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

The Compleat Wetlander: Wetland Mapping: An Investment in the Future

One of the joys of working for the Association of State Wetland Managers is watching new, important initiatives unfold. In 2005 the principal topic for ASWM’s annual state/federal workshop was wetland mapping. At the end of the meeting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a commitment to work together to develop a national wetland mapping standard. The new standard would be the first ever national wetland mapping standard adopted by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC). It would revise the National Wetlands Inventory standard and bring it up to date making it compatible with the current and evolving Geographic Information System (GIS) environment.

For the past three years a special interagency subcommittee of the Federal Geographic Data Committee has worked on this project and the new standard is moving through the final approvals before formal adoption,  In the future all wetland mapping that is done using federal funding will be required to meet the standard.

The subcommittee is currently working on an implementation plan to publicize the standard, provide training, and foster the development of mapping coalitions to purchase imagery and develop maps. New and updated wetland maps are needed because most of the wetland maps in the National Wetlands Inventory developed using imagery that is 30-40 years old. Maps for less than 5% of the nation are based on imagery taken in the past 20 years. Some of the older maps were not very good to begin with and in other areas so much change has occurred that maps are now out of date. Parts of the arid west have never been mapped. At current funding levels FWS only completes new or updated maps for 1-2% of the country each year.

Good information about the location and size of wetlands is vital. The importance of this was demonstrated in a recent study, “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Eastern United States,” which reported that 60,000 acres of coastal wetlands were lost annually from 1998 to 2004.

An accurate GIS wetland data layer is needed to address emerging issues such as climate change, sea level rise, droughts, increased storm severity, species decline and energy needs. But federal funding has declined dramatically and outdated wetland maps leave towns, counties states and the nation ill-equipped to deal with these challenges. It will take the work of many to make up for the loss.

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