Conserving America’s Wetlands 2008:
Four Years of Partnering Resulted in
Accomplishing the President's Goal
Other Activities that Help Maintain the Wetlands Base
Federal agencies engage in various actions that help maintain the existing base of wetlands. The Presidents goal helped sharpen focus on these activities. A policy of having an overall increase of wetlands must be built on a strong foundation of no net loss. Key programs that contribute to the base, but that are outside the Presidents initiative, fall into the following categories:
- Managing wetlands
- Cooperative conservation
- Regulation and mitigation
- Support activities.
Approximately 13 percent of the nations current base of wetlands is managed by federal agencies. Many units of FWSs National Wildlife Refuge System were established for their wetland values, and FWS spends approximately $25 million annually to actively manage more than 1.1 million acres of wetlands. Wetlands management activities include creating desired conditions through the use of canals, levees, water control structures, and pumps. Cyclical water level and management activitiesincluding mechanical disturbance, prescribed burning, or chemical treatmentalso are used to produce native wildlife foods in wetlands. Other federal agencies managing wetlands include the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Department of Defense. All of these wetlands are being conserved for sustainable benefits.
Seventy-four percent of the land in the United States is privately owned. To better conserve privately owned wetlands, the federal government relies on voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs. For example, technical and financial assistance provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and FWS help private landowners apply needed conservation techniques on their land. When private landowners use these programs to restore, protect, and improve wetlands on their property, they serve as stewards of our environment. Other cooperative conservation efforts include:
The success of federal actions to encourage and partner with non-federal partiesincluding state and local governments, Indian tribes, and nongovernmental entitiesincreases opportunities to make progress through cooperative endeavors. Recent trends are encouraging. For example, through Coastal Americas Corporate Wetland Restoration Partnership (CWRP), more than 400 corporations, non-governmental organizations, and other partners contributed to the Presidents wetlands goal by providing matching funds and in-kind services for wetlands restoration and protection projects.
Another example of successful publicprivate partnerships is the FWS Joint Ventures ( JVs). Formed to implement the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, they are selfdirected partnerships involving federal, state, and local governments; corporations; and a wide range of nongovernmental conservation organizations. JVs have proven to be successful tools for developing cooperative conservation efforts to protect waterfowl and other bird habitat. JVs address multiple local, regional, and continental goals for sustaining migratory bird populations by developing scientifically based habitat projects that benefit waterfowl and other migratory bird populations.
Coastal America and the Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership
Throughout the four years of progress toward the Presidents wetlands goal, interagency cooperation has been highly effective in achieving results on the ground. Formalized cooperative processes, such as CWPPRA and the FWS Joint Ventures, have played an important role, as have informal cross-agency cooperative efforts such as Coastal America. Working on wetlands projects that span multiple federal agencies and programs, Coastal America serves as a facilitator and provides a virtual meeting place where multiple federal programs come together to work on projects of mutual interest.
The efficiencies gained through collaboration have not been limited to federal agencies alone. Through Coastal Americas Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (CWRP), more than 400 corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and other partners contributed to the Presidents wetlands goal by providing matching funds and in-kind services for wetlands restoration and protection projects. These CWRP members and partners helped leverage federal dollars for vital wetlands restoration projects throughout our nation (see http://www.coastalamerica.gov/text/cwrp.html). The CWRP is expected to continue to grow over the next several years. The coordinated use of such publicprivate wetlands restoration and protection efforts should yield major ecological benefits.
Most federal agencies involved with wetlands activities provide federal, state, and local partners with technical (biological, engineering, hydrological, etc.) expertise to support various development, conservation, and restoration projects across the country. These programs offer technical assistance to help conserve, restore, and protect a variety of fish and wildlife and their habitats. Among the laws providing a foundation for technical assistance and conservation partnerships are the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Federal Power Act, Estuary Restoration Act, and Environmental Restoration Act.
