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Life on Wetlands Edge: Science Summit Summary

All of us here at Cuyahoga SWCD are passionate about the environment, and while we enjoy the benefit of working for what we love, we also make time in our personal lives to continue learning/giving back. This weekend I attended the Ohio Wetland Association Science Summit and this blog is a great location to share what we learn with a wider audience, That's You!

Topics and presenters at the summit ranged from Ohio EPA experts explaining the use of vegetation and soil monitoring to assess wetland quality, The Nature Conservancy discussing their role in preserving or restoring quality wetlands through mitigation, Central Michigan University summarizing their ongoing Great Lakes coastal wetland monitoring program, Great Lakes Biomimicry describing how we might learn from wetland plants and use their characteristics in innovative businesses, Cuyahoga Valley National Park telling us the story of how Beaver Marsh went from a junkyard to a wetland, and Society of Wetland Scientists informing us of a new program to track exceptional wetlands called Wetland Treasures. In addition to the slated presentations we also heard from local wetland enthusiasts about the need for continued stewardship, threats to the Sawmill Wetland in Columbus, and a local University of Akron professor who is looking for research sites.

I could write a whole blog on each topic, but instead I'd like to provide some highlights and links to more information if the topic strikes your fancy:

Ohio EPA Talks - Two Ohio EPA scientists, Bill Schumacher and Brian Gara, gave presentations in the morning about monitoring wetlands to determine their quality. Ohio EPA uses several different assessments to help characterize wetlands. These characterizations are used for helping to determine where construction can occur, when permits are needed, where mitigation is needed, and if mitigation is working etc. In concurrence with a national wetland conditions assessment, Ohio EPA tested three new assessments for looking at wetland quality and being able to compare different wetland types to each other on the same scale. These included an assessment of bryophytes (non-vascular plants: mosses, hornworts, and liverworts) and an assessment of vascular plant (plants with specialized tissues for conducting water and nutrients through the plant) diversity & dominance based on existing plant rankings from the Floristic Quality Assessment Index, as well as a study of wetland soils and how the health of soils affect the wetland plant community. See links below for more details.

The Great Lakes Coastal Monitoring Program - Alexandra Bozimowski from Central Michigan University introduced the group to an international effort to track Great Lakes coastal wetland health. With limited funding and a laundry list of desired data, she described how CMU took an approach that tracks temporal trends (trends over time at the same wetlands) as well as spatial trends (location related trends) around the Great Lakes coastline. A map summarizing that data can be found here. See links below for more details.

Wetland In-Lieu Fee Mitigation Program - Dana Ohman from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) gave an overview of a program offered by TNC to developers looking to mitigate impacts to wetlands. Their program has developers pay TNC to develop mitigation projects for wetland impacts due to their construction. Dana's role is that she seeks out opportunities throughout the state on a watershed scale for these mitigation opportunities and takes care of the paperwork on behalf of the developer. See links below for more details.

Biomimicry - Carol Thaler from Great Lakes Biomimicry spoke to the group about biomimicry (imitating life/nature in engineering and design to solve complex problems) and how researchers might learn from wetlands and apply that to needed innovation. In addition to showing some cute videos about nature's innovation by the Peacock Spider (which one of their fellows is studying on behalf of Sherwin Williams), camouflaging cephalopods , and shooter worms, Carol talked specifically about two wetland plants that might inspire innovation. Beaked Sedge is a plant that floats in mats and might serve as a solution to agriculture in areas with changing tides. Skunk Cabbage is a wetland plant that controls the temperature around it so it can survive in winter and summer and might provide innovative solutions to building thermostats. See links below for more details.

Beaver Marsh - While many times we hear about sad stories of wetland encroachment or how we have experienced wetland loss and degradation nationwide, Robert and Peg Bobel brought a feel good story to the group about Beaver Marsh in the CVNP. For those that haven't been there, Beaver Marsh is located along the towpath in the CVNP near Riverview Road and Ira in Peninsula. This site was once a car repair shop, and once that closed down it was basically a junkyard. A group of stewards cleaned up the site, and natures engineer, the beaver, came in, created a few lodges, and voila, now there is a wonderful marsh with plentiful wildlife. After the marsh was established, the CVNP decided to extend the towpath right through the marsh. Using innovation, they managed to do this with minimal impact to the wetland, and now the community can use this area to interact on an intimate level with beavers, minks, birds, and more. See links below for more details.

Wetland Treasures - Based on Wisconsin's Wetland Gems program, which highlights high quality wetlands in the state, Julie Nieset from Illinois Natural History Survey introduced the group to a new international collaboration to highlight quality wetlands througout the world. The project is in its beginning stages and looking for nominations. You can find more information on their website here.

Sawmill Wetlands - Unfortunately not all the news at the summit was good news. A court has just decided that the state of Ohio must hand over the Sawmill Wetlands to a developer due to prior contracts. This is a small wetland area just outside of Columbus in a sea of development. The wetlands have a dedicated advocate group, but they are looking for support in asking the state to appeal this decision. More details can be found on the Friends of the Sawmill Wetlands facebook page.

Square Stemmed Monkey Flower and Great Blue Lobelia - Calling all wetland plant specialists: Professor Randy Mitchell is looking for sites with Monkey Flower and Great Blue Lobelia to study interactions between pollinators and plants. You can find his contact information and more details on the Native Plant Society's website if you know of any of these sites.

Want to know more? Check out these links to the presenter organizations/projects:

Ohio EPA Wetland Permitting program

Ohio EPA Floristic quality assessment index

Ohio EPA Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity "Floristic Quality" (VIBI-FQ)

Ohio EPA Bryophyte Study

National Wetlands Condition Assessment

Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring Program

The Nature Conservancy Wetland Mitigation program

Great Lakes Biomimicry

Beaver Marsh

Society of Wetland Scientists Wetland Treasures program

-Blog author: Elizabeth Hiser, Natural Resources Coordinator

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