wetlands

Take Action for Wetlands

by Stephanie Leach

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

Citizen science projects enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research.

 

This May is the 24thAmerican Wetlands Month, a time for us to appreciate the beautiful diversity of our wetlands as well as Americans’ long and evolving history with them. While we have not always recognized wetlands as ecologically valuable places, we are now fortunate to have a large body of cultural and scientific knowledge, as well as technologies that allow us to access this voluminous information, to guide us in the exploration of our aquatic resources and even allow us to aid in their protection.

You can find many opportunities to advocate for wetlands in your area, including volunteering with community groups to restore or monitor wetlands or even participating in what are known as citizen science projects. Citizen science is when individuals without professional expertise assist in the collection of data. Participation in a citizen science project can mean surveying a specific location over a certain time period, volunteering to collect samples from designated streams, or even simply making note of an observed species. Increasingly, citizen science is taking the form of crowdsourcing over the internet, whereby ordinary people submit their observations to organizations in order to create a large-scale representation of the biodiversity present across time and space.

Some examples of citizen science projects that enrich our knowledge of wetland biodiversity and contribute to scientific research include: Frogwatch USA, Project Feeder Watch (to report overwintering birds), The Orianne Society (salamanders), Bandedbirds.org (banded shore birds) and other location-specific projects dedicated to rare or invasive plants. What’s more, several of these projects have smartphone apps which users can consult for more information or even use to submit their observations.

American Wetlands Month offers us an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and take action to protect our aquatic resources as we move forward. For more information, visit EPA’s American Wetlands Month website. What groups or projects are you involved with that help you learn about and protect wetlands in your area?

About the Author:  Stephanie Leach works in EPA Region 3’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division as an intern from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and learning as much as she can about the natural world and how to protect it.

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting Our Natural Resources – Here and Abroad

OITA PDAA Jane Nishida talks to key local and national stakeholders working to preserve and protect Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

OITA PDAA Jane Nishida talks to key local and national stakeholders working to preserve and protect Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay

 

By Jane Nishida, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of International and Tribal Affairs

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the nation’s most vital resources, providing important habitat for fish and wildlife, and recreational and tourism opportunities for millions of people each year. While increased tourism and development has supported the area’s economic growth, it has brought with it a suite of environmental challenges, including nutrient pollution, loss of forests and wetlands, and air pollution stemming from increased development in the area. In my previous roles as Secretary of Maryland’s Department of the Environment and Maryland Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I saw first-hand the impacts of this damage, and worked closely with local residents, stakeholders, elected officials and the federal government to begin on a major restoration and protection effort. Not only can we protect the bay and surrounding wildlife, we can ensure the continued economic benefits of tourism for the future.

Nearly 8,000 miles away from the Chesapeake Bay lies an area with similar opportunities and challenges. Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known around the world for its striking beauty and diverse ecosystem. However, as with the Chesapeake Bay, concerned citizens and government officials are seeing increased degradation and pollution as more and more people access the Bay for tourism, recreation and shipping development. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Innovating a Path Forward: EPA & the Colorado Natural Heritage Program Wade Into Colorado’s Wetlands

By: William Bunch

I work in EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver and have the opportunity to work with some partners that are doing great work in this area of our country. One such program is the Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP).

CNHP is on the cutting edge of wetlands science and is one of EPA’s partners in Region 8. It provides an array of mapping, monitoring and assessment, and other eye-catching projects for the entire state of Colorado. One such project was the development of a wetland plant identification handbook. As a plant ecologist, I’ve used tons of plant field guides, but this is not your ordinary plant handbook. It’s an incredibly exhaustive collection that documents the wetland plants found in the state of Colorado. In fact, the weight of knowledge is so extensive that you can easily tell when the book is in your pack! On this front, CNHP shines yet again. It is currently in the process of converting the field guide into an app for smartphones. The app will reduce the extra weight during field visits, while still providing the extensive information that is included in the handbook.

Another project from CNHP that has been grabbing the attention of wetland ecologists in Colorado is its assessment of wetland plant communities in Denver parks. I had the pleasure of joining CNHP on a plant inventory of Parkfield Park and it was awesome! Of the many plants discovered and identified, we found Wolffia columbiana, which is the world’s smallest flowering plant. This was only the second known occurrence of this plant in the state of Colorado (first known occurrence in Denver), and reinforces the idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The only other documentation of this plant occurring in Colorado was in Yuma County by Ralph Brooks in 1980. Who would have thought that an urban park in Denver would be home to a plant so rare for the state? As John Muir once said,

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe!” We are intrinsically connected to our environment, and everywhere you turn, there are new things to be discovered.

