Our Story

How did the Carolina Wetlands Association get started?

In 2004, I was hired by the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to work on a wetlands monitoring project. The project was funded by an EPA Wetlands Program Development Grant, and within the next year it became apparent that more help was required. So, Ginny Daniels of North Carolina was also hired to the team.

The EPA began the program to encourage states to begin monitoring wetlands similarly to how they monitored lakes, rivers, and streams. The approved EPA Wetland Program Development Grants continued to sustain the wetlands monitoring program in NC, and the work started getting national recognition as one of the top states leading the wetland monitoring effort. The EPA sent Ginny and me to several national meetings to present our results of the project. Data collection included water quality, soil chemistry, hydrology, vegetation samples, amphibians, and macroinvertebrates.

Next, the EPA was charted by Congress to perform a national survey of the nation’s waters. Thankfully, the wetlands was one of those types, along with lakes, rivers, streams, and coastal waters. The national survey eventually became the National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA). I was invited to several EPA workshops to help the EPA design the sampling methodology for the assessment.

In 2011, James Graham was hired to help Ginny and myself with the NWCA. Ginny lead the field team for the NWCA with additional help from Anthony Scarbraugh, Ashley Steele, Greg Rubino, and others. The NWCA for North Carolina was completed at the time, sharing in this important national effort.
Multiple Wetland Program Development grants continued to be approved. Two were focused on isolated wetlands, whereas one focused on using the NWCA wetland sampling methodology on wetland mitigation sites. A regional Intensification Grant was also approved, whereby North Carolina coordinated with South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia to extend the NWCA wetland data by sampling additional wetlands in these states, and to perform a regional wetland assessment.

Change is always a given, and while North Carolina’s wetland monitoring program was considered one of the best in the nation and the leader in the southeast, the new legislature and administration decided that the wetlands monitoring program was no longer needed. Unfortunately, the wetlands monitoring program newly acquired grants were returned to the EPA and the program was ended in September 2014.

One of the last tasks to be completed from the North Carolina wetland monitoring program was to finish the final report of the Southeast Wetlands Monitoring Intensification Grant, which was completed in August of 2015. During this time, in March of 2015, the coordinator of the Southeast Wetlands Workgroup, Kim Matthews, sent me a link to the Wisconsin Wetlands Association (WWA) to show me how their organization was put together, and learn of their activities and efforts.

As soon as I saw what the Wisconsin Wetlands Association was doing, my idea was born. I knew right away that I had to start a Wetlands Association for North Carolina. I starting talking to close friends and associates, and started getting encouragement to pursue this idea. At the end of March, Kristie Gianopulos and I attended the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) annual workshop in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. While there, I talked to the Executive Director of ASWM, Jeanne Christie, and she strongly encouraged me as well. In fact, Jeanne introduced Kristie and me (to our surprise and delight!) to Erin O’Brien of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association where we received further encouragement.

Upon returning from West Virginia, I went to work and established a core group of experts who were willing to help kick off the Association. Many discussions occurred about the purpose of the organization, how it would be funded, and how it would operate. After two months of correspondence and initial planning, our first meeting was held on June 6, 2015, where we elected our board of directors. There was much excitement by the attendees and a real desire to see the organization succeed.

After filing the articles of incorporation, the Carolina Wetlands Association was officially incorporated on June 18, 2015, and the birth of the Carolina Wetlands Association was thus realized. The next board meeting was held that summer, where several committees were started and the initial draft of the bylaws were written. The September meeting enjoyed the most attendance to date, and included some of the most prestigious names in wetlands science. The president of the Triangle Greenways Council was in attendance, seeking advice from the organization on how to manage land that was purchased with wetlands. The supporters’ dedication and enthusiasm for the Carolina Wetlands Association was clearly evident, and to this day has served to launch an incredibly strong start to the program.

Wetlands perform valuable services such as, water quality, flood control, critical habitats, erosion protection, protection against rising sea levels, and many others. Although my career has been short in wetlands monitoring for North Carolina, I came to love and appreciate the wetlands, their beauty, their function, and their value to our society. I learned that we could save hundreds of millions of dollars in water treatment if we let our wetlands do their function. I also knew that I could not leave this job and not still care deeply for our wetlands. Turns out so did a lot of other people. So begins the Carolina Wetlands Association.

Rick Savage
President of the Carolina Wetlands Association