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Mid-Atlantic states work towards regional approach for prioritizing vulnerable wetlands

The North Atlantic LCC is facilitating a project to develop a regional framework for identifying wetland restoration priorities that reflect climate-change risks such as sea-level rise.
Mid-Atlantic states work towards regional approach for prioritizing vulnerable wetlands

Coastal wetlands at Hail Cove in Maryland. Photo: US FWS

By this time next year, the five states in the Mid-Atlantic region will have a common playbook for prioritizing efforts to protect wetlands and enhancing their capacity to reduce risk in the face of climate change. Developed collaboratively by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) and the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), the Wetland Restoration Priorities for Climate Risk Reduction and Resilience project synthesizes state priorities, coastal resilience needs, and climate change predictions to give practitioners a regional lens for evaluating wetland restoration and mitigation efforts. 

One of a suite of science delivery sub-awards facilitated by the North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) with funding from the Department of Interior to investigate threats to coastal systems in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Wetland Restoration Priorities for Climate Risk Reduction and Resilience project is approaching an important milestone- outlining a framework for a Mid-Atlantic regional strategy with the help of an expert panel. 

Over the past several months, project team members from the Environmental Law Institute have been pulling together pieces to build a regional framework for wetland prioritization by harnessing resources and expertise from throughout the Mid-Atlantic states. In addition to compiling existing tools, goals, methodologies, and systems that prioritize wetland restoration, they conducted interviews with coastal managers and wetland program decision makers to understand differing approaches, and assembled an expert panel to identify data gaps and common opportunities in wetland priority setting tools.

In the last several months, ELI has synthesized and analyzed all of this information to understand gaps in the regional framework for wetland restoration as a response for climate change risk reduction and resilience.

“The initial information gathering helps us figure out the best approach to using wetland prioritization in coastal and climate resilience at the scale of the Mid-Atlantic region, which spans from Virginia to New York,” explained project manager Kaity Goldsmith of MARCO.

At the end of May, the team convened an expert panel to review the research and outline a framework for the regional approach. Coming out of that review process, MARCO and ELI will produce a handbook to help local, state, and federal planners identify wetland prioritization tools that enable them to address climate and resilience, and then disseminate the final product through various science delivery channels throughout the states.

For practitioners on the ground, the handbook will provide a way to look at local projects from a regional perspective and with the goal of improving the resilience of coastal wetlands, as well as to draw on rapidly improving prioritization techniques, models, and regionally consistent datasets where available. 

“If a practitioner is interested in restoring a wetland complex based on current prioritization methodologies in their state, this project will help them consider climate risks and future resilience as well,” said Goldsmith. “With this new perspective, you might decide to include related actions that will enable the wetland to migrate upland in response to sea-level rise, or you may decide that a proposed activity would be effective for only a short time because of likely increases in storm surge in this location.”

The handbook and this project are building on increasingly important regional scale considerations for local and state level scientists and planners, which advances the overall goals of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. 

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