Tag: Wetlands

World Wetlands Day: A Global Call to Action

Spring Road Wetlands

On February 2, 2022, we join the global community in celebrating World Wetlands Day (WWD) to raise awareness about the important role of wetlands for humanity and the planet on which we live. WWD festivities take place every February 2nd to mark the adoption date of the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran on the shores of the Caspian Sea in 1971. This convention was the first time that the world joined to discuss wetlands and their important protection measures.

This year’s celebration of World Wetlands Day is especially significant because on August 30, 2021, the UN General Assembly established February 2 as World Wetlands Day – this designation means that the day will be celebrated as a United Nations International Day. The United Nations designates International Days as occasions to mark particular events or topics in order to promote, through awareness and action, the objectives of the organization. This year’s theme, “Wetlands Action for People and Nature,” has the goal of calling people to action now; thus, protecting the health of both human and natural systems and ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

There are many events occurring across the world on this day, including a run, a children’s photo contest, clean-up and other service activities, self-guided walks, and opportunities for grant funding. More details can be found at the website: https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/

Why Should We Protect Wetlands?

Natural wetlands are being lost at a rate that is three times faster than forests, with 85% of the world’s wetlands either lost or degraded since the 1700s. This loss results in water scarcity, exposure to flooding and extreme weather events, loss of well-being and livelihood/jobs, and food insecurity. For the planet, wetland loss means a decline in biodiversity, increased carbon and methane emissions, and a loss of freshwater filtration. Globally, wetlands are critically important ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, world economies and more. For example, over 40% of the world’s population lives within 60 miles (100 Km) of the ocean and will ultimately be affected by changes to the health of the coastline and wetlands in those interfacing areas, and more than 3 billion people depend on the ocean for their income – those jobs include fishing and aquaculture but also tourism. Freshwater wetlands also provide jobs such as fishing, aquaculture (freshwater catfish), agriculture (cranberry bogs) and tourism (swamp buggies anyone?).  

What is a Wetland?

Wetlands can vary in size, shape, vegetation, location, and include large, complex systems like beaches and coastlines, coral reefs, bogs and swamps. The Everglades in southern Florida is a good example of a large tropical wetland system. Here in New Hampshire, we have several large protected bog wetlands – poorly drained wetlands that are acidic and rich in organic and plant material, usually associated with a body of open water – including the Ponemah Bog in Amherst, and the Quincy Bog Natural Area in Rumney.

A wetland can also be small; New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) defines a wetland as having three components: hydric soils, hydrophytic vegetation and wetland hydrology. When a project is in development, wetlands are identified, or delineated, on the site to determine the best ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate impacts (or alteration of the wetland that results in a loss of its functions) to that wetland. There are federal rules protecting wetlands and every state has their own set of wetland protection requirements as well. Local wetland protection rules and requirements can also occur. 

Below are some examples of wetlands we have delineated in our projects; these are forested wetlands, grassed or emergent wetlands, riparian wetlands that occur along the edges and floodplains of streams and rivers, and isolated wetlands that are a mixture of forested, grassed and scrub-shrub. Once the wetlands on a site have been delineated, we work with our clients to determine the best ways to develop the site that can meet their goals while also protecting these important resources.  

Photos 1 & 2: Different emergent wetlands
Photo 3: Riparian forested wetland
Photo 4: Riverine/stream floodplain wetland system

What Can I Do?

The WWD convention has identified three global actions as a focus in 2022 to protect wetlands: 1) value wetlands, 2) stop draining or cultivating wetlands, and 3) renew, reforest and restore altered wetlands. These may sound like actions that are on a larger scale than you can assist with; you can follow #ActForWetlands to find more concrete ways in which you can act locally to protect wetlands. Join a local river or beach clean-up, start one on your own, or just spend some time picking up roadside trash or debris in your neighborhood. Plant trees or vegetation in your yard, especially if you have any wetland or stream within it, or assist when there is a community organization that is doing a similar project. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of clean, healthy wetlands and their ecosystems to spread the word. If everyone makes one small change, they add up!

