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Volume 14, Issue 9
One of the biggest challenges to new delineators and even some experienced wetland delineators is getting the plant community mapping done right. This is a very important task as it serves as the basis for where and why the wetland sampling points are located where they are. As you may recall the US Army Corps of Engineers Wetland Manuals require that each plant community should be represented by a sampling point.
The new Regional Supplements are really not much help on this. They do describe in very generic terms what some of the common plant communities in the region and even sub-region are. For example this is from the Eastern Mountains and Piedmont Regional Supplement.
Northern Mountains and Piedmont (MLRAs 147 and 148 of LRR S)
This subregion includes the northern Appalachian ridges and valleys (MLRA 147) and the northern Piedmont (MLRA 148). The ridge-and-valley portion is underlain by Paleozoic sandstones, conglomerates, limestones, and shales, whereas the Piedmont portion is underlain by generally older metamorphic and igneous rocks. The central portion of the Piedmont also contains sandstones, conglomerates, and shales that were laid down in the ancestral Atlantic Ocean during the Triassic period. Average annual rainfall over most of the subregion ranges from 31 to 52 in. (785 to 1,320 mm), and average annual temperature ranges from 44 to 57 °F (7 to 14 °C) (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 2006).
Only about 55 percent of the ridge-and-valley portion of the subregion and 25 percent of the Piedmont portion are forested today. Agricultural and urban development makes up the remainder of the subregion. Common tree species in forested areas include white oak, black oak, northern red oak, bear oak (Q. ilicifolia), chestnut oak, American elm, hickories, tuliptree, Virginia pine, pitch pine (P. rigida), eastern redcedar, and other species (Society of American Foresters 1980; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 2006).
As you can see there is a general description of the trees found in the region. However, there is not much else. In this example understory species are not mentioned and there is no discussion of the other plant communities in this area. The Corps goes on to later extol the need to identify the plant communities.
“The manual uses a plant-community approach to evaluate vegetation. Hydrophytic vegetation decisions are based on the assemblage of plant species growing on a site, rather than the presence or absence of particular indicator species. Hydrophytic vegetation is present when the plant community is dominated by species that require or can tolerate prolonged inundation or soil saturation during the growing season.”
So getting this right is very important. To help you with this I have a few tips and tricks to get you started.
First, you need to identify a plant Community text for your region. For example in North Carolina, Classification Of The Natural Communities Of North Carolina Third Approximation, by Michael P. Schafale and Alan S. Weakley (1990) is a great reference document for understanding how these plant communities are distinguished.
This is an example of a portion of the vegetation description for a specific plant community. There is actually quite a bit more that is present and is very useful. Location, geology, soils and other features are described relative to this community type.
Carolina Hemlock Bluff
Vegetation: The canopy is generally well developed, though not always closed, owing to extreme rockiness and steepness. Tsuga caroliniana is the dominant trees; species such as Quercus montana (prinus), Pinus rigida, Pinus pungens, Quercus rubra, or Tsuga canadensis often occur. Undergrowth is generally a dense layer of heaths, especially Kalmia latifolia, Rhododendron catawbiense, Gaylussacia spp., and Vaccinium spp. The herb layer is very sparse below the dense shrub growth. Species may include Gaultheria procumbens, Mitchella repens, Chimaphila maculata, Galax urceolata (aphylla), Xerophyllumasphodeloides, and Trilliumundulatum. Bryophytes (Dicranumspp., Leucobryumalbidum, and L. glaucum) and lichens (Cladonia spp. and Cladina spp.) are sometimes prominent.
From this description alone you would be able to develop a plant list and assign wetland indicators.
In just about every state there exists a plant inventory and classification text. Most of these are published by a state land grant university. These are usually the major agricultural institutions. However, in the North Carolina example one professor is from NC State and the other is from the University of NC. NC State has a major agricultural program. UNC is more of a research institution. This collaboration has produced a terrific document and a great example of universities working together. Just don’t bring up basketball.
I had mentioned a few newsletters ago the Swamp School is launching a new online training program called Virtual Swamp Tours. This virtual trip to the swamp is intended to show you what these plant communities look like in person. We hope to have the first set of tours up in a few weeks. We are also including a sample tour in our hydrology webinar that we are offering next week.
Have a great week!
Volume 14, Issue 8
With the development of new forestry short rotation techniques there has arisen a new concern about the brown headed nuthatch. These little guys live in mature pine forests and their habitat is declining. Changes in harvest practices, selling forest land off for development and other pressures have reduced the numbers of acres of pine forest that the nuthatch needs to survive.
