites: graveyards, battlefields, museums, cathedrals, monuments, etc. And my folks would stop to read EVERY placard along the way at any and every historical site. As an adult I am definitely grateful for my upbringing – as a child, however, I was convinced that it was an immense waste of time. I could not even begin to understand what any of it had to do with me or my current, modern life.

    I don’t think I am alone, however. In fact, I believe that there are many adults who still firmly believe this – that history is irrelevant to modern life. Progress has made history somewhat trite after all, right? Not at all – especially if you’re considering taking up a wetland restoration project.

    wetlandblogmarla101614-2Tom Biebighauser, founder of the Wetland Restoration and Training Center, has managed to unearth (pun intended – you’ll get it in a minute) what in my mind, is one of the most significant hidden barriers to wetland restoration success: buried historic drainage structures. And they are everywhere. In fact, according to Tom’s research, the B.F. Whartenby Clay Tile Factory in Waterloo, NY made only 3,000 clay drainage tiles in 1838. By 1849, they were producing 840,000 clay tiles per year – a 99.6% increase in production in just 11 years. And they weren’t the only game in town.

    Humans have masterfully drained wetlands in this country for over 300 years and there are virtually no records or maps of where they are buried. And to an untrained eye, they’re masterfully hidden. These tiles were made of rock, wood, brick, clay, concrete and plastic pipe – not the kind of material you’ll pick up with a metal detector. But find them you must, because embarking on a wetland restoration project where you are trying to reestablish the site’s hydrology, without finding and taking out the drainage structures, is like trying to fill a perforated bucket with water. It just doesn’t work, dear Liza.

    wetlandblogmarla101614-3333Fortunately Tom’s trainings provide folks with tips on how to spot where a wetland used to be and where one should start digging to unearth these wily drainage structures. At first it feels like you’re looking at an M.C. Escher sketch – trying to decipher what is real versus an optical illusion. But once you know what to look for – the important hidden signs – suddenly you see the landscape in an entirely new light. It speaks to you and tells you a story – a story about our nation’s history and the brave, ingenious, and hard-working folks, who found innovative ways to feed their communities, create jobs and manage the land.

    These early farm steaders lived in a very different world with a much smaller population and with, what seemed like at the time, to be unlimited natural resources. They did not have the knowledge that we now have in regard to the benefits of wetlands and their significant role in maintaining biodiversity, providing habitat, attenuating floodwaters, storing groundwater, etc. Our generation now knows that draining wetlands comes with a slew of repercussions. Now we know that it is far better to work with nature than to attempt to conquer nature.

    wetlandblogmarla101614-4So now it is our turn to roll up our sleeves and work just as hard and just as ingeniously as these early farmers. We can learn from their mistakes and learn from their successes. If we want to restore wetlands successfully, we must learn the history of the land and the history of those who lived here before us because they changed the landscape. Wetland drainage is certainly not a new technique for expanding agriculture. In fact, research suggests that the Maya dug ditches between wetlands to create irrigation and diversion canals. They used the fill to elevate the land area between the canals for intensive farming. Some researchers suggest that wetland drainage by the Maya may have contributed to changing the local climate. It would be interesting to learn the history of how the Native Americans managed the land in the U.S. for agriculture and what kind of drainage systems they may have employed.

    So I guess history isn’t as boring as I used to think it was. It has allowed me to see the present landscape as a product of the past. And more importantly, it has allowed me to envision how we might effectively restore the landscape for the future. So For Peat’s Sake, before you embark on a wetland restoration project, learn about the history of your site and look for hidden signs of drainage – don’t fill a holey bucket!

    For More Information:

    Tom Biebighauser and the Center for Wetland and Stream Restoration 

    ASWM Webinar Recording: The History of Wetland Drainage in the U.S.

    Publications & Articles:

    Wetland Drainage, Restoration and Repair

    Mayans converted wetlands to farmland

    Did Climate Change Cause the Decline of the Maya?


    Posted in agriculture, land use, restoration, wetlands | Tagged , | Leave a comment

    View from the blog-o-sphereCommon Ground Relief opens wetlands center in New Orleans Times-Picayume – October 10, 2014
    Common Ground Relief will open Cabane Coypu and the Wetlands Contemplative Center at its Native Plant Nursery 2.0, which provides plant material needed for its Wetlands Restoration Program, Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the foot of the Judge Seeber Bridge in the Lower Ninth Ward, with the entrance at 1515 Jourdan Avenue, in New Orleans. With the addition of Cabane Coypu and the Wetlands Contemplative Center, the Nursery 2.0 also serves as an experiential learning center and public space. For full blog post, click here.

