We are proud to introduce you to Emma Nani, the first high school intern for the Carolina Wetlands Association.
Emma is junior at Leesville Road High School (Raleigh, NC) and is part of the school newspaper and orchestra. Her college goal is to study Marine Biology or Environmental Science. She loves being outdoors, looking for wildlife or being in the water. In the summer, her time is spent lifeguarding at her local pool.
Emma will be assisting with our outreach and education programs including our volunteer wetland monitoring program. Keep an eye out for newsletter articles and social media posts by Emma . Hopefully there will be in-person opportunities to meet her in the coming months.
Welcome to meteorological spring which starts on March 1. This designation by the National Weather Service aligns with actual temperature data over the last 100 years. But what does not align with the data, is the year 2020.
First, you will definitely remember RAIN and more RAIN. It is even continuing into this year. For North Carolina, 2020 was the second wettest year on record and it was the third hottest on record. This fact, that both the hottest and the wettest records were both in the top five in the same year, has never happened in over 120 years of recorded weather! That really made 2020 a very strange year for weather (never mind the pandemic).
This wet weather, while not always intense, was definitely frequent – the ground never had enough time to dry out before the next rain came. This frequent rain is putting a lot of pressure on many communities that are trying to deal with flooding issues. I have seen many communities start flooding from rains of less than an inch because the water has nowhere to go. This is something that the Carolina Wetlands Association is working on in two major ways: (1) by directly working with local communities, and; (2) by being a part of the NC Governor Roy Cooper’s Disaster Recovery Task Force (Environmental Recovery Support Function [ERSF]).
Work with our two NC communities, Swansboro and Dunn, continues as we have applied for funding to develop plans to use their wetland resources to mitigate flooding problems . We have also been contacted by the Town of Cary (NC) about potential work along the White Oak watershed (about 450 acres of wetlands) that flow into Jordan Lake Watershed. And we are a part of the Upper Waccamaw Task Force in Horry County, SC (and surrounding areas) to help deal with their almost daily flooding given the frequent rains. In all of these cases we are trying to help communities live with water rather than move water from one location to another which almost never solves the problem.
2. North Carolina Disaster Recovery Task Force
The ERSF workgroup is looking for funding projects to help communities recover and to build resilience which includes using nature-based solutions. The workgroup is also working to establish a statewide flood resilience framework with the purpose “…to drive efficient and effective funding decisions across federal, state, and local government to reduce flooding and improve economic, social and environmental outcomes across the state.” This is a significant effort that will help work for many organizations and communities to better deal with flooding using nature-based solutions and build community resilience.
Please know that we (our many volunteers) are working hard on these efforts and if you can help with time or with a financial contribution – either will go a long way to helping Carolina Wetlands Association to continue to help these communities.
What is World Wetlands Day? 2 February each year is World Wetlands Day to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and our planet. This day also marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Theme: Wetlands are a source of freshwater
This year’s theme shines a spotlight on wetlands as a source of freshwater and encourages actions to restore them and stop their loss. We are facing a growing freshwater crisis that threatens people and our planet. We use more freshwater than nature can replenish, and we are destroying the ecosystem that water and all life depend on most – Wetlands.
The 2021 campaign highlights the contribution of wetlands to the quantity and quality of freshwater on our planet. Water and wetlands are connected in an inseparable co-existence that is vital to life, our wellbeing and the health of our planet.
Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance A key commitment of the Convention on Wetlands’ Contracting Parties is to identify and place suitable wetlands onto the List of Wetlands of International Importance, also known as the Ramsar List. Today, there are over 2,400 Ramsar Sites across the world, covering more than 2.5 million square kilometers. We are proud to have two of these sites in South Carolina (Congaree Swamp and Francis Beidler Forest. The Carolina Wetlands Association have recently nominated Pocosin Lakes in North Carolina as a Ramsar Site.
Francis Beidler Forest
Francis Beidler Forest is home to the largest remaining virgin forest of bald cypress and tupelo gum trees in the world. It has thousand-year-old trees and pristine habitat that you can enjoy from a boardwalk. The forest is favored by hundreds of thousands of birds that migrate to South Carolina after wintering in South America. It was recognized as an Important Bird Area in 2001 and designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2008.
