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Conserving America’s Wetlands 2008:
Four Years of Partnering Resulted in
Accomplishing the President's Goal

Appendix A.
Methodology and Definitions

Data Call to the Agencies
The data call for wetlands performance and budget data went to the Departments of Agriculture, Army, Commerce, the Interior, and Transportation and to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Working Group improved interagency guidance based on lessons learned last year. The guidance increased the consistency and accuracy of the estimates developed.

Reporting Period
Performance and funding data for programs covered the following time periods:

  • FY 2007 actual budget and performance results
  • FY 2008 enacted budget and estimated performance results
  • FY 2009 President’s requested budget and estimated performance results.

To assess progress for the fourth year since the President’s April 2004 announcement, half of the reported achievements for FY 2007 were combined with half of the planned accomplishments for FY 2008. Projected estimates in the previous report were adjusted using actual results for FY 2007.

Year Performance and Budget Data Reported
Performance data are reported in the year the project is completed, land acquired, or easement purchased. However, funding is reported in the year it is appropriated. For example, funding for a multi-year wetlands improvement project would be reported in FY 2007 and FY 2008 when funding is appropriated, but the number of acres improved would be accrued in FY 2009 and FY 2010 as the accomplishments are realized.

Scope of Funding Included in the Report
Wetlands activities funded by both discretionary and mandatory funds are included. Discretionary funds are controlled by appropriations acts, and mandatory funds are controlled by laws other than appropriations acts (e.g., Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act funds, and funds collected from the sale of Migratory Bird Conservation Stamps ["Duck Stamps"]). All annually appropriated funds are considered to be discretionary funds. The funding amounts identified in this report are estimates that were available at the time the President's FY 2009 Budget Request was presented to Congress. For future reports, estimates should be adjusted baswed on enacted budgets.

Definitions of Accomplishments
In 2000, the White House Wetlands Working Group (WHWWG)-composed of representatives from all major Federal agencies involved in wetlands work-agreed to use wetlands terminology and definitions that had been developed during the mid-1990s. Information was provided by the participating agencies using terminology similar to that previously developed by the WHWWG and the same terminology used in previous Earth Day wetlands reports.

To "restore or create" wetlands results in a gain of wetland acres and includes:

  • Creation of wetlands that did not previously exist on an upland or deepwater site. These actions are referred to as "establishment" by the WHWWG.
  • Restoration of a former wetland to its natural/historic function and resulting value. Typically, such a former wetland had been drained for some purpose. These actions are known as "re-establishment" by the WHWWG.

To "improve" wetlands results in a gain of wetlands functions or quality, rather than additional acreage, and includes:

  • Repair of the natural/historic functions and associated values of a degraded wetland. The WHWWG refers to these actions as "rehabilitation" of wetlands. Rehabilitation results in a gain in wetlands quality.
  • Heightening, intensification, or improvement of one or more selected functions and associated values. The WHWWG called these types of actions "enhancement." Enhancement is undertaken for a purpose such as water quality improvement, flood water retention, or wildlife habitat. Enhancement results in the gain of selected wetland functions and associated values but may also lead to a decline in other wetland functions and values.

To "protect" wetlands includes:

  • Acquisition of land or easements of at least 30 years duration.
  • Limitations to Activities Ccounted toward the President's Goal

    Due to the migratory nature of birds, some programs work to restore, improve, and protect wetlands in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. International portions of programs were not included in the data reported.

    Wetlands only

    Programs that perform both wetlands activities and nonwetlands activities reported funding and performance related only to the wetlands component, not their entire program. For example, when land is purchased for waterfowl management it may include both wetlands and associated upland nesting cover. These upland acres were deducted from the acres reported as contributing to the President’s wetlands goal, and the cost of these acres was generally deducted from the funds expended for the project. The number of acres of wetlands contributed by a program to the President’s wetlands goal will be smaller than the number of habitat acres reported in other budget documents because the habitat acres typically include upland buffer strips, associated upland cover, and nesting islands.

    Eradication and abatement activities in wetlands
    The first year an invasive plant or animal is eradicated or its population abated, the acreage will be reported as a gain under “improve.” Additional eradication or abatement work on
    the same area is considered to be maintenance and is not counted in the improve category.

