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

The Compleat Wetlander: Understanding How to Improve Wetland Restoration: A Work in Progress

cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

When I was growing up everyone knew absolutely that dinosaurs were cold blooded, ulcers were caused by stress and Pluto was a planet.  But with new knowledge, and reinterpretation of existing information, our understanding of the world changes. Sometimes it changes a lot.

Therefore,  it’s not surprising that I’m experiencing  a certain sense of déjà vu as I review the work the Association of State Wetland Managers has done in conjunction with many others on ‘why wetland restoration fails.’  Since fall of 2014 ASWM has hosted 22 webinars on wetland restoration looking at restoration of different wetland types, developing performance standards, managing invasive species and so on.  Building on the experience of the webinars and a wetland restoration workgroup of restoration experts and many others we’ve drafted the first part of a white paper on the topic and narrowed the list of principal reasons for failure down to nine or so major areas where problems (i.e. ‘challenges’) commonly occur .  In addition to this, over  the past two years each of the presenters in the webinar series has been asked to identify the recommendatoins2top three to five reasons restoration fails and what to do about it.  The 25 pages can be found in Appendix A of the white paper.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been attempting to sort through the presenter recommendations and find out what, if any, patterns emerge.  And then to compare these patterns against the principal challenges described in the white paper. 

It’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges given the differences between the objectives of the white paper and the topics the webinars have covered because some of the overarching challenges– such as 1) getting voluntary projects through a regulatory program designed for projects that degrade the environment or 2) underestimating costs– are not issues we’ve asked presenters to address.  But there have been many presentations on how to successfully restore specific wetland types. It is interesting that presenters have consistently documented the inability to understand the proposed wetland restoration site (landscape/hydrology/soils/etc.) and then create a plan to establish a wetland suitable for that site is one of the principle reasons that wetland restoration fails.

Examples of the issue raised repeatedly by presenters include:

“Inadequate screening and selection of restoration site.”
–Tom, Harcarik

“Failure to investigate and understand hydrology to a sufficient level to inform restoration design”
–Eric Stein

“Not understanding wetland type, function, and dynamics.”
–Ted LaGrange

“Inadequate assessment of current and future adjacent land use practices”
–Bruce Pruitt and Richard Weber

And so on…..

When the site is not understood, the problems quickly multiply and the restoration is likely to fail in whole or in part. Anecdotal evidence indicates that this happens over and over again.  Insight into the slow progress improving overall practice of wetlands restoration can be gained from looking at the list of challenges in the report.  Wetland restoration starts with identification of the site, the wetland to be restored and that leads to challenge #1 in the report – setting appropriate restoration goals, which are recsortedfrequently too vague. This leads then to Challenge # 2 around setting measurable performance criteria to meet the goals and so on.  Improving wetland restoration success requires addressing the entire process of restoring, assessing, adapting, learning and sharing what does and does not work so that everyone’s understanding of how to restore wetlands is expanded.

At the same time it has also been humbling to comprehend how much more there is to know about wetlands restoration.  For example, restored wetlands often do not store carbon in soils at the same rate as natural wetlands even after many years.  Some of the presentations have provided surprising and counterintuitive insights– that the effectiveness of a particular pesticide on a site is limited to a couple years or that some plantinfieldinvasive species such as feral swine (if consumed) can threaten human health.

So sometimes catching up on the latest in wetland restoration findings is a little bit like learning what present day scientists surmise about dinosaurs.  New information yields new insights.  In the field of wetland restoration that will ultimately lead to identifying better ways to restore our natural environment. 


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