All posts by Kim Matthews

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:  https://www.epa.gov/nwpr/navigable-waters-protection-rule-step-two-revise

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. 

Source. https://deq.nc.gov/news/press-releases/2020/01/24/memo-statement-revision-water-united-states-rule

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, rick.savage@carolinawetlands.org.

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,

Rick

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

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Saltmarsh_Sparrow/id

Seaside Sparrow (Ammospiza maritima

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Seaside_Sparrow/id

Message from the President

Dearest wetland supporters:

Just wanted to say a big thank you for all your support. 2019 was a big year for us as we were able to start several new projects and will be starting others in 2020. We cannot do this without your support, both financially and in volunteering.

A major effort that Carolina Wetlands Association was working with the Natural and Working Lands initiative started by the Governor’s office and managed by NC DEQ. This is a stakeholder group of state and federal agencies, NGOs and nonprofits, and experts from academia. Kim Matthews, Heather Clarkson and I work on this effort all year long and recommendations are currently being written up.

The recommendations focus on forest and wetland restoration to sequester more carbon, the co-benefits that result in terms of ecosystem services (such as water quality, flood control, etc.), and the building of community resilience. Along with these recommendations, are many policy suggestions such as expanding the floodplain buyout program to include farms, environmental equity, public outreach and education and the role of citizen science. I was also invited to attend a meeting of the US Climate Alliance in Washington, DC a part of the NC delegation.

From the Natural and Working Lands effort and with meeting with many other environmental organization in the state, Carolina Wetlands Association has taken on the challenge to develop a workshop to educate local decision makers about wetland value, their place in nature-based solutions and how they help build community resilience. The first version of the workshop was presented at the SeaGrant Coastal Conference in Wilmington in November. Amanda Johnson, David Shouse, Kim Mathews and I attended the meeting and presented the workshop. Very valuable feedback was received and the workshop will be updated. It is likely that NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency will partner with us on this workshop which we view as important to implementing the recommendations of the Natural and Working Lands initiative.

We also did our normal events to advocate for wetlands at Cary Arbor day, Reptile and Amphibian day at the NC Natural Science Museum, Bass Lake Day, meet and greet events in Asheville and Durham.

Plans for a SC Wetlands Matter event is being planed for March in Georgetown. There are also plans being made to have a similar Wetlands Matter event in Hilton Head Island, SC with the Coastal Discovery Museum and the HHI Land Trust later in 2020.

Carolina Wetlands Association was a sponsor to the WRRI conference in March for the second straight year. We had one session with four wetland papers and we had a panel discussion with Geoff Gisler (Southern Environmental Law Center and Carolina Wetlands Association), Norton Webster (Carolina Wetlands Association), Phil May (Carolina Ecology), and Michael Flynn (NC Coastal Federation) about the rule changes to the waters of the US (WOTUS).

The Association also was a sponsor for the America Ecological Engineering Society (AEES) annual meeting in Asheville in June. This was a great conference with Kim Matthews, Norton Webster and I attending. We were able to get quite a few ecological engineering/restoration companies interested in Carolina Wetlands as well as many of the attendees. The AEES is a national organization.

This past year also saw our newest Wetland Treasure selections: Bluff Mountain Fen (Ash County, NC), Croatan National Forest (Craven, Carteret, and Jones Counties, NC), Merchants Mill Pond (Gates County, NC), Santee Coastal Preserve (Charleston County, SC), and Woods Bay (Florence, Clarendon, and Sumter counties, SC). The wetland treasure tours were well attended, and all had a great time learning about their area wetlands.

Early in the year there were several meetings between Carolina Wetlands, RTI International and NC State University to talk about a grant to develop a volunteer wetland monitoring program. Michael Burchell and Natalie Nelson of NCSU, Kim Matthews of RTI and Carolina Wetlands Association, and I wrote an EPA Wetlands Program Development grant and was awarded the grant in June. We will be starting work on developing that volunteer wetland monitoring program with a few of our wetland treasures in 2020. This is a major accomplishment for the organization and will provide a project that will hopefully be sustainable with several sources of funding.

We will need to continue to have your support in 2020 as this will be our best year yet. We are making a difference. If you have not made your financial contribution, please do so and contact us if you want to help out on any of these projects.

Happy New Year and start the new year by exploring a wetland.
Rick

Wetlands in the Winter: What’s Happening?