    Winter flooding of agricultural lands
    Whether this acreage is counted depends on (1) whether the land is wetland or upland before the flooding and (2)whether the land is being newly flooded or the land is within a footprint that has been flooded in past winters. If the field is upland before being artificially flooded during the winter and upland after the water is removed in the spring, the acres are not counted. If the field is a farmed wetland before the flooding and this is the first year the field has been flooded, the acres are counted. Subsequent years of winter flooding are considered management and are not counted. The first year the acreage will be reported as an improvement in quality through enhancement, because adding winter water results in the improvement of wildlife habitat. Farmed wetlands are defined as areas where the soil surface has been mechanically or physically altered for production of crops, but hydrophytes will become established if farming is discontinued.

    Accomplishments outside the United States
    Due to the migratory nature of birds, some programs work to restore, improve, and protect wetlands in Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. International portions of programs were not included in the data reported.

    Uplands Work
    Many programs carry out activities in upland areas that are crucial to the health and sustainability of wetlands. These upland acres were not counted toward the President’s wetlands goal.

    Wetland Conservation On-the-Ground Activities That Maintain the Nation's Wetland Base
    Many important on-the-ground wetland activities are not counted toward meeting the President’s goal because they are focused on maintaining or managing the nation’s wetlands base and do not add acres, increase wetland quality, or fall within the definition of “protect.” Many agencies spend far more funds maintaining and managing the existing wetlands base than they do making additions to the base. The base is critically important, because wetland gains can only be built on a stable foundation. Other activities that help sustain the wetlands base are included in Appendix B, Conserving Wetlands.

    Cyclical work:
    This work is carried out to sustain wetlands (e.g., habitat maintenance on a National Wildlife Refuge to maximize wetland habitat values). Cyclic water-level management and other cyclic wetland activities are used to mimic naturally occurring flood regimes for the benefit of wildlife. Only new activities on a footprint of wetlands not previously manipulated for increased value were counted in the “improved” category as rehabilitation or an enhancement.

    Management and maintenance activities:
    Effective management and maintenance activities are critical to sustain wildlife and plant populations. Management activities involve periodic manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics critical to maintaining habitat quality. These manipulations mimic natural regimes through periodic flooding, mowing, or prescribed burns. Maintenance activities include the repair of water control structures, fences, or structural protection. Cessation of management and maintenance activities triggers loss in targeted wetland values. Maintenance activities do not result in an increase in wetlands acreage or quality.

    Compensatory mitigation:
    Wetlands created or improved as mitigation for the lossor degradation of other wetland values are not counted toward the President’s goal. Programs that provide compensatory mitigation for wetland losses are not counted as contributing to the new wetlands goal because they maintain the nation’s wetlands base. Examples of these types of programs are the Federal Highway Administration programs that mitigate the impacts of highways on wetlands, the Clean Water Act provisions that require the mitigation of permitted wetland losses, and the Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, which restores and improves wetlands at former hazardous waste sites.

    Shoreline stabilization:
    The preservation of a marsh or channel using shoreline stabilization techniques (e.g., rock revetments, or steel or plastic sheet pile protection) is called armored or hard shoreline stabilization. Partial preservation from shoreline erosion using vegetative plantings is called soft shoreline protection. Shoreline stabilization prevents loss of wetland acreage due to subsidence; erosion by tides, wind, and boat traffic; and similar factors. Because it does not increase the quantity or quality of wetlands and does not meet the definition of protect, this acreage is not counted toward the President’s goal.

    Correcting for Over-Reporting of Acreage
    More and more programs are participating in cooperative conservation partnerships. They have proven to be effective and efficient mechanisms to leverage resources and expertise. Many programs work cooperatively with both internal and external federal partners as well as non-federal partners. Correcting for over-reporting of acreage is a challenge to accurately reporting accomplishments. One partner may provide materials and equipment, another labor, another technical assistance, and yet another land. For example, a 100-acre project with four partners could be reported by each of the partners, and could appear to be 400 acres when combined. In some cases, one partner may not be aware that a landowner is working with multiple partners.

