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R.A. Smith National, Inc. Knowledge Blog

Top 8 Amazing Sights of Nature

by Tina Myers 29. June 2015 14:41

As part of our June 30x30 Nature Challenge Month, wetland ecologist and amateur photographer Tina Myers would like to encourage all of you to step away from your electronic devices this summer, get in touch with your natural heritage, and discover the amazing spectacles found in nature in your own backyard. You never know what you may come across! For example, take a look at these photos and learn something you may not have already known…

Photo 1:  There are 21 species of snakes in Wisconsin, four of which are endangered. This particular snake, the Butler’s garter snake, was listed as State Threatened for many years, but was removed from the list on January 1, 2014, and is now listed as Special Concern. 

  

Photo 2:  There are over 160 species of dragonflies and damselflies that can be found in Wisconsin. This particular species, found during a field visit in Franklin, Wis., is a female green darner. Like so many species, dragonflies depend on aquatic ecosystems to fulfill their lifecycles.  

Photo 3:  This beauty is known as the Dwarf Lake Iris and is a State–Threatened and Federally Threatened plant found near Lake Michigan. This small plant grows nowhere else in the world but in the Great Lakes Region. I was lucky enough to see it in bloom at a nature preserve near Bailey’s Harbor, Wis., just a couple of weeks ago.       

Photo 4:  You often see beautiful tropical orchids being sold at grocery stores and garden centers these days. But did you know there are approximately 50 different species of orchids in Wisconsin that are just as beautiful? Many are quite rare and are listed as Threatened or Endangered. This particular species, the large yellow lady’s slipper, is locally abundant in Door County where I took this photo. There are six species of lady slipper orchids alone in Wisconsin. 

Photo 5:  Native prairie ecosystems once covered a large portion of our landscape throughout the Midwest, but due to urban development and agriculture, these ecosystems have become quite rare. In fact, the native tallgrass prairie is thought to be the most endangered ecosystem in North America. This photo shows a rare low prairie found not more than an hour away from our Brookfield office in the Southern Kettle Moraine.

Photos 6 and 7:  Winter is no excuse for not getting out to enjoy the wonders that nature has to offer. These photos were taken up at the Lake Superior Bayfield Peninsula Ice Caves. These ice caves are not open every year to the public and sometimes the ice is only safe enough to walk on for a week or two, so seeing these up close is quite rare. People came out in droves to see them the last two winters. But even if you can’t get there in winter, that’s OK; just take a trip in summer and see the caves up close in person via kayak!

Photo 8:  Clean water is important to all of us. Wisconsin boasts some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers in the Midwest, like this one up near Crivitz. The USEPA recently came out with a new “Clean Water Rule,” which more precisely defines waters that are protected under the Clean Water Act. For more information about this rule, click here.

And a bonus Photo 9:  Did you know that the month of June is designated as Leave No Child Inside Month? More than ever, children are spending more time using electronic devices like TVs, cell phones and computers that are steering further away from their natural heritage. This summer, be sure to spend some quality time with your children in the great outdoors and teach them the importance of nature.          

 

What are your favorite nature sightings? Let us know in the comments.

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Ecology

New In-Lieu Fee Program for Wetland Compensatory Mitigation

by Tina Myers 10. December 2014 04:25

The WDNR made an announcement on Friday, November 21 that a new in-lieu fee program for wetland mitigation, also referred to as The Wisconsin Wetland Conservation Trust (WWCT), is now in effect and can be used as a type of compensatory mitigation for impacts to wetlands. The WDNR has been working on the creation of this new program for the last couple of years and the Final Instrument was finally signed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Interagency Review Team Compensatory, which legally establishes the program. 

Per the WDNR, this new in-lieu fee program “involves the restoration, establishment, enhancement and/or preservation of aquatic resources through funds paid to a government or non-profit natural resources management entity to satisfy compensatory mitigation requirements for permits. An in-lieu fee program sells credits to permittees whose legal obligation to provide compensatory mitigation is then transferred to the sponsor of the in-lieu fee program upon receipt of an associated credit fee.”

Under WI Act 118, mitigation became a requirement back in March 2012 for unavoidable adverse impacts approved under an Individual Permit (IP). This is typically required for impacts to wetlands 10,000 square feet or greater, but can also be required under certain circumstances when impacts are less than 10,000 square feet. Prior to the in-lieu fee program, applicants only had two choices for wetland compensatory mitigation: purchasing credits from privately owned wetland mitigation banks or permittee-responsible mitigation. 

The WDNR has indicated that the mitigation banking will still be preferred over the in-lieu fee option, but when mitigation bank credits are sparse or non-existent, the in-lieu fee option will be available as the next preferred option to receive credit purchases.

If you have any questions related to wetland mitigation, wetlands permitting, or wetland delineations, please contact one of RASN’s professional wetland ecologists: Tina Myers at (262) 317-3389 or Heather Patti at (262) 317-3361.

