Category Archives: News

2022 Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas

The Carolina Wetlands Association joins wetlands enthusiasts all over the country to raise public awareness about the beauty and importance of the nation’s wetlands during May – American Wetlands Month.  The designation of Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas indicates wetlands that are ecologically valuable, protected by conservation plans, and home to an abundance of plant and animal diversity.  All our Wetland Treasures provide many ecosystem services to the benefit of human wellbeing such as water quality, flood control, habitat, recreation, and a host of other services.

Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge

Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge

Location:  Bertie County, NC 
Wetland Type:  Protected forested wetlands consisting of bottomland hardwoods and swamps 
Site Owner: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Unique Feature: Home to over 200 species of birds, including 88 breeding resident species and a diversity of fish species, including the endangered Shortnose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum), all connected to each other through the shallow water tables and refuge flooding frequency.

Theodore Roosevelt State Natural Area

Location:  Carteret County, NC 
Wetland Type:  brackish salt marsh, freshwater pond, tidal flat  
Site Owner: North Carolina State Parks
Unique Feature: This 292-acre preserve is one of the few remaining tracts of old-growth maritime forests along the North Carolina coast. Its hiking trails feature views of Bogue Sound, maritime forest, salt marsh and an ancient dune ridge. 

Wambaw Swamp Wilderness

Location:  Charleston County, SC 
Wetland Type:  river-bottom land of hardwoods & sloughs   
Site Owner: U.S. Forest Service
Unique Feature: Thick with wild orchids, pickerel weed, sedges, carnivorous pitcher plants, and epiphytes. The wilderness is comprised of bottomland hardwood forest and is edged with small pine stands. Also, home to mature cypress and tupelo trees.

West Branch Nature Preserve

Location:  Mecklenburg County, NC 
Wetland Type:  river floodplain (due to beaver activity)   
Site Owner: Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation 
Unique Feature: Possibly the most ecologically important wetland in the county. Rich plant diversity with 114 species identified. Habitat to numerous species of salamanders, frogs, toads and turtles. Home to beavers, birds, as well as the eastern ribbon snake.  

May Message from the Executive Director

Greetings Wetland Supporters!

Well, it is American Wetlands Month and our Wetland Treasures have been announced.  They are beautiful sites providing many benefits to biodiversity and contributing to human well-being.  Some of the tour dates are still being determined so be sure to watch our web page and facebook page for those dates.  You will not want to miss these tours.

As I look over the years, I have dealt with the study of wetlands and how to best protect them. I was reflecting on how I got interested  in wetlands in the first place.  While I cannot put my finger on exactly when or how old I was, I just remember that during my exploration of the woods as a boy, wherever I came upon a bottomland or stepped into the soggy soil, I became fascinated about not only why there was the soil was soggy soil, but why was it even there and what was its significance.  In those days I did know anyone who could answer my  questions, so I continued to wonder.  

As I progressed through life’s journey, I learned about wetlands as an ecosystem through my general science classes.  The emphasis was on food webs and how organisms interact with their environment; all important and interesting information, but what is special about  wetland?  As my life journey progressed, I did learn that wetlands are really important, but still, there was a real lack of emphasis in the textbooks on ecology about wetlands. I was starting to get this impression that wetlands were considered by the “experts” as the “redheaded stepchild” of aquatic ecosystems.  Even when I was doing wetlands monitoring research for North Carolina, it seemed that my research colleagues and I were pretty much in a world of our own, stomping around in wetlands.  Even the USEPA, who paid us to do this research, had wetlands as the last ecosystem to be surveyed when they were doing their national assessment of the nation’s waters ( i.e., steams, rivers, lakes, estuaries all came first).

Along the way, I realized that people had a basic fear of wetlands that has  a lot to do with our language and history.  Wetlands (e.g., marshes, bogs, swamps) were always seen as dark, dangerous places that held unpleasant mysteries.  So, they were drained to reduce this fear, to improve transportation and to be used for agriculture.  And our everyday language does not help.  How many times have you said I am so “swamped” or I got “bogged” down, all negative connotations?  And what is really meant by the expression “drain the swamp”?   What about the “Swamp Thing” comic book and movie creature who lived in that horrible swamp?

