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ECU biologist wins wetlands award

(May 6, 1995)   —   An East Carolina University biologist who uses the swamps of eastern North Carolina to collect scientific evidence on the value of wetlands, will get a national award this week for his research.
Dr. Mark Brinson, a biology professor, is one of nine people selected for the National Wetlands Award. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Law Institute will present the awards in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, June 8.
“I was surprised, quite frankly, because I never imagined I would be chosen for something like this,” said Brinson.
He said he views the award as the environmental and regulatory community’s “way of reaching out and saying there is a scientist out there in the academic community who is doing something worthwhile.”
“That makes the award very gratifying,” he said.
The award recognizes individuals who have “demonstrated extraordinary effort, innovation, and excellence in wetland conservation.” Five categories are covered in the 1995 honorees. They are education and outreach, science research, volunteer leadership, land stewardship and development, and outstanding wetland programs developments.
Brinson was the only science researcher selected.
Some of the other recipients include wetlands developer Stephen Gatewood, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve in Florida; fishermen Cliff and Connie Glockner, leaders in a battle to prevent dredging on Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana; and wine makers Sam and Vicki Sebastiani who restored a 90-acre wetland site beside their California vineyard.
Brinson, an Ohio native and a 22 -year fixture in North Carolina’s swamps and marshes, is an expert on the importance of wetlands preservation. He has provided scientific help to public interest groups promoting wetlands protection nationwide and has testified before Congressional committees. He serves on the National Research Council’s wetland characterization committee, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences.

In his current research that includes parts of North Carolina and tidewater Virginia, he is examining the response of coastal wetlands to rising sea levels. He has also made long term studies on the cycling of nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon in swamp forests, estuaries and marshes.
Another project he considers an important accomplishment is his three years of work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a more scientific method of evaluating wetland.
“One of the things that we’ve had trouble with is the notion that all wetlands are the same and they all do the same thing,” he said. This is a sort of knee jerk reaction held over from the early days when we didn’t know much about wetland.”
Brinson said he has helped devise an approach to assess the function of a piece of wetland and its value to society. The approach also considers how to compensate for the loss of drained wetland, needed for development, by improving the conditions of other wetland areas nearby.
He said the method, based on science, is more predictable, more reliable and fairer to land owners who often think they are being treated unfairly by a government that is telling them what to do without much justification.
“I don’t know if it is going to take wetlands issue off the political hot plate or not. That’s something that is way out of my control. All I can do is try to get the scienc