All posts by Kim Matthews

WOTUS Update

by Rick Savage

Background
Waters of the US (WOTUS) defines waters that are protected by the federal government. The Rivers and Harbors act of 1899 prevented any impact to navigable water, which often crossed state lines. In 1972, the Clean Water Act made water quality part of this protection and extended federal protection to tributaries and wetlands associated with navigable waters, even isolated wetlands. (Mountain bogs, pine flats, and pocosins are examples of possible isolated wetlands; wetlands without a surface water connection to a waterbody).

Isolated wetland in NC

A major challenge to federal jurisdiction over isolated wetlands under the Clean Water Act occurred with the Supreme Court Case of Rapanos vs. the US in 2006.  Raponos argued that isolated wetlands were not jurisdictional because they were not connected to navigable waters.  The result of this case was a 4-4-1 split decision, with half the court including isolated wetlands under protection and half the court excluding them.  Justice Kennedy was the lone vote, saying that for isolated wetlands to be jurisdictional, there needed to be a “significant nexus” with navigable waters. 

Current Condition
Under the Obama administration, the rule was rewritten to include near all surface waters and wetlands as Waters of the US.  For the environmental community, this rewrite was well received, and isolated wetlands were again protected.  However, under the Trump administration, another rewrite of the Waters of the US rules to removed federal protection of isolated wetlands.  

The Southern Environmental Law Center currently is part of a case against the Trump EPA WOTUS rewrite, because it fails to protect so many small streams and wetlands. This is an important topic and determines how wetlands are protected and the rules for mitigation for wetlands that are impacted. There could be a ruling on this case soon!

What’s Happening in North Carolina
North Carolina  (N.C. Gen. Stat. 143-212(6) has a broader definition of Waters of the State and includes protection for isolated wetlands even though they are now no longer protected by the federal definition of Waters of the US.  However, because isolated wetlands are no longer regulated by the federal process, NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEC) has no way to approve (or permit) projects that impact these wetlands.

In November, the NC DEQ initiated development of temporary rules to establish  permitting procedures for wetlands no longer under federal jurisdiction. Without a permitting process, developers are at a standstill without a way to legally impact these wetlands. The Carolina Wetlands Association with track the developments of this effort and keep you informed when there is a need for public input on the rule.

We will bring you updates as they happen, so stay tuned!

December Message from the Board

by Heather Clarkson

When I was asked to write the opening message for this month’s newsletter, I didn’t expect to end up reflecting on my 30th year – alas, here we are. I am approaching the end of my third decade on this planet – decades shaped by river water and spring breezes, cicada songs and palmetto bugs – and I find myself thinking of all the ways the Carolinas and their lands have made me the woman I am today.
 
Historically, the winter holidays have always my time to reconnect with natural landscapes. As a child, I looked forward to family trips to our home on Edisto Island, where my cousins and I would scrape around the pluff mud searching for fiddler crabs or climb the towering live oaks. There was never any mistletoe to be found – instead, we threw clumps of Spanish moss in each other’s hair and squealed rather than kissed. We feasted on deviled crab caught right from the creek and listened to our aunts and uncles tell stories of the past that typically included an alligator or two.
 
The elephant in the room these days starts with a C, and families everywhere are coming to terms with a very different holiday this year than in years past. We find ourselves making sacrifice after sacrifice for the safety and well-being of those around us, and while the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter, it does still seem so very far away sometimes.
 
Now, I find myself a bit older, and seeking the stillness and quiet of a winter forest or the gentle bubble of a stream. Cool mornings are spent watching the birdfeeder or hiking around a misty woodland pond listening for the slap of a beaver tail. Nature continues to stamp my experiences, though marked these days more by solitude and introspection than by streaks of pluff mud over my clothes.
 
Nature is truly transformational – something many of us can attest to. My childhood love for the wild world transformed me from a dirty, tangle-haired Edisto child to an adult who fights for endangered species and wetland habitats across the Carolinas. I imagine, if you’re reading this newsletter, nature has been transformational for you, as well. And as this year crawls to an end, I encourage you to embrace your transformation, embrace the peace of a still winter wood, and wrap yourself in the reflection of all the ways that nature has made you who you are today.

