Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

Salameander: Faster, Higher, Stronger

Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

I have a mental image of athletes all over the world checking their numbers and monitoring their performance in preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games.  Are they getting better, peaking at the right time?   The metrics must be interesting – some fairly obvious: how fast did I reach the finish line?  Some more subjective: were my jumps and spins difficult enough? my moves graceful enough? how many errors did I make?   And I’m sure that there have been an extraordinary number of measures all through the years leading up to this point – what are the best training methods? most effective diet? what is the optimal amount of time spent in training?

And then the moment – how are the athletes ranked?

Wetland managers do the same sort of thing all the time – okay, not at an Olympic pace perhaps, and not for competitive reasons.  And we don’t usually hold up scorecards.  But we all are interested in measuring success, and the methods and practices that lead to success, as well as the stressors on wetlands that take us in the wrong direction.  We monitor our actions.  We assess our outcomes.  Some of these measures are well-defined quantitatively, while others are by their nature more subjective.

Monitoring and assessment are, as we know, one of the four building blocks of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Core Essential Elements Framework (CEF). When a state or tribe is asked whether they have a wetland monitoring and assessment program, their initial response may focus on the science of monitoring itself – is there a rigorous sampling program based on a sound design, with defined statistical attributes – and is it funded?   But beyond that, we, the Association of State Wetland Managers are interested in how we go about answering the questions that arise in all aspects of our wetland programs.  How do we evaluate whether we are gaining or losing wetlands?  Understand the condition of wetlands?  What are the best metrics to measure condition? the best way to evaluate wetland function?

How do we measure the ability of wetland mitigation to replace lost functions or values?  the success of voluntary restoration and preservation projects?  What is our approach to assessing watershed needs, and the best way to incorporate wetland management and restoration into watershed plans?

What measures do we need to support policy decisions?  to prioritize programmatic needs and expenditure of funds? The questions are endless, but in each case, the answers are informed by our monitoring and assessment actions.  And generally speaking, the better – the more scientific – the monitoring and assessment information, the better the answer.  Thus, monitoring and assessment actions are almost automatically integrated into the other Core Essential Elements – regulation, voluntary restoration and protection, and wetland water quality standards.

The Association of State Wetland Managers (with support from EPA) is taking a close look at how states and tribes are monitoring wetlands, and how effectively monitoring and assessment are integrated into other program areas.  Our goal is to define state needs for technical assistance (available metrics? statistical design? useful models?) and to summarize best practices that help states and tribes to get more for their monitoring efforts. The scale of our interest varies – on the one hand, we are interested in helping states and tribes to compile the most valid information on the quantity and quality of our nation’s wetlands – that is, to answer the question of whether we are meeting national no net loss goals.  On the other hand, we know that state needs may be at the scale of a particular watershed, or a particular site.  In between lie statewide and regional (Great Lakes, Gulf Coast) assessment efforts.

In the course of gathering information on state and tribal approaches to wetland monitoring, we will be connecting with existing workgroups – like the National Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Workgroup – and also with individuals in various programs through tailored questionnaires and phone contacts. We hope that states will be willing to take a few minutes to help us fill in the big picture. In return, we’ll be summarizing approaches and best practices used throughout the country, while helping to define needs for EPA. I’d like to thank states in advance for their assistance.  And enjoy watching your favorite Olympic sport!

Want to read more?

Click here for information on EPA Core Essential Elements Framework.

Click here for information from EPA on building a monitoring and assessment program.

Click here for ASWM’s wetland assessment page.

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