USDA Seeks Partner Proposals to Protect and Restore Critical Wetlands

Source: Press Release, United States Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the availability of $17.5 million in financial and technical assistance to help eligible conservation partners voluntarily protect, restore and enhance critical wetlands on private and tribal agricultural lands.

“USDA has leveraged partnerships to accomplish a great deal on America’s wetlands over the past two decades, Vilsack said. “This year’s funding will help strengthen these partnerships and achieve greater wetland acreage throughout the nation.”

Funding will be provided through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP), a special enrollment option under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s Wetland Reserve Easement component. It is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Under WREP, states, local units of governments, non-governmental organizations and American Indian tribes collaborate with USDA through cooperative and partnership agreements. These partners work with willing tribal and private landowners who voluntarily enroll eligible land into easements to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their properties. WREP was created through the 2014 Farm Bill and was formerly known as the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.

Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. The voluntary nature of NRCS’ easement programs allows effective integration of wetland restoration on working landscapes, providing benefits to farmers and ranchers who enroll in the program, as well as benefits to the local and rural communities where the wetlands exist.

Proposals must be submitted to NRCS state offices by July 31, 2015. Projects can range from individual to watershed-wide to ecosystem-wide. Under a similar program in the 2008 Farm Bill, NRCS and its partners entered into 272 easements that enrolled more than 44,020 acres of wetlands from 2009 through 2013. Most of these agreements occurred through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). Through partnerships, MRBI identifies high-priority watersheds where focused conservation on agricultural land can make the most gains in improving local, state and regional water quality. The new collaborative WREP will build on those successes by providing the financial and technical assistance necessary for states, non-governmental organizations and tribes to leverage resources to restore and protect wetlands and wildlife habitat.

Through WREP, NRCS will sign multi-year agreements with partners to leverage resources, including funding, to achieve maximum wetland restoration, protection and enhancement and to create optimum wildlife habitat on enrolled acres. WREP partners are required to contribute a funding match for financial or technical assistance. These partners work directly with eligible landowners interested in enrolling their agricultural land into conservation wetland easements.

Today’s announcement builds on the roughly $332 million USDA has announced this year to protect and restore agricultural working lands, grasslands and wetlands. Collectively, NRCS’s easement programs help productive farm, ranch and tribal lands remain in agriculture and protect the nation’s critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species. Under the former Wetlands Reserve Program, private landowners, tribes and entities such as land trusts and conservation organizations enrolled 2.7 million acres through 14,500 agreements for a total NRCS and partner investment of $4.3 billion in financial and technical assistance.

The funding announced today was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing, and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

Visit NRCS’s ACEP webpage to learn more about NRCS’s wetland conservation options.

Where the land and water meet: new study pinpoints the essential role of wetlands

Estuary_photo

Quilceda marsh, currently owned by The Tulalip Tribes, looking southwest down Steamboat Slough of the Snohomish River toward Port Gardner, Wa.
Photo by K. O’Connell 2013

By Monica Brown Tulalip News Writer

TULALIP, WA-Wetlands are widely agreed to be some of the most beautiful places on Earth, with an array of wild and plant life that spark joy in the hearts of many.

“For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.” -Sandra Postel, founder and director of Global Water and Policy Project, author ofLast Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity”, 2003.

Wetlands can be considered the hub of life, where land and water meet you will find an overabundance of life flourishing. Currently most wetlands are threatened with rising sea levels, pollutants and development.

A recent study conducted by Restore America’s Estuary, on the Snohomish estuary, begins to pinpoint the essential need for healthy estuaries and their link to global health. For the study, soil samples (from Smith Island, Spencer Island and Qwuloolt to name a few) were taken in order to establish a count of CO2 emissions that are captured and stored within estuaries that vary in health condition.