Congaree National Park is a mosaic of freshwater swamp forests, seasonal sloughs, forested peatlands, permanent and seasonal creeks, permanent freshwater lakes, and shrub-dominated wetlands. It contains the largest remaining example of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in North America. The park supports a variety of species with different conservation statuses under the National Endangered Species Act and contains one of the highest wintering bird densities reported in the United States.
To learn more about Congaree Swamp, please visit CarWA’s video featuring the swamp as a Wetland Treasure. And also check out our fact sheet about Congaree Swamp!
January is a time to set resolutions and goals for the new year. For the Carolina Wetlands Association, we are ready to move beyond what we can not do last year and focus this new year on what we can do.
Support local communities. We are provided local communities and private property owners with assistance on how to protect and restore their wetland resources. We are submitting three applications for grants this month .
Create wetland monitoring program. We are also planning to kick-off our volunteer wetland monitoring program this spring at three of our Wetland Treasures of the Caroline sites. If this pilot program is a success, we will expand it to other sites in future years.
Educate decision makers. We are providing education resources and supporting efforts to inform state and local officials on the impact from the Waters of the US rewrite last year on the loss of protection to wetland resources in the Carolinas.
Lastly, February 2 is World Wetlands Day. World Wetlands Day was created to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and our planet. This day also marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971. We are fortunate to have two wetlands of international importance in South Carolina, Congaree National Park and Francis Beidler Forest. Our goal for 2021 is to have Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge add to the list.
Our goals are not possible without the dedication of our volunteers and supporters like you. Thank you for turning our goals into actions.
Climate change is the rise in average surface temperatures on Earth, mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change is causing intensifying storm activity, rising sea levels and creating more frequent floods and droughts in the Carolinas and worldwide. Recent, significant storm events in North and South Carolina include Hurricane Florence (2018), Hurricane Matthew (2016) and Hurricane Floyd (1999).
Increased storm activity is having a huge economic and environmental impact on our coastal and inland communities in the Carolinas. Hurricane Matthew caused an estimated $4.8 billion in damages. Hurricane Floyd caused between $7 and $9.4 billion, and the damage from Hurricane Florence was estimated to be nearly $17 billion – more than Matthew and Floyd combined
Wetlands play a critical role to help mitigate increased storm activity caused by climate change by retaining floodwater, stormwater and storm surges. Because of their critical importance during these storm events, wetland protection and conservation is essential to combating the effects of climate change in the Carolinas.
Climate change is here. As defined by NASA, climate change refers to long-term changes in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climate1. Climate change causes increased temperatures and storm activity, contributes to rising sea levels, elevates storm surges and causes more frequent flooding. The economic impact of recent, intense storm activity in the Carolinas has been devastating over the last 10 years. In 2018, Hurricane Florence produced a record storm surge of 9 to 13 feet and caused catastrophic flooding inland for days2. More than 50 people died across the region; 42 in North Carolina alone. North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper estimated Florence’s damage in North Carolina at $17 billion—an amount more than Hurricane Matthew and the previous historic hurricane, Floyd in 1999, combined2.
Flooding not only causes property damage, but also impacts public health and overall well-being in our communities3. Flooding can destroy a home, leaving it uninhabitable. There are also numerous hidden dangers in flood waters that create a public health risk: live wires, broken glass, and sharp metal as well as bacteria and other pathogens4.
There is general agreement amongst the scientific community that climate change is real. Also referred to as global warming, climate change is causing a rise in average surface temperatures on around the globe1. 2019 was the warmest year on record in North Carolina. In the Carolinas, scientists have observed an increase in annual average temperature by 1.0o F since 1895. In North Carolina, the last 10 years (2009 – 2018) represented the warmest 10-year period on record5. In Charleston, South Carolina, 2019 was the fourth-warmest year on record, which ended the warmest decade to date6. In addition to rising temperatures, climate change is intensifying storm activity, rising sea levels and causing more frequent floods and droughts worldwide. The Carolinas have experienced several major hurricanes in the last 5 years, including Hurricane Matthew (2016), Florence (2018) and Dorian (2019). These hurricanes caused widespread flooding in dozens of coastal communities, resulting in billions of dollars in property damage. Extreme flooding events occurred during hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018) in North and South Carolina5. Florence was a historic storm, breaking 28 flood records across North and South Carolina7. Some of the flooding records are over 75 years old, including the Northeast Cape Fear River near Chinaquapin, NC (78 years) and the Little Pee Dee River at Galivants Ferry, SC (77 years).
