As a result of global climate change, sea level has risen and will continue to rise throughout the 21st century. Sea level rise has been higher in Virginia than any other state over the past 100 years (US Climate Change Science Program 2009). Varied projections show that sea level could rise 1.2 to 5.5 feet above 1992 levels by 2100 (Boon et al. 2010; Ezer and Corlette 2012; Sallengar et al. 2012). Sea level rise threatens to drown intertidal wetlands (Craft et al. 2009; FitzGerald et al. 2010; Kirwan and Guntenspergen 2010; Menon et al. 2010). Wetlands are key biodiversity hotspots and provide a number of ecosystem services (Barbier et al. 2011). Wetlands have the ability to adapt to sea level rise by migrating inland as long as shoreline hardening, such as a bulkhead, is absent (Kirwan and Megonigal 2013). In Virginia, private landowners must be granted a permit by local citizen wetlands boards to alter or harden their shoreline. Although wetlands boards have been given sufficient guidance by government agencies, they have mostly failed to achieve Virginia’s goal of preserving wetlands (VIMS 2012). If this practice continues, Virginia can expect a significant loss of wetlands, biodiversity and ecosystem services. To avoid losing wetlands, this paper proposes two changes to Virginia’s current permit process. First, landowners should be required to consult with a Virginia Institute of Marine Science scientist to better understand the environmental impacts of and alternatives to shoreline hardening before submitting an application. Second, permit decisions should move from local wetlands boards to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. These recommendation would serve to significantly limit future shoreline hardening and preserve wetlands and their associated biodiversity in the face of climate change.

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