Heather Clarkson
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Thanksgiving Message

November is a time to reflect and recount the things to be thankful for.  The Carolina Wetlands Association is blessed to have many dedicated and hardworking volunteers serving on our committees, workgroups, and board.  While some of our plans have been delayed due to the pandemic, we have been adding to our volunteer team and are making plans for 2021 with a combination of web-based and in-person events planned.  While we rely heavily on our 100% volunteer-based organization, we also need your financial support to maintain and grow the Carolina Wetlands Association.

Our Annual Giving Campaign will run November 15 through December 15, 2020.  This is the one time of year that we ask for donations to help us plan and implement programs to promote the protection, restoration, and enjoyment of wetlands in North and South Carolina. As our thank you for your donation of $25 or more, you will receive a wall calendar featuring wetland photos submitted by our supporters.  The official campaign won’t start for a few more days, but you can make your donations today and receive your one-of-a-kind calendar.  

We are thankful for your support!

Carolina Wetlands Association Board of Directors
Rick Savage, President
Kim Matthews, Vice-President
Kristie Gianopulos, Secretary
Norton Webster, Treasurer 
Tara Allden
Kristine Cherry
Heather Clarkson
Shaefny Grays
Geoff Gisler
Daniel Hitchcock
George Howard
George Matthis
Curt Richardson

Amphibians: Rising in Fall

by Jeff Beane

To everything there is a season. The lives of most amphibians are particularly seasonally oriented. Amphibian literally means “double life” or “both lives,” referencing the dependence of these animals on both land and water. It’s not precisely true. Some amphibian species are entirely aquatic and some are exclusively terrestrial, defying the very definition of amphibian. But except for the fully terrestrial plethodontid salamanders in the genera Aneides and Plethodon, all amphibians in the Carolinas depend on either wetlands or permanent water for breeding.

Every amphibian species has a different life cycle and survival strategy. Some possess extreme seasonal adaptability, potentially breeding whenever weather conditions are favorable. Others breed at very specific times of year—some only in winter, others only in spring, and still others only in summer. This seasonal partitioning is one of many strategies serving to reduce competition, allowing multiple species to coexist. Fall is often thought of as a slow time or “down time” for many species, and this does include some amphibian species. But for others, fall is the most important time of year.

Marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) - North Carolina's state salamander - breeds only in the Fall. (Photo by Alvin Braswell)

One obligate fall breeder is North Carolina’s official state salamander—the marbled salamander, Ambystoma opacum. Salamanders in the family Ambystomatidae are collectively called “mole salamanders” because the adults are fossorial, spending most of their lives in burrows on land. Most mole salamanders have life cycles like those of our frogs and toads—they lay their eggs in water, the eggs develop into aquatic larvae, and the larvae develop into terrestrial juveniles. All six mole salamander species in the Carolinas (marbled, spotted, mole, tiger, Mabee’s, and frosted flatwoods) are heavily dependent on fish-free, ephemeral wetlands for breeding. While most deposit their eggs in these wetlands, usually in winter or early spring, marbled salamanders switch things up a little, moving into their breeding sites on rainy nights in late summer or early fall. They utilize a variety of ephemeral wetlands, including floodplain pools, borrow pits, and even ditches and logging ruts, but high-quality upland vernal pools provide the best breeding habitat. Males move into the breeding sites first, sometimes as early as late August. The females follow, usually in September or October. Typically, the pools are bone-dry when they arrive. Not only does this fail to disappoint the salamanders—it’s just what they’re hoping for. They will mate beneath surface litter in the dry pools, the male depositing a sperm packet called a spermatophore and the female retrieving it with her cloaca and retaining it internally to fertilize her eggs as they are deposited. She selects a log or other sheltering object in the dry pool basin and deposits her eggs in a cluster underneath. Then comes a waiting game. She remains with the eggs, attending them until fall or winter rains flood the pool, whereupon she abandons them and returns to her terrestrial burrow. The eggs hatch quickly once inundated, and the aquatic larvae begin developing with a head-start over the other species using the pool later that winter or spring.

