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Studies shows mixed Great Lakes wetlands data

10 Feb 2014

bogA recently reported study by the National Fish and Wildlife Service of coastal wetlands from 2004-2009, showed an increase in wetland
area of an estimated 13,610 acres, while the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific coastal regions experienced net wetland losses of 111,960 acres, 257,150 acres and 5,220 acres, respectively.  In fact, the report noted that re-establishment projects had helped with this increase. One such project is the Erie Marsh project, which is part of the  Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, established in 2001 as North America’s first International Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge includes islands, coastal wetlands, inland marshes, shoals, and riverfront lands along 48 miles of the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.  This video describes the early positive impacts of the Erie Marsh project

A companion FWS report paints a less rosy picture.  That report studied overall wetland gains and losses and concluded that there was a slight decline across the entire continental US including:

  •  a decline in saltwater wetlands by an estimated 84,100 acres, which reflected an accelerating  rate of loss of intertidal emergent wetland with some gains in beach/shore wetlands
  • a slowing decline in freshwater wetlands;
  • and large losses in forested wetlands with an estimated 392,600 acres of forested wetland area lost to upland land use types or deepwater between 2004 and 2009.

A map showing regions with the highest rate of freshwater wetland loss to upland between 2004 and 2009 included the southeastern US and the western Great Lakes and the Dakotas.  In short, while Great Lakes coastal wetlands are growing,  overall regional wetlands might actually be declining in acreage, if not quality.  What the EPA will make of that, given its current review of Michigan’s program is anyone’s guess.

Invasive Species and Unintended Consequences

12 Jul 2013

One action begets a reaction and another and another

Before I took off for vacation, I decided to finish reading 1493 which may be the most thought provoking book on invasive species I’ve ever read.  Author Thomas Mann takes a look at the last 500+ years of world history, economics, anthropology and environment and explains using interesting vignettes how the world we live in is not anything like the world of 1491.

He discusses topics like:

  • malaria and its relationship to the US slave trade;
  • sugar, silver and trade with the far east;
  • how South American potatoes and fertilizer revolutionized Europe and;
  • once the “eggs were all in the basket,” how European farming practices made almost inevitable the potato blight that virtually depopulated Ireland in the mid 1800’s.

He raises many interesting questions, some of which are still being asked today, as in this article regarding the popularity of the “superfood” quinoa as “gentrifying” or changing the South American farmers who used to eat it as a subsistance food.

A fascinating book which raises almost as many questions as it answers and shows how human actions – sometimes on purpose and sometimes not, have resulted in ecosystems (as well as economic systems) which are entirely foreign to the lands they occupy today.  We’ve blogged about Asian Carp and many of us are aware of invasive species like kudzu and purple loosestrife. But I never thought of wheat, onions, earthworms, potatoes, sugar, bananas and horses as invasive species.  I highly recommend this book.

Sand Dune Protection vs. Private Property Rights

12 Sep 2012

Last month Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation amending Part 353 of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Michigan’s Sand Dunes Protection and Management Law.  Of Michigan’s 275,000 acres of sand dune formations, 70,000 acres of the most sensitive dunes along the shorelines of Lakes Michigan and Superior are designated as “critical dune” areas.  One-third of the critical dune areas are privately owned.

 The amendment broadens the rights of private property owners in critical dune areas to allow construction of driveways to access their homes and allows permitting structures on the lakeward face of a dune in limited circumstances.  The amendment requires owners within a critical dune area to obtain a permit from the local unit of government in which the critical dune area is located or the Department of Environmental Quality, depending on the situation, prior to construction.  Notice of a submitted permit application is required to be given to anyone that makes a written request for notification of pending applications. The local unit of government may hold a public hearing on pending applications.  A public hearing pertaining to the permit application is required if two or more persons who own real property within 2 miles of the proposed project make a written request for a hearing.

 Proponents of the amendment believe that it will resolve deficiencies in the current law that put Michigan at risk in lawsuits over private property rights but some believe the amendment could expose critical dune areas to irresponsible development.  In the end they may both be right. 

 What do you think?

For details of the amendment visit here.   For general information on Michigan’s coastal dunes here.