The Hoyle Tanner Environmental Permitting team can assist you in any stage of your project that may affect wetlands, including: wetland delineation and assessment; local, state and federal permitting of wetland impacts; avoidance and minimization of impacts via design alternatives; and development of mitigation opportunities such as wetland creation, restoration, enhancement or preservation. Reach out with any questions you may have regarding wetlands! 

How do Airport Development, Wetlands and Land Conservation Connect?

Image of Moose River Area aerial view

Part 1: Airport Development – Location, Location, Location

The Town of Jackman, Maine, owner and operator of the Newton Field Airport, is working with Hoyle Tanner to expand the main airport runway for emergency medical aircraft. This is an important and necessary change that will allow emergency flights to supplement the regional health care offerings in this rural part of Maine.

Hoyle Tanner created multiple alternative designs for the runway expansion at the Newton Field Airport in order to avoid and minimize wetland impacts. Ultimately, as with any airport project where the runway is expanded, the location of the existing runway dictates where the site alteration has to occur, and wetlands are proposed to be impacted as part of the project.

Newton Field, like many airports built in New England before the 1970s, is surrounded by wetlands; in the 70s, wetlands were viewed more as low-cost land to be filled rather than valuable resources to be protected. Because of the location of the existing runway, and the limited areas in which runway expansion could occur, the runway expansion will require permitting for impacts to wetlands.

Part 2: Wetland Impacts – Now What?

Wetland impacts are permitted by Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As a condition of the permits that were issued for the project, the Town is required to provide compensatory mitigation for wetland impacts – this is often referred to as wetland mitigation.

Wetland mitigation can come in a variety of ways in the State of Maine: 1) the applicant can create wetlands in another location, either on-site or off-site; 2) the applicant can repair, restore or enhance an existing wetland that needs assistance in restringing it to complete functionality, i.e., removing invasive species or silt from an eroding bank; 3) the applicant can preserve parcels of land that contain wetlands, surface waters or vernal pools and are under threat of development, which is often done by working with a non-profit organization to place the parcels of land under a permanent conservation easement; or 4) the applicant can make a payment to the In Lieu Fee (ILF) Compensation Program, in which case those funds are used to provide grants to fund wetland conservation, creation or enhancement projects. 

Hoyle Tanner’s environmental experts have a full understanding of the pros and cons of each of these types of wetland mitigation and are able to determine what is best for each of our clients and their respective projects. In this example, our work with the Town over the past several decades gave us insight into the unique land conservation opportunity that could be used for wetland mitigation.

Part 3: Land Conservation – Protecting Wetlands While Achieving Development Goals

The Town of Jackman was proactive in their approach to future airport development, wetland mitigation and conservation goals with the assistance of Hoyle Tanner’s aviation staff. With an eye towards expanding the use of the airport and understanding that any wetland impacts that result from that development would require wetland mitigation, the Town purchased a 117-acre parcel of land along the beautiful Moose River to prepare for future airport development. This parcel of land is located within a floodplain delta for the Moose River and contains a variety of natural communities and habitats, including a 34-acre, rare spruce bog wetland and associated floodplain wetlands. Hoyle Tanner’s environmental permitting team worked with the Town,  DEP and USACE to come to an agreement that placing a conservation easement on this parcel of land, including both unique wetlands and the uplands surrounding them, would be an excellent wetland mitigation opportunity.

Part 4: The Connection

Hoyle Tanner’s staff continued to lead the Town through completion of the wetland mitigation process by working with all parties involved to place 57-acres of the Moose River parcel under a conservation easement to serve as compensatory mitigation for the development of a hangar, taxilane and an apron at the airport in 2010. The Forest Society of Maine (FSM) agreed to hold the easement because the parcel indirectly connects to other large conservation easements they hold in this region of Maine.

In 2021, Hoyle Tanner continued this effort to conserve the rest of that parcel, approximately 55 acres, under conservation easement with FSM so that the entire parcel, including 3,500 linear feet (or almost ¾ of a mile!) of the frontage along Moose River will be permanently protected from development.