For more information about the great work CNHP does, check out its blog  or its wetlands inventory .  For more information about EPA’s work on wetlands, check out w.epa.gov/wetlands.

The tiny green dots, where the arrows are pointing, are clumps of Wolffia columbiana. The plant’s body is less than 1/16 in. (0.8-1.3 mm) long.  Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

The tiny green dots, where the arrows are pointing, are clumps of Wolffia columbiana. The plant’s body is less than 1/16 in. (0.8-1.3 mm) long. Photo by Bernadette Kuhn.

 

Cover page of CNHP’s Field Guide to Wetland Plants

Cover page of CNHP’s Field Guide to Wetland Plants

 

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

Billy Bunch, Pam Smith, and Laura Cascardi standing in front of a patch of large bull rushes during a plant inventory of Denver’s Parkfield Park. Photo by Bernedette Kuhn.

About the author: William Bunch is an ORISE Intern for EPA Region 8. He is an avid plant ecologist and, like most ORISE interns, is currently trying to find a permanent position with EPA.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Quilting to Give a Community a Voice

“We would like to dedicate this blog in memory of the four Lake Apopka farmworkers, community leaders, and long-time Farmworker Association of Florida members – strong and dedicated women leaders and agricultural workers – who we lost in 2013.  In memory of Angela Tanner, Willie Mae Williams, Betty Woods, and Louise Seay.  With gratitude and remembrance from the community.  We will miss you.”

By Jeannie Economos

When I first started working for the Farmworker Association of Florida in 1996, they told me part of my job was to work on the issue of Lake Apopka.  Little did I know at the time that Lake Apopka would become my life’s work for the next 17 years. And, it would become personal…as I came to know and love the community of people I worked with – the farmworkers who fed America for generations.

Untitled-2Lake Apopka is Florida’s most contaminated large lake.  On the north shore, 20,000 acres of farmland were carved out of what was once the bottom of Lake Apopka.  Farmworkers farmed that land – they call it muck –for decades beginning in the 1940s during World War II until the farms were bought out by the state and shut down in 1998 for the purpose of trying to restore the lake’s natural wetlands.

Alligator studies in the 1980s and the tragic death of over 1,000 aquatic birds on Lake Apopka in 1998-99 were linked to toxic organochlorine pesticides that had been used on the farms prior to their being banned in the 1970s. Farmworkers were exposed to these same chemicals, but nobody was looking at their health problems from chronic occupational pesticide exposure on the farmlands. Millions were spent to study alligators, and later the birds, and to try to restore the ‘dead’ lake. But no money was ever spent to address the health concerns of the farmworkers, who were acutely exposed to these pesticides for years.

The community would not accept this, especially when they saw their friends and family members getting sick and even dying.  Thus, was born the idea of the Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quilt Project.  With a lot of hard work and commitment from former Lake Apopka farmworkers from Apopka and Indiantown, it has become a reality. The quilts were created to honor the lives of the farmworkers who have been exposed to the pesticides and to keep alive their history. The artwork of each individual square weaves the personal stories, tragedies, and small victories together to speak about the environmental injustices at Lake Apopka. The Lake Apopka farmworker leaders continue to use the quilts to both raise awareness among student and church groups about environmental justice and their community, and as a tool to press their case with state and local decision makers to address the health and environmental problems facing their community members.

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2013 MLK Day Parade in Florida

Today, the quilts have been viewed by thousands of Floridians and exhibited all across the state, including in Orlando City Hall, the Orange County Public Library, the Alachua County Public Library and the African American Museum of Art. This has helped spread awareness of the injustices the farmworkers face, and has helped build attention from the state legislature, which has been working to propose legislation which would provide long-term health care services for the affected residents surrounding the lake.

Is there still a need to address health care for the farmworkers on Lake Apopka?  Yes, but the creation of the quilts has given the community a voice and a message that they didn’t have before.  And, it has been a way for members to turn their pain into folk art that memorializes the ones they love.  Validation is what the community wants.  The quilts are one way to validate their lives and their contributions to our society.  