 

Photo Source: Big Sky Carbon

Image Source: Big Sky Carbon

There are numerous ways to remove carbon emissions, most are natural and work through plant life such as forests while others are less natural and work through power plants that capture CO2 and bury it back into the earth or ocean. Coastal wetlands have been labeled as Blue Carbon sequesters and have been found to greatly reduce atmospheric CO2 emissions. Throughout the USA, tidal marshes, tidal forests, saltmarsh grasses, seagrasses, and the mangroves along the Gulf Coast are more effective at sequestering carbon (up to a 100 times faster) and are able to store it for longer periods of time as compared to forests.

wetlands_e1

Image Source: bragio.com

 “This report is a call to action. We need to invest more substantially in coastal restoration nationwide and in science to increase our understanding of the climate benefits which accrue from coastal restoration and protection efforts,” said Emmett-Mattox, Senior Director for Restore America’s Estuaries and co-author on the study. “Sea-level rise will only make restoration more difficult and costly in the future. The time for progress is now.”

Through this study a blue carbon working group can be established which will focus, for years to come, on restoring and monitoring Pacific Northwest region coastal wetlands in order to continue collecting  and analyzing data which will help to influence better-quality land management, update policies that could one day apply to wetlands nationally.

Due to human impact, coastal wetlands are disappearing at a rapid rate, “at current conversion rates, 30–40% of tidal marshes and seagrasses and nearly 100% of mangroves could be lost in the next 100 years.” (Estimating Global “Blue Carbon” Emissions from Conversion and Degradation of Vegetated Coastal Ecosystems.Pendleton et al., 2012). Although, both are time consuming, maintenance of estuaries is more cost effective than restoring and with rising sea levels (estuary health and life depend on average sea levels), estuaries are losing ground and time has become an issue as well. This national loss of wetlands has branded the Snohomish Estuary as an excellent case study for restoration and estimates of carbon storage.

“It is very fitting that we are implementing some of the world’s leading Blue Carbon research here in Puget Sound,” said Steve Dubiel, Executive Director of EarthCorps. “We have always known that wetlands are a kind of breadbasket, thanks to the salmon and shellfish they support. Now we are learning that they are also a carbon sponge.”

 

“Coastal Blue Carbon Opportunity Assessment for Snohomish Estuary: The Climate Benefits of Estuary Restoration” finds that currently planned and in-construction restoration projects in the Snohomish estuary will result in at least 2.55 million tons of CO2 sequestered from the atmosphere over the next 100-years.   This is equivalent to the 1-year emissions for 500,000 average passenger cars. If plans expanded to fully restore the Snohomish estuary, the sequestration potential jumps to 8.8 million tons of CO2   or, in other terms, equal to the 1-year emissions of about 1.7 million passenger cars.  
In addition to the climate benefits outlined by the study, healthy and restored estuaries act as spawning grounds and nurseries for commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish species, provide storm buffers for coastal communities, filter pollutants, and provide habitat for numerous species of fish and wildlife, as well as recreational opportunities for hundreds of millions of Americans annually.

 

‘Snapshots in time’: Yurok Tribe receives grant for sea level rise research

 

Will Houston/The Times-Standard

Feb 22, 2014

To aid in the Yurok Tribe’s climate change research on Klamath River wetlands, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded the tribe part of a $1.5 million grant this week.

Klamath River Estaury Wetlands

Klamath River Estaury Wetlands

Environmental protection specialist Suzanne Marr — who previously ran the agency’s wetlands program — said the Yurok Tribe’s application came complete with successful research.

”It’s a very competitive program, and not easy to get funded,” Marr said. “The Yurok Tribe has a strong program, and has competed very well over the years.”

Wetlands specialist Bill Patterson of the tribe’s environmental program said the $135,000 award is the fourth two-year grant the tribe has received from the EPA program. Each grant, Patterson said, has funded a variety of wetlands research projects spanning nearly eight years and different regions of the Klamath River.

”What we’re trying to do is expand on the previous data that we’ve had that includes an inventory baseline of wetlands species and water quality parameters,” Patterson said. “This cycle we’re looking at specific species that may be threatened in the face of climate change impacts, in particular sea level rise.”

The research project will collect baseline data on the wildlife and conditions of coastal estuaries near the lower Klamath River, which Patterson said can be useful for future research.