    These partnerships may result in over-reporting of performance. To correct for this “double-counting,” partnership worksheets were used. Programs were asked to identify partnership groups separately on the worksheets. Some agencies do not collect partnership data, and of those that do, most do not collect this data to the level of detail necessary to make refined adjustments for double-counting. Although all the performance data was accounted for on the partnership worksheets, the resolution was not sufficient to make adjustments to individual program accomplishments. Therefore, an overarching correction was necessary to avoid over-reporting the acres created or restored, improved, and protected.

    To calculate this double-counting adjustment, all the acreage reported as accomplished through federal partnerships was summed by category. The calculation assumed two federal partners were involved in situations where at least one additional federal partner was reported by the reporting agency. Half of the total acreage accomplished through multiple federal partnerships by category was subtracted from the raw total, by category. The partnership adjustment for FY 2008 was used for FY 2009.

    Moving Toward a Performance Measurement and Tracking System
    This document reflects the lessons learned in developing the progress reports over the past four years. Over-reporting due to partnerships remains a significant concern. The consensus is that the best solution to the problem would involve the use of geographic information system (GIS) technology or other geo-enabled technologies.

    The use of GIS technology to track wetland programs and their contribution toward the national goal would simplify the problem of adjusting for double-counting. The digital project boundaries could be entered into a GIS, analyzed for multiple overlaps, and overlaid on a digital map of the United States. The map would facilitate the development of monitoring programs to ensure wetlands are restored, improved, and protected and that they provide the intended functions and values.

    Tracking systems require agreement on common performance measures and definitions. The definitions in this report have been in place since the mid-1990s. A proof-of-concept project has been funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (see Tracking and Sharing Wetlands Restoration, Creation, and Improvement Data Using GIS).

    Tracking and Sharing Wetlands Restoration, Creation, and Improvement Data Using GIS

    Agencies’ progress to meet the President’s Earth Day goal was tracked using the best means available. This was a challenge because of a lack of coordination between the reporting systems each agency maintains that required an adjustment for over-reporting of acreage from partnerships and shared responsibilities. Use of GIS technology would provide a significant improvement for reporting of wetlands restoration and improvement, moving agencies from estimating accomplishments to measuring them. For this to occur, two things will be needed in the future:

    • a national geospatial tracking mechanism for restoration reporting, and
    • a coordinated effort by federal and state agencies, as well as local public and private partners, to submit consistently formatted data to a common geospatial database

    GIS would provide accuracy. It allows accurate adjustments to be made for double counting resulting from partnerships and makes spatial analysis possible. It allows the identification of gains in acres resulting from re-establishment of wetlands on formerly drained or deepwater sites to be distinguished from “acre-neutral” enhancement or rehabilitation projects that take place in existing, sometimes degraded, wetlands.

    GIS would provide capabilities to improve effectiveness and efficiency. It allows the information to be viewed on a digital map of the United States and will facilitate tracking of current projects, planning for types and locations for future restoration, monitoring, and analysis to determine if projects are providing needed functions and values, and adapting activities to a changing environment. This will, in turn, allow agencies and programs to direct the location of future activities to areas with the greatest need.

    FWS is participating in a proof-of-concept tracking project funded by EPA and will incorporate data on restored wetlands from Wisconsin and California into the national wetlands map data layer (National Spatial Data Infrastructure), to be available online through the Wetlands Mapper, and to other data users through a web mapping service.

    Example of wetland restoration project tracking from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Natural Resource Tracking Database.
    Example of wetland restoration project tracking from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Natural Resource Tracking Database.

    This wetlands dataset of “restored” and “improved” wetlands will be designed to integrate digital map data with other resource information to produce timely and relevant management and decisionsupport tools. Included in the project are the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Southern California Coastal Waters Research Project, as well as other state and local agencies, which have been tracking the status of their wetlands restoration projects.

    This proof-of-concept effort will be completed by the end of 2009, at the conclusion of which federal agencies will review the results and determine recommendations and next steps for a combined wetlands conservation reporting mechanism.