    Posted in wetland restoration, wetlands | Leave a comment

    Wetlander's Pick of the PostsOut of Sandy, Lessons in Helping Coastal Marshes Recover from Storms

    By Ashley Braun – NOAA’s Response and Restoration Blog – October 3, 2014
    Boats capsized in a sea of grass. Tall trees and power lines toppled over. A dark ring of oil rimming marsh grasses. This was the scene greeting NOAA’s Simeon Hahn and Carl Alderson a few days after Sandy’s floodwaters had pulled back from New Jersey in the fall of 2012. For full blog post, click here.

    Posted in hurricane, wetlands | Leave a comment

    There are days when I am discouraged and it seems like public policy can be summed up in a few words:

    “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”                                                                                                                      –French Proverb

    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”                                                                                   –Albert Einstein

    Happily today is not one of those days.

    Federal policy changes slowly, and in some respects that is a good thing.  I sometimes imagine ‘federal policy’ as a giant ship where changes in direction must be calculated over miles rather than feet.   Too many adjustments are likely to cause the ship to zig and zag, to lose momentum and never reach its destination. The trick is to identify the minimum number of adjustments needed to keep the ship on course. Unfortunately, I also visualize thousands of rowboats large and small (representing all the various interest groups trying to influence public policy) with lines tied to the massive ship attempting to pull it in a desired direction.  Unless a large number of them work together, they have no effect on the direction of the ship.

    I think most folks would agree in general terms on the boat’s destination – health, happiness, a healthy environment, a healthy economy, a place where children can grow up safe, where our communities are civil and our neighbors helpful. And we want to be able to help others in turn.

    But there is a great disagreement over the precise course that will allow us to reach this destination.  Therefore, there is a lot of inertia and a tendency to stick with the ‘status quo’ and old ‘tried and true’ solutions even when there is a great deal of evidence that old solutions don’t work and haven’t worked for a long time.  Change is tough.  Change is threatening and uncertain.  Change is risky.

    Here’s a personal example.  My husband and I have tried to reduce our carbon footprint in a number of ways. For example this year we put a shelter over our wood pile so the wood would dry and burn cleaner.  Two years ago we began the process of switching our furnace from oil to natural gas. This week the local news is filled with stories about the lack of capacity to deliver natural gas to New England on the coldest days of the year.  As a result it is predicted that both our electricity and heating bills are going to increase significantly this winter. We can’t change what is happening, but we can decide what to do next.  The increased costs may mean we will need to look at additional ways to get our heat or electricity.  Solar?  Heat exchangers? There are different options to explore.

    delta in times of climate change abstractsAt the end of September there was a conference in the Netherlands on Deltas in Times of Climate Change.  If there were any doubt that innovation in responding to climate change is happening, a review of the 145 page agenda will eliminate it.   As will the 300 page compilation of abstracts. (To download the agenda and abstracts, click here.)  The list of studies, strategies, and tools developed or under development are inspiring and thought provoking.  And for anyone excited by the release October 8 of Resilience, adaptation, sequestration Priority Agenda: Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources, it should be required reading. As a wetland professional, I am very pleased the report from the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience highlights the role of wetlands restoration and protection as part of the strategy of developing resilience needed to respond to climate change.  It is one of the few times wetlands have been specifically highlighted in a national strategy as part of the overall response to climate change.  Specifically it identifies wetlands as important for storing carbon, for saving forests and as a key component of ‘natural infrastructure’ to reduce risk to human populations, built infrastructure and the environment. It provides a blueprint for future investments to keep people safe in anticipation of a changing world. However, to implement the plan, a whole bunch of those little rowboats trying to steer the good ship  “federal policy” are going to need to work together. What’s the incentive?

    economics of adpatationGoing back to the conference in the Netherlands, I’d like to highlight a plenary session presentation by Stéphane Hallegatte, Senior Economist in the Climate Change Group at the World Bank on The Economics of Adaptation who encouraged participants to think about the positive side of adaptation — development!  Adapting to climate change provides enormous opportunities for new economic development – resilient, forward-thinking development.  This perspective does not gloss over the very real risks posed by climate change, but highlights the need to take action and the inherent economic opportunities that will arise from responding to them.

    target obstacles to optimal adaptation
    So back to my personal efforts to reduce both our carbon footprint and our energy costs.  We purchased new windows to improve insulation. We purchased LED light bulbs to reduce electricity costs. We purchased a shelter for our wood.  We financed the switch from oil to natural gas for our furnace and we’re not done. Multiply decisions like these by the people, companies, communities and nations that will need to adapt to the changes wrought by a changing climate.  Opportunity is knocking!

