Making Way for Wetlands

Sep 22, 2023

Challenge accepted! With support from an America the Beautiful Challenge grant, six Reserves and NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management are working with partners and communities to plan for wetland migration as sea levels rise.

Wetlands around the country are increasingly threatened by rising seas, stronger storms, more extreme precipitation, and drought. Planning to protect these precious resources while addressing the needs of communities in a time of extraordinary change is a near universal challenge on the nation’s coasts. With the support from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s America the Beautiful Challenge Program for this Pathways to Resilience project, six Reserves are working to identify, protect, and manage pathways through which local wetlands can migrate as sea level rises.

Teams in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida are collaborating with local partners and communities to advance wetland migration planning, understand how best to acquire and use technical information needed for decision making, and identify coastal wetland migration pathways through customized, local level maps. The aim in each location is to create a pipeline of locally-endorsed projects to protect wetland migration corridors.

Pilot sites for the Pathways to Resilience Project.

“This project builds on decades of Reserve work aimed at understanding how to protect coastal wetlands through high quality data, collaborative science informed by community need, and cutting-edge approaches to stewardship, restoration, and conservation,” says Mary Schoell, project manager. “Our goal is to leverage what participating Reserves learn and do in this project to benefit the whole Reserve System, and by extension the many communities they serve.”

In support of that, the team will encourage the Reserve System and their partners to learn from this project’s experience from the outset. This includes opportunities to learn about emerging approaches to working with disadvantaged communities on the front lines of coastal flooding and support for planning similar work at other reserves in the future. 

“It’s already clear that any Reserve or similar organization engaged in this work needs to combine what the science tells us about marsh migration with the often fraught experience of communities making decisions about what to protect and how,” says Betsy Blair, project adviser. “That’s why we are planning to adapt and share principles from Climigration’s Lead with Listening Guide throughout the project.”

Ultimately, the team plans to establish a national tidal wetland migration learning community, dedicated to sharing resources and facilitating opportunities for learning and mentorship. They also will develop a nationally relevant user guide that describes how to adapt existing NERRS tools and knowledge to inform local decision-making around marsh migration.

Interested in exploring a similar project at your Reserve? Stay tuned for future updates and more information about System-wide learning opportunities as the project develops.

The America the Beautiful Challenge Program supports projects to conserve, restore, and connect habitats for wildlife while improving community resilience and access to nature. The program is a partnership of the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Department of the Interior through the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, and Native Americans in Philanthropy. 

Competitive grants awarded through this program were made possible with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, other federal conservation programs, and private sources. Additional support this year was provided by the Bezos Earth Fund. A complete list of the 2022 grants is here.

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ReservesACE Basin, South CarolinaMaking Way for Wetlands