I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea.  Our language and cultural history have created this negative image of wetlands and it is something that we still must overcome, even within professional realms.  So, let’s be cognizant of this during American Wetlands Month and help us break these stereotypes and educate people about the importance of wetlands.

So go explore a Wetland Treasure!

Rick

Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program Data Collection Begins at All Three Program Sites

Dedicated volunteer Mattie searches for amphibians

The Pilot Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program started data collection activities on February 19th and 20th in cool but sunny weather. We met our ambitious goal of completing monitoring at three different wetlands in one weekend with each wetland offering unique experiences. Monitoring done in this first round of wetland visits included well data downloading, water sampling, amphibian observations, site visit surveys and setting up photo stations.  

We were very pleased with the volunteer turn out with the following coming out to each site: Robertson Millpond – 9, Hemlock Bluffs – 7, and Mason Farm – 6. These group sizes allowed for a good amount of hands-on amphibian searching and data collection experiences. With one exception, our meeting locations worked out great and a change will be made for future monitoring visits at Mason Farm (we will now meet at the gravel lot close to the entrance of the UNC Golf Course and carpool into Mason Farm). 

A post monitoring site visit survey has been sent to all volunteers to gather information about their feelings toward the various elements of this pilot project and this will help inform decisions on upcoming site visits and other program activities and events.

Water Monitoring: 

Dr. Mike Burchell and Molly Landon (NC State Dept of Bio&Ag Engineering) led each group through the process of downloading well data as well as collecting water samples and recording water data with a YSI gauge.  

We quickly learned that working in two groups with different goals in the same area needed to be timed better so that amphibian surveying did not disturb the water where water sampling was to be done. This new process of collecting water samples before or clear of the amphibian search was followed at all following monitoring sites.

Amphibian Survey:

While Robertson Millpond resulted in no amphibian observations, we were very lucky to find several salamanders and a couple of tadpoles at the other two wetland locations. It didn’t take very long for a volunteer to spot our first amphibian at Hemlock Bluffs and between the two monitoring sites at this nature preserve we observed an adult marbled salamander, several larval marbled salamanders, a four-toed salamander, and two spotted salamanders. 

We observed two tadpoles at the monitoring locations at Mason Farm as well as dozens of marbled salamanders in the larval stage. Check out all of the weekend’s iNaturalist observations here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/north-carolina-pilot-volunteer-wetlands-monitoring-program 

The potential habitat disturbance issues of having too much time and too many people doing the amphibian surveys was brought up and will be discussed by the team to make sure that we are following best practices for these surveys. We also will work on improving the process of completing each iNaturalist observation while also making sure to follow survey timing protocols. 

Wildlife Observations: 

While doing our amphibian surveys, a crayfish, an eastern mudminnow and an eastern mosquitofish were captured in nets. We also observed a very handsome male yellow-bellied slider at Robertson Millpond as well as a beautiful great blue heron in the marsh at Mason Farm. These observations are also available to view on iNaturalist here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/north-carolina-pilot-volunteer-wetlands-monitoring-program 

NC Wetland Assessment Methods Documentation (NCWAM): 

The NCWAM is a technical wetland assessment method that requires in-depth discussions about wetland function, which may not be of interest to everyone. After Robertson Millpond, it was decided the team should only spend time with those interested in learning how to conduct a wetland functional assessment using NCWAM. The results from the post monitoring volunteer survey will help inform us how to move forward using NCWAM for the VWMP. 

Rick Savage looks on as volunteers search out amphibians

It was great to finally begin our data collection for the VWMP and though parts of the experience were challenging as we overcame some learning curves, it was also very rewarding as we were able to successfully record data in each program wetland.