Because of the extent of the wetland impacts for the runway expansion project, the conservation of the rest of the Moose River parcel was not enough to fully mitigate the project impacts. Hoyle Tanner led the team to identify two other parcels of land that will be placed into conservation: a 9-acre parcel of land along River Road that contains approximately 1,000 linear feet of frontage along Heald Stream, a tributary to Moose River; and, a 15-acre parcel of land on Tapley Road that also contains 1,700 linear feet of frontage along Heald Stream. Both of these parcels are owned by the Town and have frontage along a main road in Jackman, which means they could be developed in the future. By placing them under conservation easements to be held by FSM, this will allow for protection of the important floodplains and riparian buffers within the watershed of this stream. Hoyle Tanner coordinated the acceptance of these additional parcels of land conservation with DEP and USACE to successfully meet the permit conditions and fully mitigate the wetland impacts from the project.

Heald Stream frontage showing Alder floodplain wildlife habitat

In summary, because of the work that Hoyle Tanner completed with the Town of Jackman, the Forest Society of Maine, Maine DEP and USACE, this project:

  • Provided runway length allowing for much needed medical services to a rural area of Maine;
  • Avoided and minimized impacts to wetlands; and
  • Placed over 141 acres of land into permanent protection via conservation easement

Hoyle Tanner is pleased to partner with state, federal and local agencies and conservation organizations. Our environmental permitting experts are confident in determining land conservation opportunities for wetland mitigation at airports, among our other areas of expertise. Please contact me if you have questions about environmental permitting at your airport or municipality!

Celebrate World Wetlands Day on February 2, 2018!

Body of water with green algae

February 2, 2018 has been designated as World Wetlands Day by the International/Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, with a focus on Urban Wetlands. What are urban wetlands, and why are they important?

Wetlands are land areas that are flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally, and include rivers, streams, floodplains, marshes, estuaries and bogs. Urban wetlands are these same bodies of water, but are found in or around cities and their suburbs.

Preserving urban wetlands is an important step to providing a sustainable future as our global population grows and becomes more urbanized. Currently, 50% of the world’s 4 billion people live in urban areas, with that number proposed to increase to 66% by 2050. The need to provide land for building and basic services should be balanced between the need to preserve and restore natural resources like wetlands in order to make cities more livable.

Historically, wetlands were viewed as land that should be filled in to create usable land. As upland or dry areas have been mostly built-out in our larger cities, wetlands are under more pressure to be filled and converted into “usable” space. Why is this a problem?

Wetlands perform valuable services in our landscape in six major ways:

1) They are the source of almost all drinkable water consumed by urban populations. Wetlands filter water before it enters groundwater aquifers, helping to replenish this important water source.

2) They support the plant life that acts to filter waste, absorb harmful toxins (including agricultural pesticides and industrial waste), treat sewage and improve water quality.

3) They improve air quality by increasing humidity and providing oxygen (from plants) into the local atmosphere, the combination of which results in natural cooling.

4) They act as sponges to absorb flood waters and then release water slowly to reduce flooding and storm surges.

5) Wetlands are often an important part of parks and conservation areas that offer space for recreation (kayaking, fishing, walking or jogging, etc.) and access to a diversity of plant and animal life, which has been shown to increase happiness and satisfaction in residents. Studies have confirmed that interacting with nature reduces stress and improves the overall quality of life.

6) They offer a way for citizens to make a living by providing opportunities for fishing and agriculture or collecting plants for weaving, medicine, and food products. Wetlands can also provide tourist attractions, such as recreational fishing, diving, and sight-seeing that enable local citizens to make a living from secondary service opportunities such as restaurants and hotels.

Man cutting tree branch to volunteer

Sean James, PE, Vice President, cuts branches along a walking trail as part of a recent community volunteer event.

Wetlands are important to our ecosystem. Here are some ways you can protect wetlands: get involved in local planning efforts and speak out in support of preserving new parks and conservation areas; volunteer to restore or clean-up existing parks, streams and wetlands that have been neglected or run-down; organize a volunteer day or event in your community to pick up trash, plant trees or flowers along your local river or stream bank; stay informed on proposed land-use changes in your community; support legislation that protects or preserves wetlands; reduce water consumption to reduce the demand on groundwater aquifers; reduce or avoid pesticide use, which can run-off into streams and wetlands and be toxic to fish, plants and wildlife; reuse or recycle natural materials; and reduce your waste where you can.

Integrating wetland preservation and restoration into urban policy and planning efforts is key to improving urban life now and in the future.