The brown headed nuthatch is the least common nuthatch in North America. Its range is limited to the southeast extending from southern Virginia south to central Florida and west to east Texas. It prefers softwoods like loblolly or long leaf pine forests.
This nuthatch has a few peculiarities. It uses tools! It will use a piece of bark to pry up another piece of bark to search for food. It will often carry this “tool” from tree to tree. It will also hide its seed cache with a piece of bark.
The brown headed nuthatch and the pine warbler have a sort of Hatfield’s and McCoy’s battle going on in the pine forest. Both species are competing for the same habit and food. Flocks of nuthatches will attack the warblers. But don’t worry the warblers will fight back. This battle has been going on for thousands of years.
We need your help and we are willing to pay you for it! We are holding another contest and more details are at the end of this article.
If you live in the southeast could you build a bird box for these guys? For about $3 in lumber you can make one in about an hour. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has a great set of design plans that you can download for free.
You will need one (1) 1”x6”x4’ piece of lumber and a few screws and a 6 penny nail. I do have a couple of suggestions on the lumber. Do not use pressure treated lumber. It contains some pretty nasty salts that will harm the bird. Pine is the natural habitat for this bird. It is cheap and easy to find. The downside is that it will probably only last 2 or three seasons before it rots away. Rough cut pine is ideal as it simulates the natural nest cavity this bird is looking for. If you use this, the board you buy will actually be 1”x6” as opposed to the milled lumber that is ½” smaller. You do not need to trim the board down to use the design plans. The house will just be a bit wider and I am sure the nuthatch will appreciate the extra space. If you want a really cool house, try to find a piece of pine with the bark still on it and use that for the front piece.
Don’t forget to pre-drill the screw holes. The lumber is thin and will split if you do not have pilot holes.
There is a really important aspect to the nuthatch design. The front opening needs to be a round hole that is 1 ¼” in diameter. If the hole is too big the bluebirds will move in. This design is basically the same as a bluebird house with a slightly smaller opening. As an alternative to building a house yourself you can buy a bluebird house and make a nuthatch adapter by placing a piece of wood with a smaller hole drilled into it over the existing hole in the house. I have also seen a piece of tin or copper used this way. Just be sure there are no sharp edges.
Lastly, please do not paint the house. The nuthatches are looking for tree cavities and you want to simulate these. Save the ornate painting for the bluebirds. They are the splashy ones.
The box should be mounted about 5 feet or more above the ground on a tree. Again, the house needs to look like a tree cavity. I have seen some on posts, but it should look like a small tree. You can mount the box higher if you like. The nuthatches will nest upwards of 50 feet off the ground.
I f you want to keep up with the sightings of the brown headed nuthatch, ebird has a really nice tracking map. They include hot spots and personal locations. There is also an iPhone app that is pretty cool for keeping up with all of the birds in your area.
We have decided to run another Facebook photo contest. You can win a $10 Amazon Gift Card by entering a picture of one of the following categories:
- A brown headed nuthatch you have seen (original pictures only – no ripping them off the internet)
- A picture of the birdhouse you built or bought (It has to be a nuthatch house!)
- A picture of you attempting to build a bird house (not all attempts are successful so we wanted to give those that are carpentry challenged a chance)
- Non- southeast birdhouse. If you are not in the brown headed nuthatch region, send in a picture of a birdhouse you have made. Be sure to include the name of bird you are trying to help.
Each category will be awarded a gift card. The winner will be selected by popular vote, so once you enter encourage your friends and family to vote for you picture.
Have a great week!
Volume 14, Issue 7
In the spirit of the Winter Olympics I thought I would do a little digging on wetlands in Russia. Russia is the world’s largest county. According to Wetlands International, the country includes very large areas of wetlands, including peatlands of various types (raised bogs, fens, and transitional mires) covering 1.8 million km2, 120,000 rivers with a total length of 2,300,000 km, 2 million lakes with a total volume of 370,000 km3, and diverse marine wetlands occurring over a 60,000-km stretch of the national coastline.
Since 1975, Russia has been one of the one of the Ramsar countries. It has designated 35 wetland sites totaling 10.3 million hectares for the Ramsar list. However, they have also protected areas of wetlands the go well beyond the Ramsar criteria. Approximately, 9,000,000 ha of wetlands are protected within the strict nature reserves (zapovedniki), 5,300,000 ha, in the federal sanctuaries and wildlife refuges (zakazniki), 650,000 ha, in the national parks, and 60,000,000 ha of wetlands are protected at the local level.