Stay up to date on the Pilot Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program here: http://carolinawetlands.org/index.php/learn/volunteer-monitoring-program/ 

Photo Gallery:

Wetland Solutions = People Solutions

Greeting Wetlands Supporters:

We started our second funded project on January 26  with a virtual kickoff meeting of our Stony Run watershed project located in Harnett County, NC.  We have three excellent partners, Wetlands Solutions LLC, Skeo Solutions Inc, and Harnett County Soil and Water Conservation District, to help with this project which is being funded by the NC Land and Water Fund.  The purpose of this project is to develop a restoration plan for a 2-mile section of the Stony Run watershed after we conduct ecological and hydrological assessments.  Flooding has been a problem in this section of the watershed due to development, a fragile dam, and more frequent and intense rains.  The restoration plan will address the flooding concerns.  We are also going to involve the community to get their input regarding the plan as it is developed.  Other potential benefits include improved stream flow, enhanced habitat, improved water quality, and higher economic value for the community.  We are working on the development of a wetlands park and trail system that we hope will connect diverse communities.

This is the first of potentially several projects in NC and SC that will emphasize working with communities to help mitigate flooding by utilizing their wetland resources.  This led me to use the term “wetland solutions are people solutions” in a meeting recently and it rang loud with me.  I really felt this was such a true statement that I have used it several times.

So, what do I mean by “wetland solutions are people solutions”?  Clearly wetlands provide many ecosystem services that benefit people and wildlife.  Many of our wetlands are impaired and therefore are not providing these services to their full potential.  Many communities are experiencing more flooding due to the increased frequency of storms and intense rainfall.  Given that wetlands are often impaired and, in some cases, severely impacted, flood risks are increased.  The solutions to these impaired wetlands are restoration, enhancement, and in some cases, creation.  To look towards the future, wetland and floodplain preservation is critical.  

When we repair these wetlands with restoration/enhancement, we uplift wetlands’ functionality to provide the flood protection, flood mitigation, and often many other ecosystem services.  When we restore/enhance wetlands for the specific purpose of aiding a community, such as mitigating flooding, then the wetland solution is a human solution.  Therefore, when we implement wetland solutions they are often for human solutions, for the betterment of quality of life by uplifting ecosystem services.

So, remember this, “wetland solutions are human solutions” and share this knowledge with your friends and family.

Go out, explore a wetland, and think about how these ecosystems benefit communities.

Rick Savage

Volunteer Wetlands Monitoring Program Kicks-Off With Field Training Session

A volunteer collects a water sample from Robertson Millpond Preserve.

On February 5th, 2022, the field work portion of the Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program was kicked off with an in-person training session at Robertson Millpond Preserve in Wendell, NC. We enjoyed a cold but sunny morning at this beautiful Wetland Treasure site. 

The training session was attended by 17 program volunteers regardless of the wetland location they signed up to focus on. Some had experience in the field, and some were new to wetlands, monitoring protocols and field work, but all came with a curiosity and commitment to help collect important data that will help us track the status of the wetlands in this pilot program. 

Our morning began with Rick Savage (Executive Director of the Carolina Wetlands Association) giving a brief summary of the project and introductions of the team. 

Then Thomas Reed (amphibian expert from Wake County) talked about our host site of Robertson Millpond Preserve. Amanda Johnson (VWMP Project Manager) gave a high-level introduction to iNaturalist and Wildnote. And last, Patty Cervenka (VWMP Volunteer Coordinator) provided a pre-field work safety briefing. 

Starting at the lower monitoring site (#2), the volunteers split into two groups with half starting at the station with Dr. Mike Burchell and graduate student, Molly Landon, (both from NC State University Dept of Biological and Agricultural Engineering) to observe the installation of wells and to learn about water monitoring procedures.

The other half worked with Thomas Reed on learning how to carefully find, observe and record amphibians in the study area. As it is early in the season and the temperature was in the mid 30s, only one amphibian was found. The adult Southern Two-Lined Salamander we found was observed, photographed, logged in Wildnote and returned safely to its habitat. 