Winter and early spring is an important time for wetlands across North and South Carolina. First, wetlands are easier to find in the winter with high rainfall and no vegetation growth allowing water to sit at the surface.  This standing water provides needed habitat for migrating birds and breeding amphibians. Also, lack of leaves and pesky mosquitoes make winter the perfect time to explore the different types of wetlands across the landscape.

Water Level (a.k.a. Wetland Hydrology)

Wetlands are defined by the amount, duration, and occurrence of standing water or saturated soil (referred to as wetland hydrology). Non-tidal wetlands like headwater wetlands, riverine swamps and pocosins fill with water in the winter and early spring until plants and trees start to grow and pump the water out to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. If you explore a wetland in the winter, you may need to wear rubble boots to keep your feet dry.

Hydroperiod for several wetland types show surface water in the winter and early spring. (Source: National Research Council. 1995. Wetlands: Characteristics and Boundaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/4766. )

Import Habitat for Migratory Birds

Wetlands across North and South Carolina provide refuge in the winter for migratory birds like snow geese and tundra swans that fly south to avoid harsh winters in the Northern US and Canada.  The loss of wetlands across the Southeast US has forced some species to adapt by feeding in fallow agriculture fields. Luckily, many state and federal lands across the Coastal Plain of the Carolinas provide vital habitat for these birds and create opportunities for us to catch a glimpse of these majestic animals.

Tundra swans at Lake Mattamuskeet (Photo by Alvin Braswell).

Where can you find tundra swans?

Breeding Grounds for Amphibians

Wetlands are also critical habitat for many reptiles and amphibians because they depend on water for part of their life. Most amphibians lay eggs under water or on moist land. Once the eggs hatch, the baby amphibians must live in water until they form lungs and leave the water as adults. Eggs of some species are laid in the fall and survive in a gel-like substance until wetlands fill with water.  Even as adults, wetlands are an important source of food for amphibians. Step carefully and keep your eyes looking down for signs of salamanders and other amphibians. To learn more about these creatures, join us at the NC Museum of Natural Science’s Reptile and Amphibian Day on March 14.  

Southern Leopard Frog (Rana sphenocephala) egg mass. (Photo by Alvin Braswell.)

Go Explore a Wetland!

Wetlands in the winter are working just as hard as they are the rest of the year and provide opportunities to see species that you can’t see other times of the year.  Here are some resources to help you find a wetland near you : 

Share pictures of your favorite wetland with us on Facebook!

Article written by Kim Matthews (kim.matthews@carolinawetlands.org).

Annual Giving Campaign

The Annual Giving Campaign of the Carolina Wetlands Association kicks-off this week. Each week donors will be entered into a drawing for gifts cards and other items as a thank you. Every $5 you donate will give you an entry into the drawing. A winner will be drawn each Saturday starting Saturday, November 23 and ending on Saturday, December 22.

You can make donations through Pay Pal Giving Fund or you can mail us a check. Click here for the mailing address.

New for 2020, we are offering sponsorships for businesses and organizations who want to show their support our mission. Two levels are available: Gold Level for donations greater than $1000 and Silver Level for donations between $500 and $1000. Sponsors will be recognized on our website and at events. More information is available on our Sponsorship page.

The 2020 Giving Campaign is needed to support the implementation of our 2019 -2022 Strategic Plan that was adopted earlier this year. We need your help to make this plan a reality.

October – Message From The President

Hello Wetland Supporters:

There is a lot going on with the Association.  First, we are looking for nominations for our 2020 class of Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas.   If you have some nomination you want to make, please contact Jessica (jessica.tisdale@carolinawetlands.org)  or Jim ( jim.merchant@carolinawetlands.org).  We would like some good suggestions from both Carolinas.  

We are also working on our workshop to educate local decision makers on the value of wetlands, their place in nature-based solutions and how they can help build community resiliency.  To help with effort, Kim Matthews, Chad Guthrie and myself participated in an online NOAA workshop on “Risk Communication”. We developed a risk communication strategy as part of the workshop and this will help us think about our audience, their concerns and how we can best communicate risk.  I also attended a nature-based solutions workshop conducted by NOAA in Mt. Pleasant, SC and the materials from this workshop are excellent and will also help with our workshop development. I talked with the NOAA trainers and they not only want us to use their materials, but they are willing to help us develop the workshop.  Currently, we have a good outline for the workshop and much of the content. We will be developing our first draft of the workshop to present at the NC Coastal Conference in November.