”The inventories are very useful in that they’re snapshots in time,” Patterson said. “For something like sea level rise, if the estuary is going to be 6 feet underwater in 25 years, you can look back at how it was impacting them in 2014.”

Patterson said that while past research with the tribe’s fisheries program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has focused on mapping, water quality and restoration efforts in both upper and lower regions of the Klamath, efforts to analyze sea level rise are critical due to its substantial effects on coastal estuaries.

”If you want to talk about the future of climate change, what you’re potentially going to see with sea level rise is increased salinity,” Patterson said. “The saltwater levels rise, and that can significantly change the plant community and the species that rely on that community.”

With wetlands disappearing at an alarming rate, Patterson emphasized the importance of assessing the local wildlife that rely heavily upon the fragile ecosystem.

”It’s a really rare habitat, because it’s in a coastal climate, and is significant to a lot of species,” Patterson said. “People often overlook these areas.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s current wetlands program coordinator Leana Rosetti said it is important to help tribes and local governments protect and improve their wetland programs. The application period for next year’s grants are still open, she said.

”We encourage folks to develop plans to compete for grants to fund their own wetlands program,” Rosetti said. “The more applicants, the better.”

On the Web: For information on the EPA grant, visit water.epa.gov/grants_funding/wetlands/grantguidelines/index.cfm

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or whouston@times-standard.com. Follow him on Twitter.com/Will_S_Houston.

Big Oil sued for destroying wetlands around Gulf of Mexico

John Upton, Grist

Coastal Louisiana would like its wetlands back. It needs them to protect itself from rising seas and raging storms.

The agency charged with protecting New Orleans-area residents from floods is suing Big Oil, claiming it should repair damages that it caused to wetlands that once buffered the region from tidal surges.

The oil companies have recklessly torn out the marshes and plants that ringed the Gulf of Mexico as they laid pipelines and other infrastructure to serve their decades-long oil- and gas-drilling bonanza. From The New York Times:

The lawsuit, to be filed in civil district court in New Orleans by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage caused by cutting a network of thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. The suit alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water to intrude into freshwater areas.

 

“What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner,” the filing stated. …

Gladstone N. Jones III, a lawyer for the flood protection authority board, said the plaintiffs were seeking damages equal to “many billions of dollars. Many, many billions of dollars.”

Mr. Jones acknowledges that the government, which has strong protection against lawsuits, might bear some responsibility for loss of wetlands. But, he noted, Washington had spent billions on repairs and strengthening hurricane defenses since the system built by the Army Corps of Engineers failed after Hurricane Katrina. By taking the oil and gas companies to court, he said, “we want them to come and pay their fair share.”

That seems only fair.

Can bringing wetlands back to our coasts protect us from future megastorms?

ShutterstockBeach house in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Far Rockaway, N.Y.

ShutterstockBeach house in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Far Rockaway, N.Y.

By Jared Green, Source: Grist

Kevin Shanley says too many cities have an outdated approach to storm protection that makes them vulnerable to the coming mega-storms. The CEO of SWA Group, an international landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm, Shanley is an advocate of using “green infrastructure” — human-made systems that mimic natural ones — as bulwarks.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, people are taking note. Some experts believe New York City would not have sustained such severe damage had the original wetlands that lined the coasts not been uprooted by development. In fact, some parts of Staten Island remained relatively unscathed because they were protected by the massive Fresh Kills Park and its wetlands.

Kevin Shanley
SWA Group
Kevin Shanley.

What’s needed, Shanley says, are policy shifts “rooted in a natural system-approach that work with nature’s tremendous forces.” Beyond policy changes though, Shanley has also worked on projects, in Texas and elsewhere, that show how these human-made systems could work. But he cautions that more research is needed if communities’ lives and livelihoods are to rely on human-made nature.

Shanley was recently in Washington, D.C., speaking at the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation on improving the resiliency of our coasts in an effort to protect them from increasingly damaging storms and sea-level rise brought on by climate change. I caught up with him there.

