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TBEP targeting freshwater wetlands for restoration

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For the first time, TBEP is applying its "Restoring The Balance" approach to habitat restoration to freshwater systems, with the recent adoption of targets for recovering freshwater wetlands throughout the bay watershed.

"Restoring the Balance" recognizes that some habitats have been lost in greater proportions than others. In Tampa Bay's saltwater habitats, for example, restoring low-salinity marshes (such as those found in rivers and creeks) is a priority, since they were historically more abundant than they are now. This approach ensures that the Tampa Bay of today mirrors in habitat diversity the Tampa Bay of yesteryear, providing benefits to fish and wildlife species that depend upon multiple habitats at various stages of their lives.

Freshwater wetlands also have been disproportionately impacted. Overall, non-forested wetlands -- those characterized by grasses and low-profile vegetation such as arrowhead -- have been lost in greater proportion than forested freshwater wetlands (like cypress swamps). But the losses vary significantly by basin; the Hillsborough River system, for example, has lost twice as many acres of forested as non-forested wetlands. However, proportionally, slightly more non-forested wetlands have been lost, because there were less of those wetlands to begin with.

The new targets recognize the imbalances, and specify restoration goals that will bring the habitats back to their historic ratios. The targets also ensure no further losses to any type of freshwater wetland within the watershed.

Baywide, the restoration goal for non-forested freshwater wetlands is 17,088 acres. For forested freshwater systems, the goal is 1,615 acres. Cypress swamps are a type of forested wetland.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funded the project through a Wetlands Development Grant. EPA officials hope the info will be used by permitting agencies to direct restoration or mitigation to habitats that have been disproportionately impacted in a specific basin.

"We hope to better direct where and how restoration and mitigation occurs so that it has the greatest ecological benefit to the bay," said Lindsay Cross, TBEP's Environmental Science and Policy Manager.

Future "Restoring The Balance" targets will be set for coastal uplands, oyster bars and hard-bottom habitats.