Wetlands play an absolutely critical role in mitigating the impacts of climate change, by retaining floodwater, stormwater and storm surges. Wetlands also store, or sequester, excess carbon in the atmosphere through photosynthesis8. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by wetland plants during photosynthesis and is retained in the plants’ biomass (roots, shoots, tree bark and leaves) and in the soil as soil organic matter.
When an area floods with water, surrounding wetlands act like a giant sponge; living plants and even the dead plant matter along with porous soils can absorb the extra water. Wetlands also help slow down the movement of floodwater to surrounding areas – which would otherwise impact homes and businesses. In coastal areas, marsh wetlands protect shorelines from erosion by buffering wave action and trapping sediments. They reduce flooding by slowing and absorbing rainwater and protect water quality by filtering runoff. Coastal marshes can also migrate landward (Figure below). Trapped sediments allow the marshes to rise in elevation, which helps mitigate the effects of sea level rise (SLR).Because of their ability to mitigate sea level rise, absorb rainwater, retain floodwater and store atmospheric carbon dioxide, wetland protection and conservation is essential in the Carolinas.
Wetlands can be protected and conserved in a number of ways:
By not developing or impacting wetlands (e.g., filling, ditching),
By placing wetlands under protective easement (e.g., conservation easement).
If you live on waterfront property, wetlands can be protected by installing a “living shoreline” (see photo below) – a mix of plant roots, sand and stone instead of man-made structures, like retaining walls, to stabilize the soil.
Climate change isn’t going away. Climate change intensifies storm activity, and scientists predict an increase in tropical storm frequencies from 1-10% in coming years10. Wetlands play a critical role to help offset the impacts of climate change by retaining floodwater, stormwater and storm surge. Wetlands also hold tremendous value as a climate change mitigator through their ability to sequester carbon within the organic content in the soil.
The impacts of climate change on local communities can be significantly lessened by protecting local wetlands. The can be done by:
Avoiding the development or impact of wetlands (e.g., filling, ditching);
Avoiding wetlands if planning a home, building, shed or farm field expansion; and
By placing wetlands under protective easement (e.g., conservation easement).
Wetlands can be protected by installing a “living shoreline” (see photo) to stabilize the soil – a mix of plant roots, sand and stone instead of man-made structures, like retaining walls.
There are a number of existing wetland protection programs in place in the Carolinas, and these programs greatly benefit from volunteer contributions and involvement:
Michener, W.K., E.R. Blood, K.L. Bildstein, M.M. Brinson and L.R. Gardner. Climate Change, Hurricanes and Tropical Storms, and Rising Seal Level in Coastal Wetlands. 1997. Ecological Applications, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 770-801.
C. Kozak, “Restoration Work – A Test for Carbon Farming,” Coastal Review Online, 01-Aug-2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.coastalreview.org/2019/01/restoration-work-a-test-for-carbon-farming/. [Accessed: 11-Feb-2020].
Heather Patti, PWS is a Senior Ecologist and Project Manager at TRC Companies, specializing in wetland and stream delineation, permitting and endangered species assessments for the renewable energy industry. Heather is a proud mother of 2 boys, Ben and Wyatt, and in her free time enjoys hiking, camping, botanizing and kayaking. She is a terrible fisherman.
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).
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!
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.
Status & visibility
VisibilityPublicPublishImmediatelyPost FormatAsideGalleryLinkImageQuoteStandardVideoAudioStick to the top of the blogPending reviewAuthorCarrie FinneranHeather ClarksonKim MatthewsKristie GianopulosLaura EnglandRachel MassaRick SavageMove to trash
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 ClarksonShaefny Grays Geoff Gisler Daniel Hitchcock George Howard George Matthis Curt Richardson
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.