For the first time ever, the Gulf Coast Prairie and the Gulf Coastal Plains & Ozarks LCCs’ respective steering committees will be meeting together to ratchet up their level of collaboration on shared conservation issues. And what better venue for the meeting than the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) All Hands Meeting in Baton Rouge, LA? A veritable army of conservationists working on Gulf related research, management, restoration, and conservation planning will be descending on Baton Rouge the week of June 13th, and the GCPO and GCP LCCs intend to take advantage of that.
Our joint meeting will focus on two issues shared by these LCCs: Gulf Coast research/adaptation planning and the changing hydrology of bottomland hardwood ecosystems.
How to roll up Gulf ecosystem science into an adaptation strategy
Greg Wathen, the GCPO LCC Coordinator said, “We want to take stock of the work that has been done in the Gulf sciencewise and start to transition toward an adaptation strategy. A lot of good research has been done over the past 4 to 5 years, which is leading us toward some key questions.”
These questions include . . . How do we maintain vulnerable species and ecosystems in the face of long term changes associated with climate change, sea level rise, and urbanization? What are the most important actions and strategies that we should be undertaking to address these challenges? Where are the most important places to work? Where can we increase resilience? Where will we need to mitigate impacts? And, unfortunately, a question we may have to address is where are the sites and what are the species that will we will be unable to help?
“Eventually the efforts of LCCs, Climate Science Centers, and myriad partners working along the Gulf Coast should roll up into something comprehensive. All the science should be painting a pretty good picture of what we need to work on,” said Wathen.
Bill Bartush, the GCP LCC Coordinator, emphasized, “We want interaction and engagement from Steering Committees on the direction and approach for a Gulf Coast Adaptation Strategy. What is the role of the LCCs, and how should such a strategy connect to the LCCs’ Conservation Blueprints and the Strategic Conservation Assessment funded by the RESTORE Council?”
The meeting has been crafted to show that these questions are arising from LCC partners as well. Several presenters will pose questions on how LCCs can better participate in ongoing Gulf conservation. These include how can LCCs more specifically participate in GOMA’s Comprehensive Planning Cross Team initiative? How do LCCs want and how should they respond to RFPs coming from the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program? And should LCCs target funding to GOMA to support future collaboration between Gulf LCCs and GOMA? The Gulf session will include a wrap up by Virginia Burkett, USGS Associate Director of Climate and Land Use Change, who will lead a discussion about partnerships and engaging non-traditional partners. LCCs are ready to expand engagement beyond the traditional cast of conservation characters, the ones that Bill Bartush calls the “pocket-knife clan.”
“Drilling down” into the hydrology of forested wetlands
The afternoon session of this joint meeting will take a close look at forested wetland ecosystems and hydrology. Just as bottomland hardwood forests are often considered places of mystery, where one can easily lose one’s way, so too the difficulties inherent in understanding how myriad changes on the landscape are affecting hydrology in these systems has many scientists feeling mystified. Conservationists in the West Gulf Coastal Plain and the lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley are concerned that uncertainty about hydrological change could jeopardize the restoration and conservation of the South’s iconic bottomland hardwoods.
There is a need to understand what is changing, how it is changing, where it is changing, and how these changes are likely to be affected by climate change. There is a need to understand ecological flow requirements, and the interplay of issues affecting flow, such as water withdrawals and declining aquifer levels. Of particular focus will be two of the river systems shared by both LCCs: the Trinity and the Red Rivers.
“This will be a more purely scientific discussion,” Wathen said, “What are the key questions we need to answer scientifically to understand this issue.”
Bill Bartush summed up the session with two questions: “What information is lacking? And how do we engage non-traditional partners impacting hydrology?”
This discussion is timely since a symposium on same topic will be held in fall at SEAFWA’s 2016 annual meeting. The Lower Mississippi Joint Venture, which is helping to organize the SEAFWA symposium, will be represented at the LCC meeting on a panel that will be discussing the LCC’s Conservation Blueprint for bottomland hardwoods.