Home Human communication EPA plan update details human and climate damage to wetlands

EPA plan update details human and climate damage to wetlands

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Patsy Pond in the Croatan National Forest in Carteret County. Photo: Mark Hibbs

Despite a steady decline in the number of permits issued for anthropogenic impacts on wetlands in North Carolina over the past 30 years, tens of thousands of wetlands in the state’s coastal plain have been destroyed by climate change. and unauthorized human activities.

This information is included in the North Carolina Wetland Protection Plan, or WPP, 2021-2025, recently updated and approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, encouraged by the agency. federal government to guide wetland-related work by states and tribes.

Kristie gianopulos

“The WPP is not a regulatory document, so it does not make any changes to the rules regarding wetlands in the state,” said Kristie Gianopulos in an email response. “It is intended to be a guide for projects and works related to wetlands of state agencies, in the areas of monitoring / evaluation, regulation, restoration / voluntary protection, water quality standards, awareness and education. The newly approved plan for 2021-2025 outlines (North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality) goals in these areas. “

Gianopulos is Senior Environmental Specialist and Wetland Ecologist in the Water Resources Division of the Department of Water Sciences.

“This plan also serves as a communication tool, providing a unified vision and priorities to guide wetland work in North Carolina, as well as establishing a network of partners and stakeholders to accomplish this work,” said she declared.

The plan’s seal of approval by the EPA ensures that the state, tribe, or other grant applicant is eligible for federal agency program development grant funds.

The state wetland protection plan was launched in 2012 by a group of stakeholders – a range of representatives from government offices, professional organizations, nonprofits and universities – including The goal was to improve the state’s wetland program.

The stakeholder group met last year to update the original five-year plan with a focus on DEQ’s work on wetlands through 2025, said Amanda Mueller of the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science, or KIETS, responsible for the Climate Leaders and Coastal Resilience and Sustainability Program. coordinator of the initiative at North Carolina State University and author of the plan and subsequent update.

“The original WPP NC addressed the functions and services of wetlands and listed the goals and activities needed to better understand and manage North Carolina’s wetlands,” Mueller said in an email. “The original list of activities was long and provided guidance to anyone pursuing wetland projects in the state.”

Some of the projects carried out since the adoption of the State Wetlands Protection Plan in October 2015 are as follows:

  • State wetland assessment through the 2016 EPA National Wetland Conditions Assessment.
  • Identify and designate strategic habitat areas for marine and coastal fishing species in the Cape Fear River Basin.
  • Assessment of 16 long-term wetland monitoring sites; assess the accuracy of the National Wetland Inventory, or NWI, maps for the state.
  • Develop and test wetland hydrological performance criteria for restoration sites.

North Carolina has 3.9 million acres and 16 types of wetlands, including basin, bog, lowland deciduous forest, estuarine wooded wetland, flood basin, deciduous flat, upstream forest, non-riparian swamp forest, non-tidal freshwater marsh, pine flat, pine savannah, pocosins, riparian swamp forest, salt / brackish swamp, seep freshwater swamp and tide.

Between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 2019, 12,386 permits were issued with an impact on nearly 18,000 acres of wetlands.

Since 1990, most of the permitted impacts on wetlands have occurred in the state’s coastal plain, in part because this part of the state has the majority and largest wetlands, according to the Wetland Protection Plan.

The large impacts authorized in the counties of Beaufort, Carteret, Lenoir and Wilson were linked to activities such as mining, aquaculture, industrial and commercial development and the creation of reservoirs.

Permit applicants in these cases were required to mitigate impacts to wetlands in a variety of ways, including preservation, restoration, creation or indirect costs.

Impacts on wetlands from human activity that should not be allowed and the impacts of climate change resulted in the loss of nearly 135,000 acres of non-swamp freshwater wetlands in the coastal plain between 1996 and 2016 , according to aerial images collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Change Analysis Program.

The biggest loss has been the forested wetlands.

According to the same data, there has been a loss of 144 acres of estuarine wetlands since 2006.

The loss of these wetlands was initially attributed to the conversion of wetlands to agriculture, upland and development, “but is more recently due to conversions to unconsolidated shorelines (2006-2016) and open water (2011 -2016), most likely caused by sea level rise, erosion due to increasingly frequent and intense storms and degradation of water quality, ”according to information provided by DEQ.

The updated wetland protection plan includes targets and future guidelines for monitoring the impacts of natural and man-made events on wetlands to assess trends in the number of wetlands and the quality of these. wet area.

The plan also focuses on the voluntary restoration and protection of wetlands through project guidance provided by the state, low interest loans and grants for proposed projects.


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