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Morning Session for the ASWM and EPA Workshop

  9:30 -11:30†Morning Session for the ASWM and EPA Workshop
  Using Natural Reference Wetland Data to Improve Voluntary Wetland Restoration Projects

WHAT: The use of natural reference wetland information to guide the design and construction of restoration projects has long been a recommended approach, however the ability to translate the data into a practical design features has been lacking. Efforts are underway to change that as some states and regions are translating wetland data into practical applications. One example is the Reference Wetlands Database, a web-accessible tool that presents summary wetland variables, translating them into a ready to use format for the purpose of enhancing restoration and mitigation project designs and performance evaluations. The Database, developed by Riparia at Penn State University, will be highlighted during this session as one approach to assemble and interpret key physical and biological characteristics from reference wetlands into parameters to guide restoration design, evaluation, and adaptive management.

BACKGROUND: Improving the design and performance of wetland restoration projects has been a goal of restoration practitioners since the inception of these practices. The limits of replicating or replacing wetlands “in kind” (of the same type) and their associated ecosystem services have been extensively studied and debated (e.g., Wetland Creation and Restoration: The Status of the Science 1990, National Research Council 2001, Environmental Law Institute 2004). The 2008 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Mitigation Rule (33 C.F.R. 332.3(c); USEPA 2008) further articulates the desire to improve on the ground results and includes a provision that mitigation should include “ecological performance standards that are based on the best available science that can be measured or assessed in a practicable manner.”

Scientifically sound wetland assessment methods and data exist that can be used to improve the ecological effectiveness of voluntary restoration as well as required compensatory mitigation. Wetland assessments measure the physical and biological attributes of wetlands by type and ecoregion. The advancement of wetland monitoring and assessment programs at the state and national level has resulted in impressive amounts of reference data (i.e., least-disturbed sites) and constitutes some of the best science currently available for wetlands.

There are many strong examples of state wetland programs that are assessing wetland resources and systematically incorporating assessment data into wetland decision making.

Much of this work has been the result of EPA, working with state, tribal, and federal partners, over the past fifteen years to advance wetlands monitoring and assessment science. Additionally, in 2011 EPA, in collaboration with states, tribes, and other federal partners, conducted the first-ever assessment of the condition of the nation’s wetlands. The National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA) is the fifth in a series of National Aquatic Resources Surveys completed by EPA to improve understanding of the quality of the Nation’s waters. The 2011 NWCA will provide baseline description of wetland quality across the Nation; characterizing vegetation, algae, soil characteristics, soil chemistry, water chemistry, hydrology, and stressors collected from 1,179 wetland assessment areas across the contiguous United States, and greatly increase the amount wetland data and the number of reference wetlands across the country.

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