All posts by Kim Matthews

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!


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.


Owners of the winning photos will receive a calendar.


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!


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 ( 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. 


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.


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.

Strange Times: Message from Rick

Dear Wetlands Enthusiasts: 

Strange times, indeed! I had written a message for the March newsletter entirely focused on the 5th anniversary of the Carolina Wetlands Association and our Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas program. Then, like everyone else, I became consumed by the coronavirus.  I have been hunkered down like most of you trying to figure out how to carryout life in this kind of environment.  I am definitely learning I don’t need to go out in my carbon emitting vehicle as much as I do. I am walking more, planning my trips better, and thinking how the Carolina Wetlands Association needs to operate during the pandemic which could go on for months.  We are conducting our Board and Committee meetings virtually and we are planning on doing some webinars and posting information on Facebook. Stay alert for these announcements; you will not want to miss them. 

On April 22, we will be announcing the 2020 Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas. Unfortunately, the tours which were scheduled for May will be delayed until the risk from the virus has been eliminated.  I would like to reflect a little on what our Wetland Treasures program is about.  

First, the program was inspired by Laura England who brought her experience with the Wetland Gems of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association to the Carolinas.  The Wetland Treasures program recognizing these wetlands as having special value is important to keeping them protected, well managed, and open to you, our wetland enthusiasts to enjoy.  Selecting wetlands for this recognition is not an easy task because there are so many good wetlands in North and South Carolina to choose from.  The members of our Program Committee identify and select the Treasures based on our selection criteria. Once selected, we contact the wetland owner/manager and work with them to develop fact sheets and schedule tours to each site. The fact sheets are available on our website and can be used by teachers to broaden their student’s knowledge about the value of wetlands.  Once all of this is done, we then announce the Wetland Treasures to the world.  Truly this is a lot of work and I want to thank Carrie Caviness for leading this program for the last few years.   And of course, I need to also thank Jessica Tisdale and Amin Davis who have been the backbone of the program since it started.  It is a lot of work, but the dedication to this program is clear. A tremendous thanks to you all. 

So, for now stay tuned, stay in, and enjoy a wetland, remotely.  Check our You Tube Channel for videos of some of our past treasures. 

Stay safe all, 


EPA’s New Navigable Waters Protection Rule Puts Wetlands in Jeopardy

On January 23, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Army) finalized the Navigable Waters Protection Rule  that changes the definition of “Waters of the United States” thus changing the protection to wetlands and streams across the Nation.

Link to EPA Website:

The new Navigable Waters Protection Rule reduces federally-regulated waters of the US to four categories:

  • Territorial seas and traditional navigable waters,
  • Perennial and intermittent tributaries to those waters,
  • Certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments, and
  • Wetlands directly adjacent to jurisdictional waters

The Navigable Waters Protection Rule describes 12 categories of exclusions, features that are not regulated as “waters of the United States,” including groundwater; ditches, (except those constructed in intermittent or perennial streams), and ephemeral streams.

What is wrong with the new rule? How is the new rule endangering wetlands?

The new rule greatly reduces wetland protection across North and South Carolina meaning that thousands of acres of marsh, pocosins, bogs, and wet pine flats can be filled, drained and ditched without regulatory review or compensatory mitigation.  E&E News report states that “the change removes protections for 18% of streams and 51% of wetlands in the U.S.”, [According to an EPA slideshow obtained by E&E News under a Freedom of Information Act request.] 

Even NCDEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan expressed his grave concern in a January 24, 2020 memo stating “We are highly concerned about the impact of the revised “Waters of the U.S.” rule on North Carolina’s wetlands. The rule clearly ignores the science-based recommendations provided by this department to ensure the protection of the state’s water quality, unique natural resources and the economic benefits associated with them. 

Even NCDEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan expressed his grave concern in a January 24, 2020 memo stating “We are highly concerned about the impact of the revised “Waters of the U.S.” rule on North Carolina’s wetlands. The rule clearly ignores the science-based recommendations provided by this department to ensure the protection of the state’s water quality, unique natural resources and the economic benefits associated with them. 

Source. Memo: Statement on Revision to Water of the United States Rule

Even NCDEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan expressed his grave concern in a January 24, 2020 memo stating “We are highly concerned about the impact of the revised “Waters of the U.S.” rule on North Carolina’s wetlands. The rule clearly ignores the science-based recommendations provided by this department to ensure the protection of the state’s water quality, unique natural resources and the economic benefits associated with them. 


What about State laws to protect wetlands?

It is complicated – North Carolina statute prohibits the state from adopting rules more stringent than the federal government.  In South Carolina, state law protects tidal wetlands but not non-tidal wetlands, which constitute a large portion of the state’s wetlands. 

North Carolina

In 2011, the NC General Assembly enacted a law prohibiting state agencies from adopting rules “for the protection of the environment or natural resources” that imposes “a more restrictive standard, limitation, or requirement than those imposed by federal law or rule, if a federal law or rule pertaining to the same subject matter has been adopted.”  Source: N.C. Gen. Stat. § 150B-19.3(a)

South Carolina

South Carolina does not have a regulatory program under state law addressing dredge and fill activities in its nontidal waters and wetlands. It relies solely on federal regulations to define protection for non-tidal waters.  Tidal waters and wetlands are regulated by SCDHEC’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) under the state’s Coastal Zone Management Act. This statute authorizes the OCRM to regulate “coastal wetlands, mudflats, and similar areas that are contiguous or adjacent to coastal waters and are an integral part of the estuarine systems involved.” 