Some of the more significant wetland systems include (From Wetlands International):
- The Volga Delta, the largest deltaic complex in Europe and one of the richest bird habitat in the world, covering 19,000 km2;
- Kandalaksha Bay on the eastern side of the White Sea and Lake Khanka in the Russian Far East, renowned for their importance for breeding and migrating waterbirds;
- The world’s largest peatland system of Bolshoye Vasyuganskoye covering 50,000 km2 in Western Siberia;
- Lake Baikal containing 20% of the world’s liquid fresh water with its unique fauna characterized by the highest number of endemic species of all the inland water bodies;
- Large wetland areas along the coasts of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov on the south;
- Extensive tundra wetlands underlying by permafrost on the north, and many others.
On the plains of Western Siberia, a continuous bog landscape is found, with a great number of lakes and wide river valleys. This area comprises a great ‘duck factory’, comparable with the prairie pothole country of North America.
Wetland concerns in Russia are similar to those in the United States. Loss of wetlands due to drainage for agriculture and water supply dams have been significant. There is no large scale assessment of Russia’s wetlands and many systems are vulnerable to development pressures.
To help Russia manage some of its environmental issues representatives from the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Technological Platform, Russian regional administrations, and private industry met with EPA experts in Washington, DC in 2009 to discuss development of economic mechanisms in addressing legacy waste sites in the Arctic Region. The delegation also visited United States Superfund and Brownfields sites, to observe and review innovative technologies and best practices in land remediation and destruction of hazardous wastes.
While this is not directed at wetlands, it is a start. It is reminiscent of the early days of the Clean Water Act in the 1970’s. The focus then was water contamination. In Russia today the major concern is hazardous waste, especially in the arctic regions.
Wetlands International has drafted a national strategy for Russia. It includes a number of key points including:
- Develop and implement a national wetland inventory program;
- Protect the most important wetlands by means of designating sites of special (international, federal and regional) importance;
- Establish a network for monitoring the status of wetlands and a system for collecting, storing and analyzing data on wetlands in the form of National Wetland Cadastre supported by relevant legislation and institutional network;
- Develop legislation that will provide for wetland wise use and conservation throughout the country;
- Raise the awareness in wetland functions and values among the general public and specific target groups;
- Promote the participation of indigenous and local communities and other stakeholders in the decision-making process concerning wetland management and conservation;
- Promote research in wetlands as a basis for management and conservation action;
- Promote international cooperation in the field of wetland conservation and sustainable use.
Wetlands International recently published a guidebook for creating concepts for visitor centers and eco-trails in wetlands. It is targeted at a wide audience, including those that have the intention of establishing a visitor center or a wetland center, plan to renovate an old natural history museum, design a network of walking trails, a child-friendly exhibit or a play area. This publication contains the detailed description of the steps they will go through to plan the concept development process, the practical examples and tips to avoid common mistakes. It sounds like a great publication. Unfortunately, it is only available in Russian. You can download it here.
das vi danya
Volume 14, Issue 6
As I write this about two thirds of the US is covered in snow. Here in North Carolina we are expecting another round of snow and freezing rain. This makes any field work very difficult. Heck, driving to the office is a challenge. Kind of makes that whole global warming thing sound pretty good about now.
The issue is that we cannot stop work and wait for spring. We have to get some field work done. The problem is that we have to balance responsible science with paying the bills. We cannot just lay everyone off when there is snow on the ground.
I have worked in the northern part of the country for many a winter. As a result, I have developed some tips and tricks for conducting wetland delineations in less than ideal conditions. I thought I would share a few with you while you wait for the snow plows to show up.
The first and foremost important item is do not take pictures of the snow and send it to the Corps. You are going to have to wait until you can see bare ground. Most Corps Districts will not even accept the reports if there are snow covered pictures. You will need to let your clients know that there will be a follow –up site visit to finish up the field work when the snow melts.
Now, if the snow is many feet deep, you may still be stuck in the office. First, there is a safety issue and second, there is a matter of really being able to accomplish anything when the snow is that thick. The safety issue should not be overlooked. In any circumstance, do not venture into the field alone. There are just too many hazardous out there that a cell phone cannot help you with. Hypothermia is one of the bigger hazardous you may face. Keep an eye on each other.
If you can navigate thought the snow safely, you should be able to do a tree survey. The trees can be identified in the winter by twigs, bark, and buds. To be frank, this is a better way to identify them anyway. The leaves can be misleading. This is especially true with the red oaks. The buds are critical to positive identification of these tricky trees.
Saplings and shrubs will also persist throughout the winter months. Many of these are either facultative wet (FACW) or facultative up (FACU). These can be a great help with wetland determinations.