Empheral pond at Raberdo Bog (Uwharrie National Forest, west-central Montgomery Co., NC) provides habitat for the mole salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum) (Photo by Alvin Braswell)

Marbled salamanders are not the only fall breeders. The rare frosted flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum), still persisting in scattered localities in the South Carolina Lowcountry, typically breeds from October to December. This species also deposits its eggs terrestrially—although usually unattended—amid vegetation in the dry basins of ephemeral wetlands. Tiger and Mabee’s salamanders also may breed as early as October or November, or as late as March, depending on weather. They deposit their eggs (gelatinous masses for tigers, single eggs attached individually to leaves for Mabee’s) in water, so the ponds they use (often Carolina bays) must be flooded before they can breed. During droughts, they may miss breeding for a year, or even several consecutive years.

Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) (Photo by Alvin Braswell)

Several other amphibians that usually breed in winter or spring, can breed opportunistically in fall if conditions are favorable, especially following hurricane rains. These include the southern leopard frog, Carolina gopher frog, pine woods treefrog, eastern spadefoot, eastern newt, and little grass frog. In some (leopard frog, gopher frog, newt), the larvae will live in the pond all winter. But spadefoot tadpoles develop so rapidly that they will transform and leave before freezing weather, even if breeding occurs as late as October. Some plethodontid salamanders, including mud, red, two-lined, dwarf, and Chamberlain’s dwarf, may mate in fall, although their eggs are laid later in the winter. They are therefore often active on rainy autumn nights.

Fall may be a winding-down time for some creatures, but for certain amphibians it is a new beginning. On every day of the year, there is something important happening in our wetlands!

About the Author

Jeff Beane is the Herpetology Collections Manager at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, NC.  His research focuses on gathering basic information on the natural history, geographic distribution, and conservation status of all reptile and amphibian species in North Carolina.   More Info.

Welcome to Fall, Wetland Lovers!

Happy wetland lovers!

As the season changes, it is nice to reflect on what the Carolina Wetlands Association has been doing and what to look forward to.

Give the problems presented by the pandemic, our tours of the 2020 Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas were put on hold and we did virtual tours instead.  The virtual tours are a nice addition to our webpage; however, we are looking to scheduling in person tours soon, so keep checking our newsletter and webpage for announcements.  We look forward to seeing you again.

For those of you who have volunteered to help with our Volunteer Wetlands Monitoring Program, we know it has been frustrating since the pandemic has altered our plans.  We are working to prepare training materials on the volunteer monitoring protocol.  Be patient and we will get some of you out in the field soon to start test the monitoring protocol and help with initial site set-up.

We have also been working on our proposal for Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (a 2020 Wetland Treasure of the Carolinas) to be designated as a Wetland of International Importance (a.k.a. Ramsar Site) link.  If accepted, it would be the first Ramsar Site in North Carolina.  Huge thanks to George Howard, Kristie Gianopulos, and Curt Richardson.  There are two Ramsar sites in South Carolina:  Francis Beidler Forest and Congaree National Park.  This is truly an exciting effort by the Carolina Wetlands Association.

Finally, we are very busy working on getting funding to help with our efforts with three coastal communities to protect and preserve their wetland resources and to restore wetlands that can help mitigate flooding. 

We are currently operating our wetland photo contest that will be used to make our 2021 calendar.  I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to show your photography skills. If one of your pictures are chosen for the calendar, you get a free calendar, so let’s see those beautiful wetland photos!

There is a lot of important and exciting work going on by the organization and I hope you will consider making a financial contribution and volunteer in one or more of our efforts.  We cannot do this work without your support.

Thanks much and go explore a wetland!