    Posted in adaptation, climate change, wetland videos | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

    Wetlander's Pick of the PostsRestoring the Black Swamp to Save Lake Erie 

    By William J. Mitsch – Water Environment Federation Blog – September 4, 2014
    The harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie for the past few years and the toxic algae that caused Toledo Ohio to shut down the municipal water supply in August 2014 are symptomatic that there is something very wrong with the way we are managing our landscapes. Nutrients, especially phosphorus are pouring into this shallowest (18 m average) portion of the shallowest Great Lake, mostly as runoff from agricultural fields, are causing seasonal bursts in algal production with their accompanying problems of slimy aesthetics, dissolved oxygen depletion in bottom waters, fish kills, and toxicity. For full blog post, click here.

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    View from the blog-o-sphereGreen growth: an operational tool (and GDP has had its day…) 

    By Carlo Carraro – International Center for Climate Governance – September 3, 2014
    Let’s imagine a geography map. Let’s imagine a brown marker placed at one point on the map (the starting point) and a green marker (the arrival point) placed at a different point. The brown marker is brown economy, today’s economy, largely based on the use of fossil fuels and no longer sustainable for the planet and ourselves. The green marker is the point we need to get to, green economy, an economic system where well-being and social equity progress while environmental risks are reduced and the limits to natural resources are managed more sensibly: a low-carbon economy, whose key factors are social inclusivity and high efficiency in the use of resources. For full blog post, click here.

    Posted in green economy | Leave a comment

    Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

    I’m one of those people who have been following climate change issues and science seriously for about a decade.  Not as a researcher, and it is not my primary occupation, but I’ve been paying attention.  ped1002141And it seems to me that this year we have turned some sort of corner in terms of public perception.  There seem to be many fewer news reports and articles asking whether climate change is real, and whether there is a human cause.  In their place are many more reporting on the impacts of climate change, both current and future, and our needed response.

    Even more encouraging – the business community appears to be taking a serious look at the reality of climate change, and the long term economic risk that it poses.  Following the drinking water crisis in Toledo arising from Lake Erie algal blooms and other reports on algal blooms and dead zones in areas across the nation, some companies spoke publicly of changes in business practices based on the recognition that addressing climate change will be less expensive in the long run than ignoring it.   Forbes has posted articles on climate change pointing out the potential risk of climate change to the global economy, albeit counterpointed by those that remain skeptical of scientific reports.

    Yes, there are still many skeptics – denial that may arise from fear or belief or in some cases short term self- interest.  But once we, as a society, generally understand and accept the massive challenge presented by climate change and the urgency of addressing it, then we can focus more fully on identifying and setting priorities for solutions, and on taking action. This is true in terms of cutting emissions and for climate adaptation.  We can move ahead with less resistance.

    Business interests are reaching out in reports like Risky Business – the Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States – prepared by a group co-chaired by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.  This report lays out, in a compelling and very graphic manner what may be anticipated in the future both with and without action to mitigate climate change.



    I also suggest that you read (or re-read) a blog from one of ASWM’s supporters, the McKnight Foundation, which has  previously been posted on the ASWM web pages.  Aimee Witteman speaks of her return to the midwest, and the actions taken by her new home state, Minnesota, to address climate change.  Her post also references the recently released report by the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board – Minnesota & Climate Change: Our Tomorrow Starts Today.  Minnesota is one of the leaders, but not alone in progressive action at the state level by forward looking agencies and organizations. A number of states are addressing climate change in an integrated manner, using the best current science available.

    From the perspective of wetland managers, I hope that growing public understanding and acceptance of climate challenges helps to re-energize public commitment to protection of our natural resources.  As the public comes to understand that not only polar bears but water resources are at risk, then support for effective management of water should grow.  More than ever, we need to erase the lines that divide those who protect habitat and those who manage or protect water for human use; between those who use land for housing, agriculture, or an array of other purposes, and those who plan land use to sustain multiple resource values.  Between those who think in economic terms, and those who think in ecological terms.

    Agencies, organizations, businesses and individuals who have a vested interest in water resources – and isn’t that just about all of us? – need to be on the same page.  At one time, the environment was not a partisan issue.  I sincerely hope that we return to that perspective as we confront climate change and its risks, together.

    Read more:

    An article on the economic risk of climate change on the Forbes site, here.

    Check out the website for Risky Business here.

    Read Minnesota & Climate Change: Our Tomorrow Starts Today, here.

    Read Aimee Whittman’s blog on the McKnight Foundation website, here.

    Posted in climate change | Tagged | Leave a comment