The herbaceous species will most likely be absent. However, there are some species that persist in the non-growing season. These perennial species often die back to the root, but the vegetative parts remain. Cattails and soft rush are good examples of this. Species like skunk cabbage also die back to the bulb leaving a little leaf ball right below the ground surface in the subnivian zone. This is the space between the snow and ground surface.
If you do encounter herbaceous species in the winter, I would suggest limiting the inventory to only perennials. You may find remnants of annuals in the winter. However, the problem with annuals is that they are highly variable and may be responding to a seasonal or climatic change in the hydroperiod. This may not be typical for the site overall. So if you are able to identify them (to species), make a note and keep an eye on the site when the snow melts.
Hydrology is going to be a tough one. Most of the indicators will either be buried or otherwise be altered due to being frozen. However, there are a few to keep an eye out for.
Obviously, if you see standing water you have a positive indicator of hydrology. Be careful not to include a frozen puddle that is temporally there. The evaporation rate is so low in the winter, that area could easily be a false positive. Look for type “C” soil indicators as backup if you really want to call the puddle a potential wetland. Oxidized rhizospheres would be great to find.
Last but not least are the soil indicators. Believe it or not, most of these will persist in the non-growing season. Even the rhizospheres will remain when the soil is frozen.
If the soil is frozen solid, you may have more of a logistical issue extracting a sample than any other issue. There are special devices made to help you with this. The slide hammer attachment works well on a tube sampler, but be prepared to totally destroy the sampler by the time you are done. There are other clever devices out there. The good old shovel will also work in frozen soil. No need to go to the gym on that day though.
I would recommend that you take picture of the soil in its frozen state and identify any hydric indicators. Then take the sample to the nice warm truck and see what you see when it thaws out. Note any change in soil color as it warms. My experience is the frozen soil is brighter in color and may give you a false negative until it melts.
The Corps may still have issues with any work done with snow cover. Please check with your local Corps field office to see if they have any restrictions. Even if they do, you still may be able to get a jump start on the site and be ready to finish it quickly in the spring. For those of you way up north I think that is sometime in July. You will have to hurry before that Labor Day snow storm.
Have a great week. Stay warm and stay safe.
Volume 14, Issue 5
The most common soil type we encounter in wetlands is the “F” group of hydric soils. These are the loamy mineral soils. The texture needs to be a fine sand or finer. Usually we are looking at silts and clays.
Of all of the indicators in the “F” group the two most common ones are the depleted matrix “F3” or the dark surface “F6.” It is not unusual to find both of these in the same soil pit. Both of these indicators are dependent upon soil color as their hydric condition test.
There are many variations of color associated with the “F” indicators. However a basic rule of thumb is that they need to have a Munsell matrix chroma of 2 or less. There are provisions for chromas greater than 2 found in some of the other indicators. However for the “F3” and “F6” we need to see colors that are at least as dark as a 2.
There is still some pushback from the old time delineators on these new indicators. For decades we used a single indicator for soil color.
- Matrix chroma is 2 or less in mottled soils
- Matrix chroma is 1 or less in unmottled soils
This has to occur at a depth of 10 inches or the bottom of the “A” horizon whichever is shallower.
This definition served us well but it is no longer in use. However, when we look at the new “F” indicators we see that the old definition is buried in them (sorry for the pun).
One other oldie is the concept of mottling. This term has been replaced with the concept of redoxomorphic features. We now refer to dark features as redox depletions and bright features as redox concentrations. Mottling always meant a mix of soil colors. However, it usually was expressed when the dark features were in the matrix (dominant color) and the bright features were individual masses. The use of the redox concentrations and redox depletions is much more descriptive and a change for the better.
Thickness of the indicator feature is also a new concept. Many of the “F” indicators not only require a specific soil color, but also a thickness associated with it. For example a matrix with a chroma of 2 must be at least 6 inches thick in order to count as a hydric soil feature. To make this a bit more challenging some of these thickness requirements can be combined with other hydric soil indicators thickness requirements to make up any missing thickness goals. This only applies to certain indicators like the “F3” and “F6”.
The last caveat is that some of these features must occur within certain depth limits in order to count as a hydric soil feature. You must see the feature start at a specified depth and then extend for a certain thickness. On aspect of the “F3” requires that a depleted matrix must start in the upper 12 inches of the soil and extend for at least 6 inches. Thickness and depth are combined.
The “F3” indicator is one of the most frequently found indicators. It is referred to as a depleted matrix. There is a tricky part to this indicator regarding the use of the US Army Corps Regional Supplements. The definition of a depleted matrix is found in the glossary along with a nice graphic of what it means. The problem is that the hydic soils section leads you to believe that the full description of the feature is found within they hydric soil indicator description. It does not. You need to check the glossary.