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Ecology

What is a Farmed Wetland?

by Tina Myers 25. March 2014 10:00

Not all wetlands are as obvious as a stand of cattails in a concave depression. For wetland ecologists, farmed wetlands can be some of the most challenging areas to identify and delineate. Farmed wetlands are regulated by federal and state laws the same as any other wetland type, so it is important that they are delineated accurately. These types of wetlands often lack a natural plant community and soils can be frequently disturbed due to plowing, particularly during dry years.  Hydrology is often seasonal and these wetland areas can sustain a healthy crop during drier years.

As required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), wetland ecologists must first evaluate the potential for farmed wetlands by conducting off-site determinations using methods found in the 1998 USDA National Food Security Act Manual (Section 513.30c - Wisconsin Wetland Mapping Conventions). In addition to analyzing NRCS and WDNR wetland inventory maps, soils maps, topographic maps and spring aerial photography, annual crop slides obtained from the County Farm Service Agency (FSA) office are also reviewed. These aerial slides are typically taken during the month of July after crops have been planted. They are evaluated for “wetland signatures” and compared to historical climatological data to determine if antecedent conditions were considered “wet,” “normal” or “dry” prior to the dates of the aerial slides.    

Wetland signatures can appear on the aerial crop slides as distinctive black or white areas indicating the presence of surface water, as bare soil or mudflats indicating a drowned-out crop, as different shades of green indicating hydrophytic vegetation, as yellow indicating crop stress, or as patches of greener color in “dry” years. The signatures can also be seen as differences in color due to different planting dates or isolated areas not farmed within the rest of the field. Hydrology requirements are met if greater than 50% of the aerial slides show wetness signatures in a specific location. Once it has been determined where farmed wetlands are likely to occur, these areas are formally verified in the field following methods in the 1987 Corps Wetland Delineation Manual.  

If you have any questions related to farmed wetland determination/delineation procedures or if you need a wetland delineation conducted on your property, please contact one of R.A. Smith National’s professional wetland ecologists to assist you: Tina Myers (262) 317-3389 or Heather Patti (262) 317-3361.  

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Ecology

Does Your Project Impact Wetlands? What WDNR Permits Do You Need?

by Tina Myers 5. February 2014 10:04

If you have a project that has the potential to impact wetlands, this brief update regarding WDNR General Permits (GPs) may interest you.  

The new state wetland regulatory process (effective July 1, 2012) allows for a more streamlined review process for projects that will cause only minimal adverse impacts affecting less than 10,000 square feet of wetland. 

Since the law took effect, the WDNR has created a number of General Permit (GP) categories, some of which are currently in place and others that will likely take effect sometime within the next year.  This is important because projects that did not previously fit into one of the newly developed GP categories would automatically have to go through the more lengthy Individual Permit (IP) process unless the applicant was willing to wait for the appropriate GP category to take effect.   

The four types of wetland disturbance GP categories that are now in place are:  Commercial, Residential, and Industrial Development; Municipal Highway Bridges, Arches, and Culverts; Recreational Development; and Utility Structures. Additional GP categories that we can expect to see finalized sometime this year include Municipal Development and Agricultural Development. In the future we can also anticipate GPs for Repair, Reconstruction or Maintenance of Existing Authorized Dam; Treatment or Disposal of Hazardous Waste; and Temporary Access and Dewatering.  

As with any project that requires a permit, the objective is to first avoid wetland impacts, then minimize those impacts that cannot be avoided to the greatest extent practicable. 

If you have any questions related to permitting or if you need a wetland delineation conducted on your property, please contact one of R.A. Smith National’s professional wetland ecologists to assist you:  Tina Myers (262) 317-3389 or Heather Patti (262) 317-3361. 

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Ecology

A Quest for State Endangered/Federally Threatened Orchid Species

by Tina Myers 12. July 2013 05:59

My co-worker and fellow ecologist, Heather Patti, and I participated in a unique opportunity this past week when we assisted the WI Department of Natural Resources in a survey of the State Endangered/Federally Threatened Prairie White Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).  This extremely rare plant is primarily found in moist, undisturbed, deep-soiled and/or calcareous prairies and is less commonly seen in tamarack fens.  Since these ecosystems are also quite rare, the survival of this beautiful wildflower is dependent upon the preservation and management of the few remaining areas that harbor them.  These unique ecosystems are under constant threat of invasive species such as glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) which can easily overtake a prairie in the absence of fire.  The WDNR’s Bureau of Endangered Resources, which was renamed the Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation on July 1, tracks rare species and manages State Natural Areas to preserve the best remnants of our original landscapes and they depend on many volunteers to help them.

With approximately a dozen other volunteers, Heather and I meandered throughout a prairie in southeast Wisconsin in search of this rare beauty.  It was much like looking for a needle in a haystack!  By the end of the day, only a small number of orchids were found and their locations GPS’d.  I was thrilled to be able to personally find one lonely orchid during the last 10 minutes of a long day searching.  In addition to the rare orchid find, we also caught a glimpse of the State-Threatened Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), and several other rare plants such as smooth phlox (Phlox glaberrima), marsh blazing star (Liatris spicata), and ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), among others.

 

 White Fringed Orchid
Credit: Tina Myers, R.A. Smith National

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Ecology

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