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Policy and Practice Reviews ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Mar. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00511

Voluntary restoration: mitigation’s silent partner in the quest to reverse coastal wetland loss in the USA

 Rachel K. Gittman1*,  Christopher J. Baillie2,  Katie K. Arkema3, Richard O. Bennett4, Jeff Benoit5, Seth Blitch6, Julien Brun7, Anthony Chatwin8,  Allison Colden9,  Alyssa Dausman10,  Bryan DeAngelis11, Nathaniel Herold12, Jessica Henkel13,  Rachel Houge14, Ronald Howard15, A. R. Hughes16,  Steven B. Scyphers16, Tisa Shostik17, Ariana Sutton-Grier18 and Jonathan H. Grabowski16
  • 1Department of Biology and Coastal Studies Institute, East Carolina University, United States
  • 2Department of Biology, East Carolina University, United States
  • 3Natural Capital Project, Stanford University, United States
  • 4United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), United States
  • 5Restore America's Estuaries, United States
  • 6Independent researcher, United States
  • 7National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, United States
  • 8National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, United States
  • 9Chesapeake Bay Foundation, United States
  • 10The Water Institute of the Gulf, United States
  • 11Independent researcher, United States
  • 12Office for Coastal Management (NOAA), United States
  • 13Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, United States
  • 14United States Environmental Protection Agency, United States
  • 15Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture (NRCS-USDA), United States
  • 16Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences, Northeastern University, United States
  • 17National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Habitat Conservation, Restoration Center, United States
  • 18Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland, College Park, United States

Coastal ecosystems are under pressure from a vast array of anthropogenic stressors, including development and climate change, resulting in significant habitat losses globally. Conservation policies are often implemented with the intent of reducing habitat loss. However, losses already incurred will require restoration if ecosystem functions and services are to be recovered. The United States has a long history of wetland loss and recognizes that averting loss requires a multi-pronged approach including mitigation for regulated activities and non-mitigation (voluntary herein) restoration. The 1989 “No Net Loss” (NNL) policy stated the Federal government’s intent that losses of wetlands would be offset by at least as many gains of wetlands. However, coastal wetlands losses result from both regulated and non-regulated activities. We examined the effectiveness of Federally funded, voluntary restoration efforts in helping avert losses of coastal wetlands by assessing: (1) What are the current and past trends in coastal wetland change in the U.S.?; and (2) How much and where are voluntary restoration efforts occurring? First, we calculated palustrine and estuarine wetland change in U.S. coastal shoreline counties using data from NOAA’s Coastal Change Analysis Program, which integrates both types of potential losses and gains. We then synthesized available data on Federally funded, voluntary restoration of coastal wetlands. We found that from 1996 to 2010, the U.S. lost 139,552 acres (~565 km2) of estuarine wetlands (2.5% of 1996 area) and 336,922 acres (~1,363 km2) of palustrine wetlands (1.4%). From 2006 to 2015, restoration of 145,442 acres (~589 km2) of estuarine wetlands and 154,772 acres (~626 km2) of palustrine wetlands occurred. Further, wetland losses and restoration were not always geographically aligned, resulting in local and regional “winners” and “losers”. While these restoration efforts have been considerable, restoration and mitigation collectively have not been able to keep pace with wetland losses; thus, reversing this trend will likely require greater investment in coastal habitat conservation and restoration efforts. We further conclude that “area restored”, the most prevalent metric used to assess progress, is inadequate, as it does not necessarily equate to restoration of functions.

Keywords: marsh, Habitat Loss, Ecosystem restoration, coastal management, conservation

Received: 29 Mar 2019; Accepted: 05 Aug 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Gittman, Baillie, Arkema, Bennett, Benoit, Blitch, Brun, Chatwin, Colden, Dausman, DeAngelis, Herold, Henkel, Houge, Howard, Hughes, Scyphers, Shostik, Sutton-Grier and Grabowski. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Rachel K. Gittman, East Carolina University, Department of Biology and Coastal Studies Institute, Greenville, United States, gittmanr17@ecu.edu