The description starts with the idea that you have a depleted matrix. You need to know what a depleted matrix is. This involves an analysis of the soil color and percent redox features.
A depleted matrix is:
Depleted matrix. The volume of a soil horizon or subhorizon from which iron has been removed or transformed by processes of reduction and translocation to create colors of low chroma and high value. A, E, and calcic horizons may have low chromas and high values and may therefore be mistaken for a depleted matrix. However, they are excluded from the concept of depleted matrix unless common or many, distinct or prominent redox concentrations as soft masses or pore linings are present. In some places the depleted matrix may change color upon exposure to air (reduced matrix); this phenomenon is included in the concept of depleted matrix. The following combinations of value and chroma identify a depleted matrix:
- Matrix value of 5 or more and chroma of 1, with or without redox con- centrations occurring assoft masses and/or pore linings, or
- Matrix value of 6 or more and chroma of 2 or 1, with or without redox concentrations occurring as soft masses and/or pore linings, or
- Matrix value of 4 or 5 and chroma of 2, with 2 percent or more distinct or prominent redox concentrations occurring as soft masses and/or pore linings, or
- Matrix value of 4 and chroma of 1, with 2 percent or more distinct or prominent redox concentrations occurring as soft masses and/or pore linings (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 2010).
Common (2 to less than 20 percent) to many (20 percent or more) redox concentrations (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 2002) are required in soils with matrix colors of 4/1, 4/2, and 5/2. Redox concentrations include iron and manganese masses and pore linings(Vepraskas 1992).
Once you figure that out you just need to look for depth and thickness of feature.
A layer with a depleted matrix that has 60 percent or more chroma of 2 or less and that has a minimum thickness of either:
- 2 in. (5 cm) if the 2 in. (5 cm) is entirely within the upper 6 in. (15 cm) of the soil, or
- 6 in. (15 cm) starting within 10 in. (25 cm) of the soil surface.
The “F6” indicator does not require a depleted matrix. It is described as a dark surface as follows:
A layer that is at least 4 in. (10 cm) thick, is entirely within the upper 12 in. (30 cm) of the mineral soil, and has a:
- Matrix value of 3 or less and chroma of 1 or less and 2 percent or more distinct or prominent redox concentrations occurring as soft masses or pore linings, or
- Matrix value of 3 or less and chroma of 2 or less and 5 percent or more distinct or prominent redox concentrations occurring as soft masses or pore linings.
I should add that distinct or prominent redox features are defined by the color contrast between these features. Please check the Regional Supplement glossary for a full description. We also printed it on our soil bandana.
These two soil indicators can also be combined to meet the thickness requirements of either feature. This may vary by Regional Supplement so make sure to check with the Corps for any local interpretations.
Next week we will talk about how at least one Corps district has already started to regulate upland waters of the US as described in the proposed EPA rules.
Have a great week!
Volume 14, Issue 4
I thought we would put some of the regulatory changes on hold for a few weeks and revisit some of the more fun aspects of wetland science. This week we are going to talk about soils.
One of the most fundamental and often confusing topics around soils are those darn hydric soil indicators. There are just so many of them. Each regional supplement also has different ones and sometime there are tweaks that are region or sub region specific.
The most basic concept surrounding the hydric soil indicators is that they only apply to hydric soils. Now this may seem a bit obvious but it is critical to the understanding how they work. Non-hydric soils do not exhibit any of the listed indicators. However, if an indicator is present it is test positive for hydric soils. Once that happens it is not usual to find multiple indicators in the same soil profile. If there are no indicators the soil is not hydric and no indicators should have been found. This becomes a bit tricky when dealing with remnant hydric soils. Shadows of indicators might be present. However, the soil is not actively hydric. The lack of hydrology indicators may help to confirm this.
The next topic is, “what is it we are looking for?” The hydric soil indicators are based upon how three groups of elements respond to the presence of water. But it is not just the presence of water, but the anaerobic environment the water creates. These element groups are:
- Iron and Manganese
The easiest one to spot is sulfur. The soil stinks like rotten eggs. If you have stinky soil you meet one of the hydric soil criteria. Be careful to not misdiagnose the smell. There are lots of stinky things out there. Make sure what you are smelling is hydrogen sulfide.
