Wetlands provide vital benefits to lakes and other waterways. They serve as the home for a wide diversity of plants, insects, reptiles, animals and aquatic species, reduce erosion, trap and filter sediment and pollutants, and absorb nutrients that otherwise would flow directly into lakes, rivers and streams. A recent webinar explored challenges and opportunities to achieving a “net habitat gain” for Great Lakes coastal wetlands.
Wetlands in the Great Lakes basin improve water quality in a variety of capacities (such as nutrient and sediment sequestration, flood retention, regulation of water temperatures) and provide many social, cultural and economic benefits to society. Yet they continue to face threats and stressors and a significant amount of wetlands have been degraded or lost throughout the region.
The governments of Canada and the United States have recognized the importance of wetlands in the Great Lakes under the Habitat and Species Annex of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement which has as its first goal “to establish a Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem target of net habitat gain.”
The Great Lakes Water Quality Board’s Emerging Issues work group cohosted a webinar with the Great Lakes Coastal Assembly and the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes on December 19, 2018, to discuss the challenges and opportunities to achieving a “net habitat gain” for Great Lakes coastal wetlands.
The purpose was to provide wetlands experts, scientists, policymakers and agency resource managers with an opportunity to share information and discuss what should be considered to achieve a net habitat gain in Great Lakes coastal wetlands.
Presentations focused on the status and need to assess coastal wetlands, how to advance practices that enhance and expand them, pilot efforts to set and track ecological targets as well as the various laws, regulations and practices that may affect a net habitat gain in coastal wetlands.
Agencies and organizations that presented during the webinar included: Michigan Office of the Great Lakes; Environment and Climate Change Canada, Oregon State University, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, The Nature Conservancy, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Michigan Technological University, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Great Lakes Coastal Assembly.
Webinar participants contributed to the conversation through online, real-time questions, live polling and an exit survey. More than 400 people participated. A recording of the webinar is available on the board’s webpage (registration is required).
More than 90 percent of webinar attendees who participated in an exit survey said the webinar improved their understanding of Great Lakes coastal wetlands net habitat gain challenges and opportunities.
Attendees identified funding, policies and regulations as the top three actions that governments need to address to accomplish net habitat gain in wetlands. The majority of attendees identified wetland resilience, condition and spatial extent as important factors that should be included in establishing a net habitat gain goal for Great Lakes coastal wetlands.
Webinar partners hope the webinar provided the beginning of a longer-term effort to further engage Great Lakes community members and stakeholders on wetlands, to ensure their restoration and protection.