Source:  S.C. Code Ann. § 48-39-10(G); S.C. Code Ann. Regs. 30-1.

Stories of Wetlands That Could be Impacted 

Pocosins: Eastern North Carolina has thousands of acres of pocosin wetland, which perform important functions in terms of carbon sequestration, habitat for commercially important and endangered species, and water storage. These important wetlands are desirable for agriculture (when drained) because they have deep fertile peat soils. Pocosin wetlands will now lose protection because they are fed by rainfall and generally not adjacent to jurisdictional waters.

Mountain Bogs: North and South Carolina mountains are home to bog wetlands, which form at the base of slopes and are filled by rainwater runoff from the mountains. Like pocosins, they are generally not adjacent to jurisdictional waters, and therefore will lose protection under this rule. Mountain bogs are becoming increasingly rare open spaces in mountain landscapes, and they provide critical habitat for a large number of endangered plant and animal species, including the very rare tiny bog turtle. The National Park Service recently recognized the importance of these mountain bogs by creating a national park containing several mountain bogs, but there are many more that need protection.

Other Articles:

Southern Environmental Law Center: EPA announces move to strip Clean Water Act protections

NC Coastal Review:  Narrower Rule Replaces Waters of the US

February Message from Rick

Hello Wetland Enthusiasts!

I hope everyone had a fantastic World Wetlands Day and was able to get out and explore a wetland.

Recently, the US EPA announced the changes to the definition of Waters of the US (WOTUS) which has serious implications for the protection of streams and wetlands especially. We know that fewer wetlands will be under federal protection under the Clean Water Act, but just how many wetlands will lose their protection is still to be determined.

One estimate based on an EPA internal presentation is that 18% of the streams would lose protection and 51% of the wetland would lose protection across the United States. Based on data we have for North Carolina, we estimate that 26% of forested headwater wetlands could lose protection and depending on interpretations, it could be much more. We also know that many basin wetlands like pocosins, wetland flats, and Carolina bays could lose their protection.

So, you may wonder, what does it mean for a wetland to lose their protection. When a wetland is to be impacted usually with some development project, a permit has to be granted by the US Army Corps of Engineers to approve the impacts (I.e., draining and filling) and after efforts are made to first avoid or minimize the impact. A second permit is needed from the North Carolina Department of Enironmental Quality. This permit is also based on the Clean Water Act but deals with water quality issues with the proposed impact. Both permits are required before a wetland can be filled or altered. If a wetland loses protection under the Clean Water Act, then a developer can directly impact a wetland or stream without a permit — there is no legal mechanism to prevent or minimize (or mitigate) the wetland impact.

Some states like California and Minnesota have state rules that protect wetlands and streams beyond the federal government. However, the state of North Carolina currently cannot have stricter laws than the federal government. South Carolina is not under this same restriction but would require legislative action to pass new rules.

Of course, there will be lawsuits and probably the implementation of the new rules will be delayed. The Carolina Wetlands Association will be speaking up for the protection of wetland across North and South Carolina. We need to hear your stories about wetlands that will be impacted by the changes in definition of Water of the US. Please contact me,

Be sure to watch our webpage for the latest information as we learn more about what these new rules will mean to our wetlands. We should all be concerned about the impact to our ecosystem services provided by our wetlands.

Thanks all and let’s spread the word about how we need to protect our wetlands,


Conserving Wintering Marsh Sparrows in North Carolina

Written by Evan Buckland

Tidal saltmarshes are among the world’s most biologically productive ecosystems. They are home to a variety of endemic and range-restricted species, such as the Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrow. These two species spend their lives in the marshes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Seaside Sparrows can be found all year while Saltmarsh Sparrows can be found wintering in North Carolina. Because they are endemic species, their life cycles synched so closely to the saltmarshes they inhabit where they are considered indicators of the health of those marshes. 

Today, coastal marshes are threatened by a myriad of anthropogenic forces, the most overt being the hardening of coastlines and sea level rise. These forces have potentially negative consequences for both the Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows, which I am studying for my master’s degree. I, along with co-researcher, PhD student Marae Lindquist are researching the seasonal survival, abundances, home-range sizes, and movement of Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows in southeastern North Carolina. We are banding these birds and tracking some individuals with radio telemetry throughout the winter to see how they live in their habitat so that we can determine what they need to survive into the future.  

Since the 1990s, Saltmarsh Sparrows have seen sharp population declines and the species is up for a determination on their listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2023. Seaside Sparrows, of which there are several distinct sub species, has had one subspecies declared extinct, and another endangered. Although the non-breeding season has often been overlooked in importance, we suspect that for short distance migrants like Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows, conditions in the overwintering grounds may have an important impact on annual survival. It is important to better understand these species’ habits and behaviors, preferences and needs, throughout their winter stationary period, so we can best protect the wetlands they rely on during those months.  

About the author: Evan Buckland is a graduate student at UNC-Wilmington studying under Dr. Raymond Danner. She is planning to graduate in December 2020 with a master’s in marine biology and she plans to continue to study coastal and wetland birds.  

Links of interest: 

Saltmarsh Sparrow (Ammodramus caudacutus

Seaside Sparrow (Ammospiza maritima