Iron and manganese are also fairly easy to spot. There is a distinct color change from orange red to grey in the case of reduced iron. The anaerobic environment chemically changes the color of the soil. Manganese tends to turn black in this wet environment. However, the problem with these is that the color change back to the brighter colors in an aerobic environment may not happen quickly or at all in some cases. Consequently, you need to make sure that you have an active reducing environment by cross checking your hydrology indicators.
Carbon is perhaps the trickiest. A simple explanation is that a significant amount of organic material (a.k.a. carbon) is present due to the lack of oxygen in the environment. The soil microbes are not able to break the organic material down because they need oxygen to do this. The more the soil is subjected to anaerobic conditions the thicker the layer of undigested carbon becomes. The more organic matter the more likely the soil is hydric. It probably stinks too.
To help organize all of the indicators the Corps uses the USDA texture classes. Each indicators is grouped based upon its’ dominate texture. These include: sand, loam and no specific texture.
Sand is the easiest. The texture is sandy like beach sand. All of the indicators have this in common. The funny thing about this one is that the presence of organic matter is a big part of the “S” indicators.
Loam is denoted by the letter “F.” It stands for fine sand or finer. This includes silts and clays. Most of the indicators in the F category related to iron and manganese color changes.
All soils are the last category and is listed as not specific to any one texture type. Many of the poorly drained organic soil types fall into this category. However stinky soil also is an “A” indicator. These are sort of “other” but with a strong emphasis on organic soils.
One last thought on this soil overview. Thickness of feature is a new concept. Many of the indicators have thickness requirements. A given soil feature must be a specified thickness in order to count. It may also have to occur at a specified depth. Otherwise the feature does not count. Oh and by the way, you sometimes can combine features if present to meet these thickness thresholds.
Next week we will compare a couple of indicators to demonstrate how this works.
Have a great week!
The Swamp Stomp
Volume 14, Issue 3
Each year we like to take a look back at the wetland jobs market with the hope to find some encouraging news. Most of our focus has been on the wetland assessment side of the business. This is always a tricky analysis as the data is usually extrapolated from various sources and the cobbled together. There is not labor class called “wetland scientist.” Although, after reading a couple of new reports, there should be. It is a growing business.
About a week ago Forbes magazine published and article entitled, “Now THIS Is What We Call Green Jobs: The Restoration Industry ‘Restores’ the Environment and the Economy.” The focus of the article was about a new economic report published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the topic of the ecologic restoration industry. The study was limited to the restoration side of the wetlands business and included other types of restoration. Everything from wetlands to streams to endangered species were included in the study.
One of the biggest challenges of the study was defining what exactly is meant by restoration. This served as the first aspect of the study and helps identify industries associated with restoration. The authors did not want to include non-green types of projects affectionately known as gray projects. The challenge was not to mix hazardous waste restoration with wetland or stream restoration. Oftentimes these types of restoration are co-mingled.
The second aspect of the study was to identify the jobs that arose from the green restoration work. Again the authors were faced with the challenge that many of the green jobs were housed within existing engineering and consulting firms. The trick was to segment out the individuals that work in the green aspects of the firms work.
A number of highly credible economic sources were used in the development of the study. Number companies like Price Waterhouse Coopers have been tasked with developing economic analysis studies for various clients that focus on green restoration. The Nature Conservancy has undertaken a number of these studies on some of their projects that are quite informative.
Getting back to jobs there is an economic principle called employment multiplier. Quite simply this is the number of jobs that are created for a given amount of money spent in a particular industry. This is usually expressed as a number of jobs per million dollars spent. This is part of a bigger analysis called economic multipliers. This translates to a increase based upon spending. This is also called a total demand multiplier. For example for every million spent the result is 2.5 million increase in output. Therefore, you have a total demand multiplier of 2.5.
The report provides and analysis of variation in job impact estimates by project type and geographic scale. The news is good. This table represents a number of case studies and the jobs associated with them.
|Type of Restoration||Jobs per$1 M Invested||Geographic Scale(State)|
|Forest, Land and Watershed||39.7||National|
|Invasive Species Removal||33.3||State|
|Fish Passage||10.4||State (MA)|
|Fish Passage||15.2||State (OR)|
|Fish Passage/Dam Removal||18.2||State|
|Dam Removal||10.3||State (MA)|
|Dam Removal||20.5||State (CA)|
As you can see the number of jobs associated with the restoration industry is relatively high. By comparison the oil and gas industry has an employment multiplier of 3.
The following is the conclusion from the UNC report.