Observing a Southern Two-Lined Salamander

The two groups switched as we moved to the second monitoring site (#1) at Robertson Millpond. Despite a thorough search, no more amphibians were found, and this site proved to be more challenging to install the well. The team from NC State stayed behind after our training session to make sure the well installation was completed successfully.  

Using iNaturalist and Wildnote to collect data on wetland observations.

One other unexpected issue occurred when our iPad app for iNaturalist was not finding our location correctly, so we were unable to successfully submit observations within the GPS site boundaries.

However, the plan to use Wildnote as a backup worked very well and this problem will be solved for the next site visits by removing those boundaries.

Overall, this was a highly successful outing with just the two above-mentioned challenges. Our next in-person event will be the introductory monitoring days scheduled for all three wetland sites on February 19th and 20th. For the complete schedule and more information on the Volunteer Wetland Monitoring Program visit HERE >

February 2 is World Wetlands Day

Join the Carolina Wetlands Association and other wetland lovers across the globe in celebrating World Wetlands Day. This year’s theme is Wetlands: Action for People and Nature. At our recent meeting, we asked our Board of Directors to describe how wetlands benefit us living in North and South Carolina. The following image is the result of their responses.

Wetlands: Actions for Natura and People

As you can see, there are many benefits that wetlands provide people and nature. Did you know that North Carolina and South Carolina are ranked in the top 5 states in the USA with the greatest amount of wetlands. These wetlands are important to our way of life throughout the Carolinas.  

Please share awareness of this important day by liking and/or sharing our social media posts, sharing our emails with friends and colleagues, or supporting us through your time or resources.


Wetlands can help reduce impacts from flooding

Wetlands help prevent floods by giving floodwater a place to go and releasing it slowly.

 

Worldwide, they also moderate global climatic conditions by storing large amounts of carbon and water.

 

water supply

Wetlands help water return to underground aquifers and reservoirs, which are often tapped for human use.

Resources on Wetlands and Flooding

What is World Wetlands Day?

World Wetlands Day is celebrated each year on 2 February to raise awareness about wetlands. This day also marks the anniversary of the Convention on Wetlands, which was adopted as an international treaty in 1971. 

Why World Wetlands Day?

Nearly 90% of the world’s wetlands have been degraded since the 1700s, and we are losing wetlands three times faster than forests. Yet, wetlands are critically important ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, world economies and more.

It is urgent that we raise national and global awareness about wetlands in order to reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to conserve and restore them.

World Wetlands Day is the ideal time to increase people’s understanding of these critically important ecosystems.

Theme World Wetlands Day 2022

Wetlands Action for People and Nature is the theme in 2022 highlighting the importance of actions to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands for humans and planetary health.

Go to www.worldwetlandsday.org for more information. 

Message from the Executive Director

Hello Wetland Supporters,

On October 18, 2021, the Board of Directors of the Carolina Wetlands Association held a special meeting to discuss hiring an Executive Director for the Association.  Ultimately, the Board  unanimously approved to hire an Executive Director, effective November 15.  That position was given the me, Rick Savage, the former President of the Board.

I am truly honored to be the first Executive Director of the Carolina Wetlands Association and look forward to advancing its mission and making the Association more sustainable and stronger. I will always rely on the guidance of the Board and the Executive Committee and will keep all in step with the progress we make.

This is a critical next step for the Association as it gives us more credibility, a stronger standing with other organizations and potential funders.  It also allows me to work with our many volunteers.  I will hold regular staff meetings and make sure everyone is working on what they are interested in and that we have the overall mission and goals of the Association in mind as we progress.  

Currently, we have two grants and I feel that these grants are just the first of many that will open doors to more opportunities to volunteer and work for Carolina Wetlands Association.  I will be focusing on the successful implementation on these projects and working to build relationships that will lead to other funding opportunities. 

