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

The Compleat Wetlander: New Challenges for Wetland Mapping

Over the past year the Association of State Wetland Managers has been talking to people around the country about wetland mapping as part of pulling together a status report on new wetland mapping projects. What we’ve learned is that wetland mapping continues to evolve with new forms of imagery, new analytical tools, and new challenges created by an increasingly decentralized effort to map wetlands around the country.

When the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) adopted the national wetlands mapping standard in 2009 it was a huge step forward.  For the first time there was a national standard for creating wetland maps.  The standard established a minimum criteria for size, accuracy and a number of other parameters. This meant that if everyone used the standard, then maps throughout the country would be comparable.   It was important to accomplish this because the nature of mapping was changing.  No longer would wetland mapping be conducted primarily through the Fish and Wildlife Service.  Their funding for mapping had largely disappeared.  Now and in the future there would be many individual mapping efforts.  The new national standard ensured these would  meet a set of minimum requirements.  But there was still more to do to make sure people used it.  So  the committee that developed the standard also created an implementation plan.   The plan identified actions that would need to be undertaken in the future  including

  • The Wetlands Subcommittee will encourage wetland mappers from various Federal, State, Tribal, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to collaborate and share technical information;
  • Members of the newly-formed Wetlands Mapping Consortium will continue to build its membership, cooperation and impact on technical mapping issues.
  • NWI, the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM), and the Wetland Mapping Consortium will expand and improve communications through their websites, including such information as building mapping cooperatives, funding opportunities, and technical issues;
  • NWI, working with FGDC Wetlands Subcommittee, the Environmental Protection Agency, ASWM, and the Consortium, will incorporate the new Standard in the development and implementation of new web-based and instructor-led training for wetlands mapping.

This is the list included in the implementation.  Some of the specific issues we identified in the past year are outlined below:

Desired imagery is not always available.  Information is needed on the pros and cons of different imagery and what works best for a particular kind of planned project.

New imagery such as Lidar and Radar look much different from previous forms of imagery. Training is needed on how to use these to map wetlands.

There are many kinds of ancillary information available—soils, land cover, stream and river maps—it’s a long list.  Which ones are most useful and how can they be used to improve map accuracy?
What should be included in a Request for Proposals to conduct a mapping project?

What should be included in the contract for a wetland mapping project?

Case studies and examples of how wetland maps can be used to improve decision-making should be developed and shared.
Better information sharing and coordination on planned mapping projects between federal, state and local agencies will help ensure funding is spent wisely.

The goal is to make sure there is a framework in place to ensure that wetland maps that meet the new standard are done successfully and consistently throughout the country.  The challenge is to know the most important steps to take first to make this happen.

The Wetland Mapping Consoritum was established as a forum for wetland mappers and their clients to use to address these kinds of issues.  This spring the Wetland Mapping Consortium will begin holding regular conference calls and online discussions on the topics participants want to pursue.  Individuals interested in becoming members can e-mail me at

Some useful links:

FGDC Wetland Mapping Standard

Wetland Subcommittee website
Status of  the National Wetland Data Layer
Wetland Mapping Consortium
Mission of WMC
ASWM’s wetland mapping webpage
Wetland Mapping Standard Implementation Plan

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