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CCRM tools promote wetlands management

Managing wetlands can involve a confusing myriad of agencies, regulations, authorities and jurisdictions that bewilder even veterans in the field. “As our understanding of ecosystem processes grows, we find the guidance we can provide managers becoming ever more complex,” states Carl Hershner, professor of marine science and director of the Center for Coastal Resources Management (CCRM) at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). The CCRM recently held a workshop titled “Tools of the Tidal Shoreline Management Trade” and trained personnel representing 13 local, five state and two federal agencies, private and nongovernmental organizations, as well as shoreline property owners in using computer applications for wetlands and shoreline management. “The on-line tools are a way for us to condense a lot of technical understanding into some concise and, hopefully, very useful guidance,” says Hershner.

The morning session of the workshop comprised formal presentations and provided a general overview and introduction to the tools. Actual shoreline situations and case studies were presented to illustrate how the tools could be applied. To address the diverse audience, the afternoon session was structured to provide hands-on activities at a variety of technical levels. At the wetlands board boot camp, the basics of wetland ecology, jurisdictions, shoreline structures and cumulative impacts were discussed along with a field trip to the VIMS Teaching Marsh. Geographic Information Systems tools gave local planning, wetlands and regulatory staff an opportunity to apply shoreline management tools to real-life situations at the new VIMS computer lab. Tools for managing beaches and dunes as well as siting and designing living shorelines were of interest to marine contractors, permitting agencies and local wetlands board members.

Choices in shoreline management often are made in an information vacuum. Rather than initially contacting wetland agencies early in the permitting process, landowners are sometimes influenced by the opinion of real-estate developers, shoreline contractors or neighbors. The CCRM perspective is to provide better guidance so that property owners and agencies can make a decision that is environmentally and economically sustainable. The workshops impart skills that folks can take back to their offices, or even their homes, and begin using right away so that their management decisions fit the landscape.

One of the goals of the workshop is that novice agency members who attended the wetlands board boot camp breakout segment will have a better understanding of how the permitting process works and will be able to make more informed evaluations regarding the resource management of tidal shorelines. The fact remains that there is a fixed amount of shoreline in Virginia and competing interests must share that resource with the least detriment to natural resources and the services they provide. It will take good planning, an integrated management strategy and good working knowledge to accomplish that task.

CCRM has several tools to assist in supporting informed decision-making at the comprehensive planning level as well as for site-specific project proposals. Workshop evaluations indicated many people plan to use the tools in their daily routines involving project reviews and permit decisions. CCRM staff members say they hope they have been able to make the job of shoreline management a little less confusing.

Go to the CCRM Web site.

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