This is an exciting time for the Association, and I hope you all look forward to these times as I do.  We need to grow the organization and groom our new leaders so that the Association will be in good hands for years to come.

If you are not currently volunteering or want to do more, please let me or Rachel Massa (our Volunteer Coordinator) know and we will work with you.

SO much thanks to you all- go explore a wetland and consider nominating a wetland to be one of our next Wetland Treasures for 2022.

Rick Savage
Executive Director
rick.savage@carolinawetlands.org

October: WOTUS Update

Dear Wetland Supporters,

For those of us who love wetlands, there is no term that has more significance legally than “waters of the United States.” If a wetland is a water of the United States, it is protected by the Clean Water Act; if not, then it is left unprotected by federal law. The last several years have been challenging for wetland supporters because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers stripped away the protections provided by the Clean Water Act from most of the wetlands in the Carolinas. In June 2020, the agencies finalized those efforts by redefining wetlands out of waters of the United States—leaving states to decide whether or not to protect wetlands and the multitude of benefits they provide.

Wetlands in the Carolinas were particularly vulnerable under the 2020 definition. Pocosins, seeps, non-riverine swamps, hardwood flats, pine savannas, pine flats, floodplain pools, and headwater forest wetlands were vulnerable for the first time in decades because the definition required a surface water connection to a stream or river for a wetland to be considered a water of the United States. In North and South Carolina, millions of acres of wetlands likely lost federal protection under the 2020 regulation.  

 Fortunately, the 2020 definition has been revoked. In two lawsuits filed by Native American tribes in the Southwest, federal judges determined that the 2020 definition of waters of the United States was causing significant harm to wetlands and streams across the country and that the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider the consequences of the regulation on the streams and rivers at the heart of the Clean Water Act. In Arizona, the court found that the 2020 definition had “fundamental, substantive flaws that cannot be cured” without significant changes. Next door, in New Mexico, the court found that the rule resulted in “a very real possibility of serious environmental harm.” Both courts sent the definition back to the agencies for reconsideration and vacated the regulation, leaving in place the set of regulations that preceded the 2020 definition.

The court decisions throwing out the 2020 regulation are not the final chapter. The current EPA has announced a plan to improve on the existing protections by clarifying the reach of the Clean Water Act by proposing and finalizing a new definition before the end of President Biden’s first term.  For more information, visit SELC’s page

When that process starts, it will be vital for wetland supporters to let the EPA know that wetlands matter. Carolina Wetlands Association will keep you updated on how you can make your voice heard.  

Geoff Gisler, Board of Directors

Written by: 

Geoff Gisler, Carolina Wetlands Association Board Member and lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center

Pellet Industry Threatens Wetland Forests and Climate

Written by Heather Hillaker, a Staff Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center

We are in the midst of a global climate and biodiversity crisis, and the wood pellet and biomass industries, which claim to be a solution, are threats to both. Cutting down and burning growing forests for electricity actually emits more carbon dioxide than burning coal. These actions will increase atmospheric carbon for at least the next several decades—the exact time when we need to be drastically reducing emissions— while also degrading our native forests.

Wood pellets are made mostly from living trees, which are taken to pellet mills, ground into chips, dried, and formed into pellets. Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet manufacturer, currently operates nine pellet mills throughout the southeast—six of which source a large amount of wood from North and South Carolina. Enviva acknowledges that 83% of its wood comes directly from forests, including forests within these two states (see map).

Wood Pellet Plants Exporting to Europe
Map of operating (yellow circle), proposed (red circle), and prospective (pink circle) wood pellet plants in the southeast. Source: Southern Environmental Law Center

Impacts to Wetlands

Over the last decade, independent, on-the-ground investigations have uncovered that Enviva’s northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia mills often relied on mature trees taken from forested wetlands. Most of this harvesting is happening within the Coastal Plain, an area that was designated in 2016 as a global biodiversity hotspot because of its high species richness and endemism. Less than a third of this area’s native vegetation remains. Harvesting for pellet mills is exacerbating existing pressures on these forests and contributing to the degradation of these valuable ecosystems, including iconic wetland forests.