Heather Clarkson, Kim Matthews, and I have worked on the
Natural and Working Lands stakeholder group to develop recommendations to restore forests and wetlands to sequester carbon.  A large meeting was held at RTI where the six subgroups (Pocosin Restoration, Coastal Habitats, Farm Systems, Floodplain and Riparian Wetlands, Forests, and Urban Lands) presented their recommendations.  It was a two-day event and the results will be reworked based on the feedback. From there, the recommendations will be documented and become part of the Risk Assessment and Resiliency Plan put out by Governor Cooper.

A Wetlands Summit was held at the JC Raulston Arboretum at the end of September conducted by NC State University.  Kristie Gianopulos, Kim Matthews and I was part of the Planning effort with Dr. Mike Burchell and Amanda Mueller. It was to close out the wetland monitoring grant that Dr. Burchell oversaw and to open discussion of the Volunteer Wetlands Monitoring Grant (NC State, RTI, and Carolina Wetlands).  The summit also discussed the state of wetlands research and monitoring and talked about future direction. The Carolina Wetlands Association will play a significant role in help to maintain a wetlands research and monitoring community and listing research on our web page to help further knowledge and collaboration among wetlands researchers and practitioners.

As always, we have a lot going on and we are always in need of your support.  Please consider donating to our efforts (time and or money) as the Association continues to play significant roles in supporting our wetland.

Thanks all and go explore a wetland,

Rick

NC Wetlands Summit

The North Carolian Wetlands Summit was held at the North Carolian State Univeristy Arboretum in Raleigh, NC on September 25-26 with attendees from state and federal government, universities, non-profit organizations, and tribes.

The purpose of this meeting were to convene a community of wetland resource protection experts across North Carolina to learn about current research and monitoring in the state and evaluate future needs for research, monitoring, and education. The main outcome is the beginning of a strategy for a more integrated approach to wetlands protection across the state.

Meeting Materials

List of participants

Agenda

September: Message From the President

Message from the President

While not a Category 5 when Dorian reached the Carolinas, there was still plenty of flooding and wind damage from Dorian and the tornados it produced.  Please keep our coastal friends in mind as they recover from this significant event. We need our wetlands now more than ever given the frequency and intensity of such storm events.

I want to tell you about two new and significant projects that the Carolina Wetlands Association is starting.  First, we are partnering with North Carolina State University (Drs. Mike Burchell and Natalie Nelson) and RTI International (Kim Mathews) to establish a “volunteer wetlands monitoring program” at our wetland treasures sites.  This project is funded by EPA Region 4 Wetland Program Development Grant. Work on this grant will start later this year.

The second project we are working on is developing a workshop to educate local decision makers about wetland values and how they can be as nature-based solutions to benefit communities.  I have met with staff from North Carolina’s Office of Resiliency and Recovery about partnering with them on the workshop. Work is ongoing to develop the workshop and various supporting materials (e.g., tools, case studies) and we hope to test the workshop at the NC Coastal Conference in November.

More than ever, Carolina Wetlands Associations needs volunteers to help with these projects and to provide financial support. Please let me know if you are interested in helping with either of these projects.  A financial donation would be very important to consider at this time to help us in our success with building the organizational infrastructure we need to run these projects.

Thanks all, now go out and explore a wetland.

Rick

May: Message from the PResident

Wetland Supporters:

May is American Wetland Month, so I hope you all are celebrating our wetlands and the value they bring to us all.  We have had two of our Wetland Treasure tours, Woods Bay and Santee Coastal Preserve, both in SC, and they were a lot of fun.  Thanks to everyone who participated. The tours were very informative and attendees learned a lot about our wetlands. We have three more tours to go so be sure to check them out; there is open space for the tours at Croatan National Forest and Merchants Mill Pond.

Also during American Wetland Month, we hope you will remember your organization.  We are completing our 3-year Strategic Plan and will be taking steps to implement the plan.  We will make it available publicly once the Board approves it in July. In order to implement the plan, we will need much more funding and people resources and that is where you come into play.  Please consider making a donation to the organization during American Wetlands Month, both financially and time! Let us hear from you.

Now go out and explore a wetland!

Rick