Based on a thorough review of the literature, it is clear that the U.S. has a highly active restoration industry, contributing growth and jobs to the national economy in the short-‐term as well as long-‐term value and cost-‐savings. Despite the commonly held idea that environmental regulations like the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act impede development, there is ample evidence that the public and private investments driven by these regulations have a stimulating effect on economic output and employment. Restoration investments appear to have particularly localized benefits, which can be attributed to the tendency for projects to employ local labor and materials (Weinerman, Buckley and Reich 2012, Davis et al. 2011, Shropshire and Wagner 2009). Though contractors and workers may experience seasonal and inter-‐annual fluctuations in income and employment, like their counterparts in the construction industry, preliminary evidence indicates that restoration jobs are well compensated in comparison to average wages (Shropshire and Wagner 2009).
Federal appropriations for restoration-‐related programs can be conservatively estimated at $2.5 billion per year (see Appendix: Restoration Program Database). Public and private investments linked to compensatory mitigation total an estimated $3.8 billion per year (Environmental Law Institute 2007), and non-‐profit investments in natural resources and wildlife preservation and protection are estimated to exceed $4.3 billion annually (Southwick Associates 2013). As demonstrated by the economic contributions literature, these large-‐scale restoration investments stimulate output and employment in a wide range of other industries, through supplier and household spending effects. However, due to variability in multiplier effects at different geographic scales, across different geographic areas, and among different types of projects, there are real challenges to scaling up contributions estimates to the national level. Further research is needed in order to understand the total size of the Restoration Economy, and the impact that restoration investments have on the national economy.
Between the private, public and non-profit groups a total of 8.1 billion is spent on restoration annually. That translates to 8,000 jobs. Not too shabby.
Have a great week!
Volume 14, Issue 2
How significant does a nexus have to be?
The issue of what is and is not a significant nexus is center to the new EPA Clean Water Act (CWA) rules. In order for a wetland or other water body to be jurisdictional under the Act it must have this connection to a navigable waterway. The problem is what is a significant nexus?
This whole issue arose as a result of the Rapanos and Carabell Supreme Court case in 2006. Justice Kennedy coined the term “Significant Nexus” in his lone opinion. It paralleled the plurality’s two-part test involving the receiving waters that have a relatively permanent flow and whether those waters have a continuous surface connection to navigable-in-fact waters. However he went a step beyond the physical connection and introduced a water quality connection.
One other factor is that the plurality Justices did not feel that dredge or fill material normally washes downstream. Both Justice Kennedy and Justice Stevens in his dissent, made it clear that this assertion simply is untrue. Justice Kennedy stated that the discharge of dredged and fill material should be treated the same as the discharge of any other pollutant under the Clean Water Act. Justice Kennedy further stated that the intent of the CWA is to maintain wetlands that provide filtering and other attributes to benefit adjacent bodies of water.
So the problem remains. What is a significant nexus?
There are two types of waters we need to assess. The first one is easy. Simply ask the question, is there a physical connection to a downstream navigable waterway? If the answer is yes, it is jurisdictional.
Now there are many ways a wetland could be connected. But for this analysis we are more or less limited to surface and shallow sub surface connections of a foot or less. This has been the general rule of thumb since about 2007.
With the new EPA rules there is discussion on unidirectional and bidirectional flow patterns. This further demonstrates the connection to the navigable waterway. What is new is the introduction of non-wetland areas that have bi-directional water patterns and connections to downstream navigable waters. By default, these areas are connected and therefore jurisdictional. Floodplains are an example of this. By the way, this is new.
The remaining waters are either adjacent wetlands that do not have obvious physical connections. These may also be isolated wetlands. Adjacent wetlands by rule are jurisdictional. Isolated wetlands need to have a significant nexus.
So what is a significant nexus?
If there is no physical connection, you are asked to assess the chemical and biological connectivity to the downstream waters. This was the subject of the recent EPA “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters”, report that described in great detail how all waters are connected to all other waters. I believe you would have to have a project on the moon in order to not satisfy the connectivity of one water to another based upon the EPA report.
However, that only addresses the concept of nexus. The issue is significant. Pardon the pun.
Really the issue is the significance of the connection. If the connection from one water body to another is altered, can you prove and quantify degradation to the water quality?
The biggest problem that was identified with the EPA report is the lack of discernment of the significance of one connection versus another. The entire report’s premise was to reduce the number of case by case studies on projects. The idea was that the water body is connected therefore it is jurisdictional. However, Justice Kennedy used the word significant. That remains undefined. Neither the new rules nor the recent EPA report quantify what is significant.
So what is significant?
That is left for you to decide. Is there a significant loss of water quality that would result from your project?
There is also the issue of whether this loss of water quality going to affect commerce? It is not just that the water quality is degraded, but rather that there is an interstate or international economic loss as a result. Without this commerce connection there can be no jurisdiction thanks to Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution.