Rick

Photo Contest

The Carolina Wetlands Association invites you to participate in our wetland photo contest.  We are looking for high-resolution photos of landscapes, close-ups of plants, animals, water…anything related to wetlands. Photos submitted should feature:

  • Wetlands found in North and South Carolina;  
  • Landscapes of the overall wetland ecosystem or habitat;
  • Specific plants or animals found in wetland ecosystems;
  • People enjoying wetlands such as fishing, paddling, hiking or birding.

Deadline for submissions is September 30, 2020. Winning photos will be featured in our 2021 wetland calendar.

Submission Methods

  1. Google Form – You must have a Google account to submit your photo(s) using this form.
  2. Email – Attached your photos to an email and include the following information:
  • First and Last Name
  • Mailing Address (to receive calendar if selected)
  • Description of each photo submitted (Location, State, Date Taken, Identify habitat, species, or people).
  • Photo Files – Upload image file(s) – (3 photos maximum) Please include your name and photo subject in the file name of each photo. Landscape orientation is preferred, but not a requirement.
  • Do you confirm that you hold all rights to the image?
  • If any recognizable people are in your photo(s), did you you have their permission to take their photograph?

NOTE: By submitting the photo, you give Carolina Wetlands Association permission to use the photo in publications.

Deadline for Submissions

Deadline for submissions is September 30, 2020.

Prize

Owners of the winning photos will receive a calendar.

Availability

Calendars will be available as part of our Annual Giving Campaign in November and December.

President’s Message – NC Climate Assessment and RESILIENCY Plan

Dear Wetland Supporters:

All of us at Carolina Wetlands Association are aware of need to address systemic racism in our society and clearly support the movements and peaceful protests that are calling for an end to such practices that are all too embedded into our society.  From an organizational point of view, we are focused on environmental equity.  We know that disadvantaged communities face environmental problems such as poor air quality or poor water quality. The Carolina Wetlands Association is working to make sure that the benefits of wetlands are experienced by all peoples.  This is illustrated by one of our projects where we have the opportunity to connect two diverse communities through a wetland park and help to increase environmental equity.      

Another effort that Carolina Wetlands Association has been involved with is the Natural and Working Lands (NWL) Stakeholder Group organized by the Governors Administration and NC Division of Environmental Quality.  The results of this effort are included in Chapter 6 (Nature Based Solutions to Resilience) of North Carolina’s Climate Assessment and Resiliency Plan. The entire NWL report is Appendix B of the Plan.  The Plan is meant to be a starting point for actions and will be improved over time.  

The NWL report emphasizes restoration and conservation of forests and wetlands to increase carbon sequestration.  The co-benefits of these efforts are also emphasized such as flood mitigation, water quality, recreation, community resilience, and education.  The NWL Report is a document that can be used to advance actions to mitigate climate change and help communities build resilience.

Highlights of the Natural and Working Lands Report

Pocosins: There is a section specifically devoted to Pocosin restoration which the US Fish and Wildlife Services is already doing at the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (a 2020 Wetland Treasure of the Carolinas) and the work of Dr. Curt Richardson (Duke University and on the Carolina Wetlands Board Member) restoring up to 10,000 acres of pocosin. 

Coastal Habitat: Wetland and forest restoration can help mitigate flooding and sea level rise. 

Flood Plains: Flood Plain Wetlands are critical to the restoring these areas back to their natural state to be a major mitigator of flooding and to sequester carbon. 

Forests: Actions include restoration and conservation to achieve a unique “no net loss” of forested lands in North Carolina.  There was also a call for landowner incentives to conserve their forest to sequester carbon as an alternative to harvesting.  Wetland forests are a major part of this effort. 

Agriculture: The agriculture section calls for regenerative agriculture practices to increase carbon sequestration and to continue to build our soils to a healthier state. 

Urban Lands: Increasing forests, flood plains and wetland restoration in urban areas (with their many co-benefits) and the implementation of site preparation measures before develop occurs to keep as many trees standing and not to through away our top soil. 

The NWL Report is a document that can be used to advance actions to mitigate climate change and help communities build resilience. These are some of the highlights of the document and I encourage you read it for yourself and to feel free to make suggestions for future versions of the document to me.

