Threats to Connecticut Wetlands

According to the DEEP, the primary threat to Connecticut wetland plants is habitat loss and degradation due to draining, dredging, filling, trampling, and increased sedimentation. This is typically caused by agricultural and urban development projects which increase soil erosion, increase stormwater discharge, increase mineral concentrations from fertilizer runoff, and in the case of tidal wetlands, cause septic system failures. Improper installation of culverts can also decrease salt water flushing. In these cases, the delicate balance between soil surface, water level, water quality and/or salinity is disturbed. This results in a stressed habitat which is usually less productive than a healthy marsh and frequently supports invasive species. The DEEP identifies several subspecies of the common reed, Phragmites australis, as the most problematic invasive plant in Connecticut tidal wetlands today. The elimination of this pest to make more room for native species has been a major project of local wetland restoration projects. On a broader scale, rising sea levels are predicted to reduce total coastal surface marsh area significantly over the next 50 years. Information on current research being done by UConn faculty on the impacts of global climate change and pollution on tidal marshes can be found on the Connecticut Sea Grant webpage. A DEEP report on adapting to changing natural shoreline environments in Connecticut resulting from climate change can be found here.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, only 11 species in Connecticut listed under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Of these 11 threatened or endangered species, only two are plants, and neither of these plants are normally found in wetlands. The Connecticut Endangered Species List (last updated in 2015) provides a more comprehensive list of endangered plant species at the local scale. This is an indication that endangered wetland plants in Connecticut are hugely underrepresented in ESA listings. The Connecticut state DEEP, however, has a much more comprehensive list of endangered, threatened, and “special concern” plant species (including those found exclusively in wetlands), although its legal authority to protect these species is limited in comparison with the authority granted to the federal ESA.

Pictured: Phragmites australis, the common reed, a highly problematic invasive weed in Connecticut salt marshes
Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Phragmites_australis_Schilfrohr.jpg

 

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