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

Salameander: Wetland Restoration – Status of the Science: Redux

Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

In 1989 the report Wetland Creation and Restoration – Status of the Science, edited by Jon Kusler and Mary Kentula, was compiled by a group of well-known and nationally Wetland Creation and Restoration – Status of the Science,regarded wetland scientists.  A version published a year later remains available through Amazon (at a “sale” price of $90).  However, the original version prepared for EPA is available for free in a digital format through Google books, if you are interested.

ASWM is interested.  At our recent state/federal meeting in Shepherdstown West Virginia, four of the original authors – Robin Lewis, Joe Shisler, Joy Zedler, and Rob Brooks – joined us (either in person, or via electronic communications that were not readily available in 1989) to provide a retrospective look at this publication.

Among their comments (based on my notes)…

Dr. Rob Brooks Dr. Rob Brooks – Professor of Geography and Ecology and Director of Riparia at Pennsylvania State University – noted that he “thought we would be farther along with restoration and mitigation by this time.”  On the other hand, 25 years ago he did not foresee the dramatic expansion of voluntary restoration projects carried out under the Farm Bill and other programs.

Rob described the long term development of a large set of monitored wetland reference sites in the Atlantic region, and all that he and his colleagues and students have learned from them.  Given scientific advances, he feels that “practitioners are ready to raise the bar on mitigation and restoration.”  What concerns them is whether regulatory agencies will back them up by requiring a higher level of “success.”

The challenge posed by Rob is to insist that we improve outcomes in compensatory mitigation and voluntary restoration – using reference sites as a template – in order to provide wetlands that will replace natural functions.

Dr. Joseph Shisler Dr. Joseph Shisler – principal ecologist for ARCADIS in Cranbury, New Jersey, focused on coastal wetland restoration and creation after 25 years.   Joe stressed that we have the technology to successfully restore many types of wetlands, although some are more difficult than others.  He stressed that the “key is to understand the complexity and functions of wetland systems to be created or restored” with a focus on site specific needs over cookbook approaches.

Joe stressed that “habitat restoration is not landscaping” – and suggested that even though the success of wetland restoration has increased, it is difficult to measure that success given the complexity of wetland systems.

Dr. Joy Zedler Dr. Joy Zedler – Professor of Botany at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and Aldo Leopold Professor of Restoration Ecology and Research Director at the Arboretum – talked about hitting wetland “targets.”   She listed a number of the reasons why we fail to achieve restoration goals or targets,

•  The established targets may be unachievable (for a variety of reasons).

•  Performance of the restoration site may not be adequately assessed (are we using the correct measures?).

•  We may have insufficient knowledge regarding restoration of a particular type of wetland system.

•  Regulations and required best management practices are lagging behind restoration research – there must be incentives to do well.

•  A site may be too small – we should be thinking on a watershed scale.

•  We may not include biological processes in models during design, and for that reason projected outcomes may not be reached.

•  New knowledge is resisted; we may be falling back on old standby models.

Joy discussed actions that can be taken to address these shortcomings, and also suggested the need for a “National Ecosystem Restoration Act” with funding to implement, assess, and manage adaptively.

Roy R. “Robin” Lewis III

Roy R. “Robin” Lewis III – President of Lewis Environmental Services, Inc. and Coastal Resource Group Inc. – made a strong argument that experienced professionals do not teach enough.  As he put it, “There are very few of us old moss-backed turtles out there” and stressed the need to share our knowledge with other professionals and with new generations.

Robin also agreed with other panelists in stating that “The technology is there to do the [wetland restoration] job right.  However, most such projects do not meet permit criteria, or just fail.”  He has found that professionals consistently report about 30-35% failure rates for restoration projects.  As a result, we are failing to meet no net loss goals.

Robin feels that training and monitoring of project success are the weak links in restoration programs. He notes that most wetland dollars are spent on policy development and permitting with little on training and retraining, and with very little on compliance monitoring, enforcement, and adaptive management.  Robin suggests raising the bar by improving technology transfer, and specifically through re-issuance of Wetland Restoration and Creation – Status of the Science – with an update by each author.


Overall, while the panel expressed a degree of disappointment that we have not done more over the past quarter century, they all believe that the success of both mitigation and voluntary restoration can be improved given advances in wetland science.  Like so many other aspects of wetland management, improving restoration will require collaboration – more training and information sharing, more clearly defined regulatory standards and practices, more consistent evaluation of what works and what does not.

ASWM plans to follow up on these and other key approaches for improving wetland restoration success. It’s good to know that these experts believe that we have the tools available to greatly improve wetland restoration success.

For more information:  Watch the ASWM web pages for links to recorded presentations from the Shepherdstown meeting – available soon – if you would like to hear this panel presentation in its entirety.

To download a free digital version of Wetland Creation and Restoration – Status of the Science, click here.

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