The Carolina Wetlands Association is committed to implementing the NWL plan and we have two projects in progress that will acquire wetlands, restore them to provide better function primarily with flood mitigation and carbon sequestration, but also to provide many co-benefits and ultimately have the resulting restored wetland will be owned by the communities we are working with.  This is a significant way to build community resilience and we will say more about this in the near future.  

Thanks all, be safe, and explore a wetland, virtually!

Rick

Webinar: 5-year Celebration of Wetland Treasures Program

This year marks the 5th year of the Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas program. That means that 25 wetlands in North and South Carolina have been honored as Wetland Treasures by the Carolina Wetlands Association.

Watch the video to learn more about the Wetland Treasures Program, how the wetlands are selected, and the unique qualities and services they provide. The video is presented by Rick Savage (Board President) and Dr. Carrie Caviness (Leader of the Wetland Treasures Program).n Lakes (NC

 

Additional information, videos, and factsheets are available on our web page.

Wetlands – Web of Life?

by Carol Rivers

One of my Naturalist mentors made a statement many years ago that I thought was worth documenting for future reference.  He said, “Man did not weave the web of life.  He is simply a strand in it.  Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself”.  This quote could be applied to the web of life identified in a wetland:  abundance of waterfowl, songbirds, reptiles and amphibians, fish, mammals, grasses and other aquatic vegetation, and many endangered species.

I am concentrating on fresh water forested wetlands on Hilton Head Island (HHI) and specifically those under the protection of the Hilton Head Island Land Trust (HHILT).  The HHILT is a non-profit organization started in 1987.  One of its missions is to protect and preserve critical natural habitat on HHI.   Through conservation easements, we protect over 300 acres of land (a conservation easement is a legal document between two parties that states that the land is forever protected and preserved). 

Included in our conservation easements are Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy, Cypress Conservancy, and the Northridge Conservation Area.  The two Conservancies are located within the gated community of Hilton Head Plantation.   Whooping Crane Conservancy contains 137 acres of old growth hardwood forest, marshland and open water.  It is the largest of the wetlands on Hilton Head Plantation. Interpretive signage is found along the 1100-foot boardwalk allowing visitors to view and identify the array of life around them.   

Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy (Photo from Hilton Head Island Land Trust)

Cypress Conservancy is a 51-acre wetland and home to old growth bald cypress and blackgum trees.  It has the only large stand of bald cypress on HHI.  These noble trees are southern relatives to redwood and giant sequoia trees. The Cypress Conservancy reduces the danger of flooding in Hilton Head Plantation by absorbing millions of gallons of storm water.  Interpretive signage is found along it’s boardwalk as well.  

Since 1986, the Hilton Head Public Service District has supplied highly treated reclaimed water to restore Cypress and Whooping Crane conservancies and in doing so has played a key role in the sustainability of HHI’s environment.  Reclaimed water is the longest running and most beneficial green technology on HHI. 

Reclaimed water is used to restore Cypress and Whooping Crane conservancies.

The 64 acre Northridge Tract Conservation Area is located at the northern end of HHI.  This freshwater wetland supports live oak and black gum trees as well as two freshwater ponds.  The Land Trust has chosen to leave this land undisturbed.  There are no trails; however, the borders of the land can be seen from Highway 278 and Palmetto Parkway. 

The wetlands that the HHILT oversees must remain healthy habitats for future generations.  Each strand in the web of flora and fauna we protect through proper management promotes an outcome that will continue to be positive for the future of Hilton Head Island.  

Please visit us if you are in the area.  Anyone who becomes a member of the HHILT will be given access to the Conservancies with a guided tour. You may contact us through our website (www.hhilandtrust.org) or Facebook (@HiltonHeadIslandLandTrust).

About the Author

As a certified Master Naturalist, Carol Rivers conducts nature and history tours on Hilton Head Island. She is a Board member for the Hilton Head Island Land Trust. She earned a BS in Multiple Science from Lemoyne College in Syracuse, NY and an MBA from Union College in Schenectady, NY. 

GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE: NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS THAT PROVIDE MULTIPLE COMMUNITY BENEFITS

By Amin Davis

The importance of maintaining and enhancing green infrastructure, or GI, has become a primary area of focus within the Carolinas and nationally as communities seek ways to increase their resiliency against changing weather patterns and more frequent, high-intensity storms. Concurrently rapidly urbanizing regions such as the Research Triangle, NC and Horry County, SC have to address increased development which causes significant increases in stormwater runoff.

What is Green Infrastructure?

GI, including wetlands, use vegetation, soils, and other natural landscape features to manage wet weather impacts, reduce and treat stormwater at its source, and create sustainable and healthy communities (EPA, 2017). The beauty of these nature-based practices is that in addition to providing environmental benefits, they support community resiliency by providing multiple ecosystem services, or community benefits, that can be quantified by economic, public health and social metrics (see Community Benefits of GI table below). Conversely traditional gray infrastructure such as gutters, stormwater pipes and sewer systems are considered single purpose and can cause major water pollution and flooding downstream in our watersheds. Additionally GI can be integrated into nearly every type of land use (residential to commercial) and development density (low to high).

In searching for resources about GI one may find a wide variety of overlapping terminology and frameworks. For the purposes of this article GI is separated into two broad categories: engineered and natural. Engineered GI practices include bioretention cells, constructed wetlands, green roofs, permeable pavements, rain gardens, vegetative swales, rainwater harvesting (rain barrels or cisterns) and rooftop (downspout) disconnection. These practices are designed to reduce stormwater volumes and improve water quality. Natural GI, on which engineered GI practices are based, includes vegetated wetlands, stream buffers and other vegetated or forested areas. The conservation of relatively stable areas of natural GI and the restoration of degraded areas of natural GI is a critical component of maintaining environmental resiliency against more frequent storms, rising seas and shoreline erosion along our Carolina coastlines.

How to Use Green Infrastructure

There are success stories of developers who have been willing to integrate GI into their site development once this alternative was brought to their attention. A leading example of this is the Market at Colonnade Innovative Stormwater Management Plan that was integrated into the site design of a shopping center in Raleigh, NC. This project involved a suite of GI and other stormwater control measures being designed and constructed which led to a 98 percent reduction in stormwater volume and significant reductions in stormwater nutrient concentrations (total nitrogen, phosphorus and suspended solids). This project was used as a model for successfully negotiating the integration of GI into the site design of a proposed multi-hotel development within a wooded site in Cary, NC.

Source: https://www.cnt.org/sites/default/files/publications/CNT_Value-of-Green-Infrastructure.pdf

Two key elements for the integration of GI into development plans are: 1.) local stakeholder input advocating for GI at the front end of proposed developments (prior to the completion of preliminary development plans); and 2.) working with local nonprofits and watershed groups to make developers aware of grants and other cost-share funding available to offset the costs of integrating GI into their site plans. Below are some grant programs that provide cost-share funding for engineered GI practice:

Common Sense Approach

GI is a common-sense solution that should be a primary requirement for all development everywhere, especially in light of increasing development coupled with more frequent, higher-intensity rain events. Local governments should be allowed to require low-impact development (LID) principles, such as the preservation of green spaces and the integration multiple GI practices, for all new development. They should also be allowed to require the integration of GI retrofits for re-development and urban infill projects. Why? Because there’s an abundance of peer-reviewed and anecdotal evidence that clearly demonstrates that GI is really Community Resiliency Infrastructure. Hopefully this message can be delivered to our elected officials and community leaders to a degree that will lead to broad scale changes in development policies that promote GI.

Additional Resources:

About the Author

Amin Davis is a volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for the Carolina Wetlands Association. Amin is a Certified Ecologist, Professional Wetland Scientist and is active with several community nonprofit organizations that are based in Southeast Raleigh. He has been employed with the NC Department of Environmental Quality since 2008 and has been employed with the NC Division of Water Resources since 2014. He manages a grant program that provides cost-share funding to local governments and their partners for projects associated with green infrastructure, stream restoration (including dam removals and living shorelines) and water-based recreation.