Regulation and Mitigation
An important aspect of the Presidents Wetlands Initiative is its continued emphasis on the goal of no net loss of wetlands. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands, and is jointly administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Environmental Protection Agency. The USACE has primary responsibility for day-to-day permitting of activities in jurisdictional waters of the United States, a broad category of aquatic resources that includes wetlands. A comprehensive permit review requires applicants to first avoid and then minimize impacts, and finally use compensatory mitigation to replace aquatic resource functions lost. Regulated activities under this program include fills for development, water resource projects (such as dams and levees), and infrastructure development. During the past three years, more than 260,000 permit applications were processed requiring applicants to avoid impacts to more than 21,000 acres of wetlands, and maintaining a ratio of more than two acres of mitigation for every acre of permitted impacts to wetlands.
The USACE has recently converted to a new database and management tool that allows it to better track project actions, including both impacts and compensatory mitigation. This tool also includes a spatial database with maps supported by GIS, which facilitates a watershed approach for evaluation of projects. The USACE is currently working with its Federal, State and local partners, and the general public, to share data and to ensure public accessibility to the system. The USACE and EPA have recently promulgated a joint rule that proposes integrating the watershed approach in mitigation planning. For more information on the compensatory mitigation rule visit http://www.usace.army.mil/inet/functions/cw/cecwo/reg/ or http://www.epa.gov/wetlandsmitigation.
The Wetland Conservation (Swampbuster) provision established in the 1985 Farm Bill, and amended in the 1990 Farm Bill, requires all agricultural producers to protect the wetlands on the farms they own or operate if they wish to be eligible for certain USDA farm program benefits. Producers are not eligible if they have planted an agricultural commodity on a wetland that was converted by drainage, leveling, or any other means after December 23, 1985, or if they have converted a wetland for the purpose of agricultural commodity production, or for making such production possible, after November 28, 1990. NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance staff make wetlands determinations, develop wetlands mitigation and restoration plans, and administer other Swampbuster-related provisions.
Under Federal Aid Highway legislation, state transportation agencies may use national Highway System and Surface Transportation Program funds to finance wetland and natural habitat conservation planning and implementation, as well as compensatory mitigation and restoration projects that offset unavoidable losses from transportation projects. The Department of Transportation has a goal of 1-to-1 wetland acre mitigation; under the Federal Aid Highway Program it has achieved more than 49,000 acres of wetland mitigation since 1996, with mitigation exceeding acres affected by more than 31,000 acres. The 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users requires that metropolitan and statewide plans reflect environmental mitigation and coordination with resource agencies. The Federal Highway Administration also funds research on wetlands mitigation in connection with highways, and wetlands mitigation is an eligible project cost for federal transit and airport assistance.
National Wetland Condition Assessment
Our nations wetland goals have traditionally been based on extent of wetland area as a means to measure progress toward achieving the national policy goal of net gain in wetland acreage. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has a 51-year history of determining the status and trends of the nations wetland habitats.
The FWS published the first report on wetland status and classification in 1956, indicating that wetland habitat for migratory waterfowl had experienced substantial declines. In 1986, the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act (Public Law 99-645) was enacted to promote the conservation of our nations wetlands. The Act requires the FWS to conduct status and trends studies of the nations wetlands at 10-year intervals. On Earth Day 2004, President Bush directed the FWS to accelerate the pace of the Status and Trends Report. The first Status and Trends Report issued under this accelerated pace, released in 2006, indicated that for the first time in the five decades of measurement, wetland gains exceeded wetland losses, at a rate of approximately 32,000 acres per year for the period 19982004.
To complement the work of the Status and Trends Report, the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to conduct a National Wetland Condition Assessment, a statistical survey of the quality of our nations wetlands and one of a series of water resource surveys being conducted by EPA, states, tribes, and other partners.
The assessment is designed to:
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.
EPA will work in partnership with FWS throughout the design and implementation of the national assessment. The FWSs Wetlands Status and Trends plots will provide the starting point for the condition assessment, as they provide the best national data set suitable for a probabilistic survey that will provide statistically valid estimates of condition for a population of wetlands with a known confidence.
EPA is currently in the research phase of the National Wetland Condition Assessment and is scheduled to conduct fieldwork in 2011 and issue a report in 2013. When paired with the FWS Status and Trends study, decision-makers will for the first time have a comprehensive, scientifically defensible evaluation of the quantity and quality of wetlands across the nation that will inform national wetlands policy.