About the author: Jeannie has worked for over 20 years on issues of the environment, environmental justice, indigenous and immigrants’ rights, labor, peace, and social justice. From 1996-2001, she worked for the Farmworker Association of Florida as the Lake Apopka Project Coordinator, addressing the issues of job loss, displacement, and health problems of the farmworkers who worked on the farm lands on Lake Apopka prior to the closing of the farms in 1998. After the bird mortality in 1998-99, her focus turned to the pesticide-related health problems of the former Lake Apopka farmworkers, who were exposed to the same damaging organochlorine pesticides that were implicated in the bird deaths.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Coastal Wetlands Getting Swamped

By Charlie Rhodes

While wetlands may conjure up images of “swamp things,” in reality these unique ecosystems have many vital and fascinating characteristics.

For example, wetlands provide crucial food and habitat for wildlife.  Did you know that more than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles, as do 75 percent of our nation’s migratory birds?

Both saltwater (along the coastal shorelines) and freshwater (extending inland) wetlands occur in the coastal watersheds of the United States.

Wetland systems improve water quality and buffer coastal communities from erosion and flooding, while also providing recreational opportunities. A recent report Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watershed of the Continuous United States 2004-2009 summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds. Frankly, much of the report compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wasn’t good news.

During the study period, wetlands suffered a net national decline of 360,720 acres (an area about the size of Los Angeles), and an average of 25 percent increased loss compared to the previous five years.  Our Atlantic Coasts saw a decline of 111,960 acres (larger than the city of Philadelphia).  Losses and degradation of wetlands in coastal watersheds can be directly traced to population growth, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Some of the reported impacts include:

  • The loss of an estimated that 7,360 acres of estuarine saltmarsh in the Atlantic coastal watersheds  – mainly due to erosion and inundation from rising sea levels along shorelines near Delaware Bay.
  • Forested freshwater wetlands declined by an estimated 405,740 acres.  Of these losses, 69,700 acres (44%) were attributed to silviculture, the practice of harvesting trees in many swamps.
  • Natural ponds declined by 16,400 acres (-3.9 percent), while detention or ornamental ponds increased by 55,700 acres (+19 percent).  While this would appear to indicate a net gain, the tradeoff is that natural ponds, which often interact with other natural environments and provide additional benefits, were being lost while isolated decorative ponds or sumps of limited ecological value were being created.

While reestablishing and creating wetlands can offset losses, this study also found that these strategies have not been as effective in coastal wetlands as in other types.  Challenges include costs, competing land use interests, and oversight limitations.

Wetland losses coupled with increasing frequency of extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy make the mid-Atlantic coasts increasingly vulnerable to coastal flooding and inundation.

But not all of the news is bad. Many great opportunities still exist for citizens, industry, government agencies, and others to work together to slow the rate of wetland loss and improve the quality of our remaining wetlands.  Learn more about what you can do to protect wetlands and about EPA’s wetland activities in the mid-Atlantic at the following:  http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/protection.cfm; and http://www.epa.gov/reg3esd1/wetlands/ .

 

About the Author:  Charlie Rhodes is a wetland ecologist who has been with EPA since 1979.  He has worked nationally on wetlands in many capacities including impact assessment, delineation, and enforcement; and in many roles, including expert witness, instructor, and grant reviewer. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Offsetting Wetlands Losses is Critical Work

Nancy Stoner in SF

Eric Mruz of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service points out to Nancy Stoner (left) and EPA Pacific-Southwest Water Director Jane Diamond some of the wetland restoration work being done alongside the San Francisco Bay. Photo credit: EPA

 

When I was recently in San Francisco, I was astonished to learn that over the last century the Bay has lost more than 85 percent of its tidal wetlands. So I took a tour with Jane Diamond, EPA’s water director for the Pacific Southwest region, of the restoration work being done in the South Bay to convert industrial salt ponds back into tidal wetlands and other habitats.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Clarifying Protection for Streams and Wetlands

In September, we joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in developing a proposed rule that will provide greater consistency, certainty, and predictability nationwide by clarifying where the Clean Water Act applies – and where it doesn’t. These improvements are necessary to reduce costs and minimize delays in the permit process, and protect waters that are vital to public health, the environment, and the economy.

Over the past decade, Supreme Court rulings have caused confusion about which streams and wetlands are protected from pollution and development under the Clean Water Act. As a result, members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, and the public asked EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to clarify jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

In response, we’ve developed a draft rule that takes into account the more narrow reading of the Clean Water Act jurisdiction established by the Supreme Court. This means that EPA’s jurisdiction will only include the protection of the same waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act for the past 40 years – in fact, it will be a smaller set of waters than before the Supreme Court decision.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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EPA Science: Supporting the Waters of the U.S.