Q. What were the lessons of Hurricane Sandy?

A. There are real-world lessons and then “should-be” lessons. The real-world lesson is that everybody is at risk. These storms don’t just happen to Florida or Bangladesh. They can hit New York City. The storm could have hit Washington, D.C., with disastrous results. We’re not ready.

The other lesson we need to learn is quite important: We forget really quickly. Katrina happened, now eight years ago. Some structural changes were made to the levee system, but all of the really great plans to rebuild New Orleans as a more sustainable community, a better community, a more integrated community came to nothing.

The key is finding a way to rebuild strategically and learn lessons from these disasters to shape our future plans.

Q. New York City’s new climate adaptation plans calls for both “hard” infrastructure, like seawalls, and “soft,” green infrastructure. In a recent Metropolis magazine piece, Susannah Drake described soft infrastructure as “transforming the waterfront from a definitive boundary into a subtly graded band.” How well will this work?

A. Soft green infrastructure along coastal fringe areas can play a really important role in restoring ecological functions to our coastlines. Our coastlines have been severely degraded from an ecological point of view. But using these systems to protect urban areas needs really serious science and engineering studies. Just how effective is a coastal marsh of several hundred yards wide? We’re not talking about miles wide. We’re talking probably several hundred yards or hundreds of feet. What is the benefit to, say, Manhattan? Can we take a blended approach to soften our edges and create redundant and resilient strategies?

I’ve seen some beautiful renderings of the edge of Manhattan as it could be. There would be dramatic changes in ecological performance and a transformation in public perception about the city as a green place. There are a lot of wonderful aspects to this. But from a surge and hurricane risk-protection standpoint, we need to be careful not to set up false expectations. To what extent do coastal marshes protect us when a surge comes in that is 15 or 20 feet above those marshes? The green infrastructure could impede the wave action and the movement of the water, or even exacerbate the run-up of a surge in shallow waters. The Gulf Coast of the North American continent has a long, shallow coastal run-up, which tends to exacerbate wind-driven surge.

Also, rising water levels drown coastal marshes. That’s what has happened in the Galveston Bay complex in Texas. Because of subsidence caused by groundwater withdrawal, we lost square miles of emergent coastal marsh. The bottom dropped out and it drowned the marshes. One can say, “Well, the marsh will just march inland.” Well, will it? Does the actual geography allow it to just march inward? These are important questions.

Q. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to spend $400 million to buy up homes in New York City, demolish them, and then preserve the flood-prone land as undeveloped coastline. Does this approach make sense?

A. It’s a potentially very powerful tool. Speaking globally, the British and Dutch have been at it for decades. It’s called “managed retreat.” It’s about getting out of harm’s way. FEMA has been funding buyouts like that for a while now. It’s a really good program to remove the most at-risk structures, particularly federally insured structures that time after time are repeat sinks for federal flood insurance claims.

What needs to be thought about, however, if you’re talking about scaling it up, is how to replace the economic value of the development that’s being removed from harm’s way. There are sales taxes based on the occupants, all kinds of revenue to the community. This revenue pays for schools, sewer systems, security, and all of the other things that we take for granted in government. Coastal real estate is expensive because it’s attractive. If you take that out of the equation, you’ve got to be ready to think how to replace that.

That’s the challenge facing all of us. Great ecological strategies need to be considered economically, and vice versa.

Q. Respected scientists argue that sea levels could rise four feet by 2100. How does this change the timeline for action on improving coastal resiliency?

A. Sea-level rise is like watching the hour hand move. We are like grammar school students: The hour hand doesn’t seem to move during class. Our time horizons are measured in just a few years at best. If we’re forward-thinking, we might think out 10 years. Will public policymakers be able to think out beyond a year or even 10 years to 100-year thresholds? The dialogue is there, but I don’t see it coming down to meet real public policy changes yet.