The FWS strategically maps the nations wetlands and deepwater habitats to gather information on their characteristics, extent, and status and trends through the NationalWetlands Inventory. The legislative mandates for the National Wetlands Inventory come from the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act (Public Law
99-645). OMB Circular A-16 also directs the FWS to build the wetlands layer of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure. The goal of the NWI is to produce information on the characteristics, extent, and status of the nations wetlands and deepwater and riparian habitats in order to promote understanding and conservation of these resources. The program currently has wetland data for 56 percent of the nation available on-demand and is updating one percent per year. Wetlands data are used in planning for emerging conservation issues such as energy development, species population declines, and global climate change where
they are used to model sea-level rise. The National Wetlands Inventory is making progress in linking and publishing data for the public and for partner agencies. The wetlands data are viewable and downloadable by anyone with a computer and access to the Internet through the Wetlands Mapper and the National Map. The National Wetland Inventory also delivers mapped wetland data in real time over the Internet through its web mapping service, e.g., the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers wetland permit tracking system and the FWS Environmental Conservation Online System. For people with only a casual interest in wetlands, National Wetlands Inventory data are also viewable through Google Earth. Through expanded use of standards-based web services, the Fish and Wildlife Service is promoting access to current wetlands information for decision support.
Wetland status and trends analyses
The Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 also mandated that the Fish and Wildlife Service produce a report to Congress on the status and trends of the nations wetlands on a 10-year cycle. As part of the Presidents Wetlands Initiative, the FWS completed an updated national wetlands status and trends
report in 2005. The study found that there are about 107.7 million acres of wetlands in the conterminous United States. Between 1998 and 2004, there was an estimated gain in wetlands acreage of 191,750 acres, or about 32,000 acres per year. The net gain in wetlands acreage was attributed to an increase in freshwater ponds, conversion of agricultural lands or former agricultural lands that had been idled in combination with wetland restorations. Freshwater wetland losses to silviculture and to urban and rural development offset some acreage gains. The report did not document or address changes in wetlands quality. There is additional work to be done to ensure that the nations wetlands base is sustained and provides the necessary functions, diversity, and structure to improve the quality of our wetland resources as outlined in the Presidents 2004 message, and that all federal contributing activities are
tracked as the nation races to address community safety, energy development, clean water, and wildlife conservation in a changing environment. The fourth update of this report will be produced in 2010.
National Resources Inventory
The NRCS conducts the National Resources Inventory(NRI), a scientifically based statistical survey of the nations natural resources that provides updated information on the status, condition, and trends of land, soil, water, and related resources on the nations non-federal land. The NRI is unique in
that it is a nationally consistent database constructed specifically to estimate five-, 10-, and 15-year trends for natural
resources. The NRI process has reported that between 1997 and 2003 there was an estimated net gain of 263,000 acres of wetlands due to agricultural activitiesan average annual increase of 44,000 acres.
Research and education
Federal agencies also are engaged in research to better understand wetlands, wetland plants, and their responses to targeted actions and outside influences. Among the most prominent programs are the national Wetlands Research Center (USGS), Engineer Research and Development Center (USACE), Plant Materials Centers (NRCS), the Center for Forested Wetlands Research (USFS), and the Office of Research and Development(EPA). These are discussed more fully in Appendices C through I.
Monitoring and evaluation
When actions are taken to restore or enhance natural resources or ecosystems, a considerable amount of time may pass before the full effects are evident. For this reason, the responsible federal agencies monitor the targeted wetlands to measure and track progress. Results from monitoring are useful for evaluating the effectiveness of the actions taken; in some cases, management goals or actions to meet them may be modified. In addition, the federal government provides both financial and technical assistance to states and tribes to help them monitor their wetlands conservation work.
Planning, modeling, tracking accomplishments, monitoring effectiveness, research, and adaptive management will become increasingly important as federal agencies, working with partners, continue to restore or create, improve, and protect wetlands and embark on habitat adaptation to climate change. (FWS)