Plenary SessionCoastal Plain Wetlands: What is Their Future?
Our plenary speaker began the conference with a presentation on the status and future of Coastal Plain wetlands. We were grateful to have Rebecca Sharitz, noted wetland scientist, political advocate/advisor, and teacher, provide our opening session for this conference. The Coastal Plain of southeastern United States contains more wetland area than any other physiographic province in the lower 48 states. Wetlands have been a vital part of the culture and economy of the Southeast since the beginning of human settlement. Constituting about 18% of the nationís current wetlands acreage, the wetlands of the southeastern Coastal Plain states have nevertheless decreased by about 45% in the last 200 years. Extensive human use has changed the ecological properties of many of these systems, resulting in altered hydroperiods, isolation and fragmentation, and direct destruction. The 2001 Supreme Court SWANCC decisions left many geographically isolated freshwater depression wetlands in peril. Nevertheless, there are very noteworthy examples of wetland evaluation and conservation efforts in the Southeast that give hope for their future, some of which will be showcased in this presentation.
Dr. Rebecca Sharitz has spent 30 years tramping through the river floodplain forests, deepwater swamps, and Carolina bay wetlands of the southeastern Coastal Plain. A Professor in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Georgia and Senior Ecologist at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), her research has focused on wetland plant community structure, effects of disturbance on ecological processes in swamp and bottomland forest ecosystems, and wetland restoration. She has guided dozens of M.S. and Ph.D. students and numerous undergraduates in studies of southeastern wetlands, and for 15 years she was head of SRELís Wetlands Ecology Division. She has served on several National Research Council committees addressing issues of wetlands protection and restoration, including the Committee on Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems, and the Committee on Restoration of the Greater Everglades. She also has frequently been a reviewer and panel member for various federal and state agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense, National Park Service, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and the South Florida Water Management District, in dealing with wetlands management issues. She has been an officer of the Ecological Society of America and the International Association for Ecology, of which she is currently Vice President.
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