Lessons from Wetlands Warriors

Thursday, May 21 was the 26th anniversary of the National Wetlands Awards. Held at the Botanic Gardens in Washington DC, the awards honor six recipients for excellence in wetlands conservation. Full information about the recipients is available from the sponsoring organization, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). There were many wonderful moments at the ceremony, but my favorite “take-aways” came from the acceptance speeches of two of the award recipients:

  1. Award for Science Research – Dr. Stuart E. G. Findlay spoke of the need for “effective science”. Simply stated, effective science requires excellent communication between scientists and policy makers. “Science must be relevant and transmitted to the people who can do something about it”. As scientists tend to immerse themselves in their work, it is essential to actively seek their knowledge and clarification. Scientists must bridge the important gap between sound research and information gleaned from the Internet by policy makers.
  2. Award for Education and Outreach – Dr. Jacqueline Comito challenged grant-funding organizations to embrace the notion that great marketing will sell the wetlands conservation message and that funding for marketing programs and projects needs to be included in the funding mix for wetlands educational programs!
Scott Schang, Acting President Environmental Law Institute

Scott Schang, Acting President
Environmental Law Institute

Awards for excellence in state program development, restoration, stewardship by private landowners and community leadership were also presented. In the coming weeks there will be announcements regarding new wetlands assessment tools for Virginia and new rule-making that will clarify issues of the controversial Clean Water Act.

Earlier in the day I attended a science briefing on “Water Resources in the United States” at the Capitol, sponsored by the Consortium of Aquatic Science Societies (CASS) and ELI. The purpose of the panel discussion was to review the scientific information presented in a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency “Connectivity of Streams & Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review & Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence”. Three (greatly oversimplified by the author of this blog) points emerge:

  • Beginning with headwater streams, our water flows through the land, across the mid and lower reaches of the watershed, and finally reaches coastal estuaries and the ocean.
  • By the time the water reaches the ocean it has collected every nasty chemical or waste product imaginable.
  • The ecosystem services – or FREE benefits – of wetlands along the way are critical in the filtration of this water before it reaches the water supply.

In spite of all the facts, there continues to be a lingering question of how to make the decision about whether or not a connection or “nexus” actually exists between wetlands and water resources.

  • Does the fine line of definition obscure the best course of action to protect wetlands and water resources?
  • Do law makers “feel comfortable” with badgering a scientist simply because their constituents won’t like the scientific data?
  • And finally, how many trade-offs can our water supply withstand?

It is difficult to imagine that “some people” continue to question the connection of water quality with all water flowing across the land. I applaud the scientists at the briefing, the recipients of the National Wetlands Awards and wetlands warriors across the planet for stepping up to the podium, welcoming the questions and presenting the clear and consistent message that our wetlands are inextricably connected to water resources and water quality. Thank you!

The Wetlands Project is a Virginia corporation and our mission is to promote wetlands preservation by creating and strengthening community-based programs that encourage wetlands conservation. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation.

For more information please contact info@TheWetlandsProject.org