One last thought. What if you project improves the downstream economy? Would that still be jurisdictional as Justice Kennedy’s Significant Nexus only speaks to degradation of the downstream water? Just asking.
Volume 14, Issue 1
Hello and welcome to 2014. Happy New Year!
I thought I would start off the first Swamp Stomp of 2104 with a bang. The end of last year was just a warm up to the new plans EPA and the Corps have been cooking up for us. This year we can expect it to be implemented.
What I am talking about?
EPA news rules for what is a jurisdictional waters of the US.
One of the major cornerstones of the new rules is an understanding of the concept of “significant nexus.” This concept arose from the Rapanos and Carabell case that went before the Supreme Court in 2006. In the eight or so years since that case, we have been left pondering what exactly Justice Kennedy was saying with his term significant nexus. He never really defined it.
To better understand where this is going you have to understand that the Supreme Court did not render a majority opinion in the Rapanos case. Justice Kennedy concurred with the plurality opinion, but his opinion was his alone. He held that a wetland or non-navigable water-body falls within the Clean Water Act’s ambit if it bears a “significant nexus” to a traditional navigable waterway. Such a nexus exists where the wetland or water-body, either by itself or in combination with other similar sites, significantly affects the physical, biological, and chemical integrity of the downstream navigable waterway.
For the past seven years The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been utilizing draft guidance to determine what is a jurisdictional water and what is not. This took the form of a non-binding guidance document developed by the Corps and draft regulatory guidance developed by the EPA in 2011. The later was withdrawn in October of 2013.
So what is a significant nexus?
The existing understanding of significant nexus includes two parts. First, there must be a connection to a downstream waters of the US. Second, the area in question must have an effect on the chemical, physical, or biological integrity of traditional navigable water.
The problem is with the second statement. There seems to be a cause and effect relationship between the suspect water and the established downstream traditionally navigable water. The problem is how do you assess an effect of a system that has not yet been affected? Can we assume that our upstream impact will cause a downstream “significant” impact? Likewise, what if there is no planned impact to the upstream water. We just want to know if the water-body in question is jurisdictional.
In September, 2013 the EPA prepared a report that summarized the latest published documents of the connectivity of wetland and streams to downstream waters. The short version of this report is that almost every water-body is connected to every other water-body. This is especially true when it is raining. Water seems to go everywhere! However, is it significant? The report never addresses that point!
According to Webster:
Full Definition of SIGNIFICANT
1: having meaning; especially : suggestive
2a : having or likely to have influence or effect : important; also : of a noticeably or measurably large amount
b : probably caused by something other than mere chance
In the EPA guidance they suggest that significant is more than “speculative or insubstantial.”
Based upon a review of the September 2013 EPA report it would seem that the burden of proof that a project does not have a significant impact to downstream waters remains with the applicant. One major concern with the EPA report is that it does not discern between insignificant and significant. In fact it would appear that all connections are significant.
Again according to Webster:
Full Definition of NEXUS
1: connection, link; also : a causal link
2: a connected group or series
3: center, focus
Nexus is kind of a funny term to have been used to define a jurisdictional water. It speaks directly to cause and affect relationship. The casual link is the key to understanding perhaps what Justice Kennedy meant. He could have said just “link.” But that does not adequately describe the relationship. It is not just that the two water-bodies are linked, but rather the link is the cause of a downstream affect. When you add significant to the phrase you can assume that Justice Kennedy envisioned water relationships that were insignificant as well as significant. Otherwise why not just say nexus?
A glance into the future
The following is from the leaked draft of the new EPA waters of the US rules. It is from page 31 of part 1.
Significant nexus: The term significant nexus means more than speculative or insubstantial effect that a water, including wetlands, either alone or in combination with other similarly situated waters in the region (i.e., the watershed that drains to a water identified in paragraphs (a) (1) through (3) of this section), has on the chemical, physical or biological integrity of a water identified in paragraphs (a) (1) through (3) of this section. “Other waters,” including wetlands, are similarly situated when they perform similar functions and are located sufficiently close together or close to a water of the United States so that they can be evaluated as a single landscape unit with regard to their effect on the chemical, physical or biological integrity of a water a identified in paragraphs (a) (1) through (3) of this section.
Yes, that means non-wetlands can provide the significant nexus connection to make a landscape feature jurisdictional. These non-wetland areas may also be jurisdictional due to the nexus they provide.
If you want to dive into this deeper, please consider joining us at one of our NEW EPA RULES classes this winter and spring.
Have a great week!
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