Reposted from EPA Connect, the Official Blog of EPA’s Leadership

By Nancy Stoner and Lek Kadeli

One of the great environmental success stories of our time is the Clean Water Act. Forty years ago, the condition of U.S. rivers, streams, lakes, coastal areas and other water resources was a national concern.

Things started to improve after the newly-established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was given direction “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” through major revisions to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (now the Clean Water Act).

But over the past decade, court decisions have created uncertainty about the Clean Water Act’s protection of certain streams and wetlands from pollution and development. In particular, the confusion centers on questions surrounding small streams and wetlands—some of which only flow after precipitation or dry up during parts of the year—and what role they play in the health of larger water bodies nearby or downstream.

This week, EPA’s Science Advisory Board released for public comment a draft scientific report, “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence.” This draft report synthesizes more than 1,000 peer-reviewed pieces of scientific literature about how smaller, isolated water bodies are connected to larger ones and represents the state-of-the-science on the connectivity and isolation of waters in the United States.

Read more…

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King Tides and Sea Level Rise, Part 2

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer
By Nancy Stoner

Growing up in Virginia, I loved it when my family went to the beach each summer. The beach was a place where we could have fun together. Now, as the acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, I am well aware how climate change may impact the seashore and our estuaries.

Coastal processes such as tides don’t just happen right at the seashore. Tides can extend far up into our estuaries and rivers; we have tides in the Washington D.C., which is 188 miles upstream from the Atlantic Ocean. Sea level rise is a concern here and all around the U.S. too. The relative rate of sea level rise measured at the Washington D.C. tide gauge from 1924 through 2012 is equivalent to 13 inches in 100 years. Sea level is projected to rise even faster in the coming decades. Higher sea levels are potential threats to water infrastructure, to homes, to our drinking water supply, and to wetlands and coastal environments.

This month, the Atlantic and Gulf coasts will be seeing their highest tides of the year in a couple of weeks. These “king tides” can cause tidal flooding in coastal communities. King tides provide a glimpse of the future, and provide us with a glimpse of potential future impacts from rising sea levels, and how things could look if sea levels do not recede. The Middle Atlantic Center for Geography & Environmental Studies website shows where and when king tides are expected to happen.

You can help record king tides through photography. The King Tides International Network recently launched a photo contest to help record king tides from all over the world. You can also submit photos of king tides to EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project. And, for more information about climate change adaptation please visit EPA’s Climate Ready Estuaries program on the web.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Around the Water Cooler: American Wetlands Month—and Your Dinner

By Lahne Mattas-Curry

ShrimpboatBayou country, located along the Gulf of Mexico, specifically Louisiana, has historically shaped the culture and the economy of the region. The Bayou—otherwise known as wetlands, swamps, or bogs—is an economic resource supporting commercial and sport fishing, hunting, recreation and agriculture.

Remember the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company? The shrimping business the fictional Forrest Gump started (and since inspired a real restaurant chain). Without clean and healthy wetlands, there’s no shrimping business, not in the movies and not in real life.

This month is American Wetlands Month and EPA is acknowledging the extensive benefits—or “ecosystem services”—that wetlands provide. From trapping floodwaters and recharging groundwater supplies to removing pollution and providing fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands improve water quality in nearby rivers, streams and lakes and even serve as a natural filter for our drinking water. They are the “kidneys” of our hydrologic cycle.

In Bayou Country, wetlands provide nearly all of the commercial catch and half the recreational harvest of fish and shellfish. They are extremely valuable to the region’s economy. Wetlands in the region provide the habitat for birds, alligators and crocodiles, muskrat, beaver, mink and a whole bunch of other important critters.

EPA researchers all over the country are looking at different ways to keep our wetlands clean and healthy. From nutrient pollution research and water quality research to buffers around rivers and stream habitat (“riparian zones”) and other green infrastructure efforts, scientists are ensuring that our wetlands can continue to do their work – providing a habitat, filtering out pollution, and supporting our economy.

This month, wherever you sit down to enjoy all the shrimp and seafood you can eat, remember that without healthy and clean wetlands, none of that would be possible.

For more information on how EPA scientists monitor and assess our wetlands, read here.

About the Author: Lahne Mattas-Curry loves clean water, healthy beaches and great seafood. A regular contributor to EPA’s It All Starts with Science blog, she helps communicate the great science in the Agency’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Program.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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