The wetland forests that dot the Carolina coasts are some of North America’s most valuable ecosystems. They improve water quality, protect against floods, and provide critical wildlife habitats— especially for migratory songbirds that are appreciated by even the most casual nature-lovers. But despite these immense benefits, most of these incredible forests have already been lost, and what remains now are subjected to clearcutting to produce wood pellets that are shipped overseas to be burned for electricity.

Remaining tree stumps after a clear-cut forested wetlands.
Photograph of a clearcut wetland forest in North Carolina. Logs harvested from this site were documented entering Enviva’s pellet mill. Source: Dogwood Alliance

Impacts to Communities

The biomass and wood pellet industries aren’t just bad for forests, they hurt the climate and nearby communities too. Even though it is touted as “clean energy”, burning wood pellets from forests for electricity increases the amount of carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere for 40-100 years, worsening climate change. Moreover, the pellet mills located throughout the southeast, including Enviva’s pellet mills in North and South Carolina, release harmful pollutants and dust negatively impacting the health of those living nearby. These mills are built primarily in low-wealth communities of color, where people are already overburdened by an unfair share of pollution.

Let’s be clear, the wood pellet and biomass industries are not clean energy, and as the U.S. moves towards real climate action, we must make sure that our policies promote genuine low-carbon renewable energy sources. We cannot afford to make the same mistakes as European countries that offer billions of dollars in government subsidies to these harmful industries. Our climate, forests, and communities depend on the U.S. making the right choice by excluding forest biomass from any clean energy policy.

Call to Action

You can help by signing this petition to tell President Biden that biomass is not a part of our clean energy future.


Sign the Petition

About the Author

Heather Hillaker is a Staff Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who specializes in issues surrounding the use of forest-derived biomass for energy. Heather is actively involved in SELC’s UK, US, and state-level work on the issue, including efforts to strengthen protections for communities living near wood pellet plants.

September Message from the Board

Dear Wetland Supporters,

In July, the National Mitigation and Ecosystem Banking Conference was held in Raleigh, NC.  This conference brings together numerous companies and individuals interested in ecosystem services and allows a platform to share ideas and explore opportunities.  The various attendees ranged from Departments of Transportation, federal and state regulatory and resource agencies, attorneys, contractors, consultants, practitioners, and capital providers. 

A lot of interest has been generated in the last few years with ongoing concerns around climate change, nature-based solutions, and resiliency.  A lot of money is being spent to pursue larger and more complex projects as carbon sequestration needs and water quality/quantity issues continue to rise.  We only need to look at the recent algal blooms on the Chowan and Pamlico River (NC), flooding and water quality issues in northern Pitt County (NC) and flooding issues in Bucksport area of Horry County (SC) as examples of the issues communities across the Carolinas are battling. 

Most of these issues developed over time as we continue to increase the amount of impervious surface, clear and drained wetlands, and build in floodplains. Solutions will require a holistic and multiple project approach that will take time and money to plan and implement.  Restored and natural wetlands are a vital part of holistic, watershed-based solutions by helping to improve water quality and attenuate flood waters. 

As demonstrated at the national mitigation conference, the science of wetlands continues to evolve.  We are continually improving how wetland restoration projects are implemented to ensure the development of functioning ecosystems and to better track the restoration progress. 

In the last thirty years of driving toward the Carolina coast, I have witnessed shifts in wetland systems due to beaver activity and saltwater intrusion.  These changes to wetland hydrology whether water quantity or water chemistry have changed these ecosystems.  Learning to implement holistic projects will help enhance the environment and protect communities with nature-based solutions.  As this evolution happens, a whole industry continues to grow around mitigation and ecosystem services and the push for alternative ways to lessen the impact of climate change and build resilient system to withstand the future.

Go explore a wetland!

Norton Webster, Treasurer

Carolina Wetlands Association