Q. What’s holding back these policy shifts? Where are the biggest obstacles at the federal and local levels?  

A. The biggest obstacle is the lack of public awareness … there needs to be clear communication about the risks. That can be through things like flood insurance rate maps, but it also needs to be through public education and policy. There needs to be clear disclosure on every real estate transaction. There was an effort in the Clear Lake City area, which is in the Houston metro region where NASA’s Johnson Space Center is located. They actually put up signs, little colored pylons, that indicated “This is the water level for a category four storm. This is the water level for a category five storm.” You see it there and you would wonder, “Gee, should I buy a house here?” or certainly “Gee, should I make sure I renew my flood insurance?” A local politician, at the behest of the real estate community, insisted they be taken down.

Q. The Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston really set the example for how to turn a trash-soaked eyesore into a beautiful piece of parkland that also supports flood control. What led to the changes in Houston’s approach to its waterways and green space?

A. In Houston, the new riverfront has been the result of years of work by lots of individuals, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Each main bayou in the city has its own citizen advocacy organizations. Some of them are fairly significant and have permanent staff, whereas others are purely volunteer citizen groups. There have been willing ears in the public agencies. More recently, there has been support at an elected official-level, including a very supportive mayor right now. That’s very encouraging. But we have a long ways to go. We’re just starting on this effort. We have 2,000 miles of open stream channels in Harris County alone, so we’re just beginning.

Q. You’ve done a lot of work in China. What is your impression about how the Chinese are approaching coastal resiliency? Is there a uniquely Chinese approach to these issues that we can learn from in the West?

A. The country is doing great wetlands restoration projects. Wetland parks are all the rage across China. Kongjian Yu, FASLA, principal at Turenscape and professor at Beijing University, probably has a dozen wetland parks on his desk in his office at any given time. We’re working on a number of them. It puts to shame anything we’re doing here. On the other hand, one has to balance that against the unbelievable rate of urbanization and its impact on the environment in China. It’s maybe only a drop in the bucket toward mitigating the impacts of urbanization that are going on right now.

You take the whole climate issue in China. China’s doing some of the most progressive carbon-capture energy production in the world. For a while, they were the largest producer of solar cells. They’re the largest producer of wind generating equipment. There are all these sort of extremes of what they are doing. Yet in the global sense, they’re producing more carbon dioxide than anybody on a more rapid basis. They’re increasing their carbon and energy footprints. They’re still below us on a per-capita basis, but they’re working very hard to catch up to our own huge footprints. So you will find a really mixed bag in China.

What can we learn from China? We ought to be studying what they are doing right and trying to learn from their successes. To the extent they’re interested in partnering so they can learn from us, we ought to be sharing those solutions with them. It’s a wild ride, like a rollercoaster, and one whose end we can’t see from our vantage point.

Bird sanctuary in works at Snohomish wetland

A former sewage lagoon site and wetlands is planned as a 40-acre refuge for more than 140 species of birds.

By Alejandro Dominquez, The Herald

SNOHOMISH — People are invited to learn the latest details about a proposed wildlife sanctuary at Wednesday’s Parks Board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Snohomish Boys & Girls Club, 402 Second St.

The board is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council on the sanctuary steering committee’s plan or ask for changes. The public can also make recommendations, project manager Ann Stanton said.

The wildlife viewing area also has a proposed name: Snohomish Riverview Sanctuary.

The sanctuary would be about 40 acres, including a former sewage lagoon and privately owned wetlands located next to the current sewage treatment plant, along the Snohomish River west of Highway 9.

More than 140 bird species have been seen nesting there or using the wetlands for habitat, including great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, swallows and ducks.

The master plan also proposes adding sidewalk and viewpoint areas on the south side of Riverview Road, Stanton said.

The park would also ban dogs because of the likelihood of harming viewing opportunities and habitat quality, Stanton said.

“The majority of the public comments are against dogs (in the park)” Stanton said.

The Snohomish City Council is scheduled to vote on the plan at a July meeting.

The council is also set to accept a $30,000 donation from a local Audubon Society member in early June. The donation is intended to purchase more land for the sanctuary.

People who want to know more about the park and are unable to attend the meeting can contact Stanton at 360-282-3195 or by email at stanton@ci.snohomish.wa.us.