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«United States National Heath and Environmental EPA/620/R-04/009 Environmental Effects Laboratory January 2004 Protection Agency Corvallis, OR 97333 ...»

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United States National Heath and Environmental EPA/620/R-04/009

Environmental Effects Laboratory January 2004

Protection Agency Corvallis, OR 97333

Review of Rapid Methods for

Assessing Wetland Condition

Assessment Program

Environmental Monitoring and

Assessment Program

EPA/620/R-04/009

January 2004

REVIEW OF RAPID METHODS

FOR ASSESSING WETLAND CONDITION

By M. Siobhan Fennessy1, Amy D. Jacobs2, and Mary E. Kentula3 Biology Department Kenyon College Gambier, OH 43022 Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Water Resources Division/Watershed Assessment Section Dover, DE 19904 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory Western Ecology Division Corvallis, OR 97333

NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LABORATORY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC 27711 NOTICE This review of wetland assessment methods was funded wholly by the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency and conducted in support of the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP). It has been subjected to review by the Natural Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and Western Ecology Division and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

The correct citation for this document is:

Fennessy, M.S., A.D. Jacobs, and M.E. Kentula. 2004. Review of Rapid Methods for Assessing Wetland Condition. EPA/620/R-04/009. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

i

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors would like to thank several reviewers for their insightful comments that substantially improved the quality of this report. John Calloway (University of San Francisco), Andree Breaux (California Regional Water Quality Control Board), David Lawhead (California Department of Fish and Game) and Randy Apfelbeck (Montana Department of Environmental Quality) all contributed valuable time in reviewing a previous draft. We would like to pay special thanks to Richard Sumner (U.S. EPA) for his invaluable assistance in developing these ideas and his endless energy in advancing the science that supports wetland protection.

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Acknowledgements………………………………………………………………….. ii Introduction…………………………………………………………………………... 1 Analysis of Methods ………………………………………………………………… 15 Observations and Conclusions …………………………………………………….… 20 Literature Cited…………..……….………………………………………………….. 28 Appendices………………………………………………………………………….... 30 Appendix A………….……………………………………………………….. 31 Appendix B……………………………………..……………………………. 37 Appendix C……………….………………….………………………………. 45

–  –  –

Figure 1. Conceptual model showing the links between the wetlands being evaluated and the core elements of a rapid assessment method.

The model is hierarchical with respect to the ecological features that define wetlands (ovals on the left) and the indicators which can be adapted to evaluate the resulting wetland condition (boxes on right)………………………………………………………………………………..… 16 Figure 2. A schematic to illustrate the concept of ecological integrity as the integrating function of wetlands encompassing both ecosystem structure and processes. In this case integrity is shown to include biogeochemical processes that lead to functions such as nitrogen removal, hydrological processes that lead to the flood control function, and habitat functions (based on Smith et. al., 1995)…………………………………….. 24

–  –  –

Table 1. Citations and sources for the assessment methods reviewed.

……….……...7 Table 2. Summary of the rapid assessment methods reviewed in the report including information on what each method assesses (e.g., functions versus condition), the wetlands types the method was designed for, an estimate of how long a typical wetland assessment might take using the method, and a summary of our conclusions on each method….. 10 Table 3. Major categories of indicators used in the rapid assessment methods reviewed, including the characteristic(s) that the indicator is based on and a tally of methods using that indicator (from high to low). Note that this table is not comprehensive in that it does not include all indicators given in each method. A more detailed list of indicators can be found in the appendix (Table B-1)….……………………………………………...… 18 Table A-1. A comparison of the seven methods selected for evaluation relative to the conceptual model (Figure 1) summarizing how each method addresses the universal features that define wetland ecosystems…………………………………………...… 31 Table A-2. A comparison of the seven methods selected for evaluation relative to the conceptual model (Figure 1) summarizing how each method addresses regional factors including the wetland types specific to the region as well as any consideration given to the ecosystem services provided by and/or special values placed on some wetlands.. 33 Table A-3. A comparison of the seven methods selected for evaluation relative to the conceptual model (Figure 1) summarizing how each method addresses the stressors that act to degrade wetland condition. …………………………………………………… 35 Table B-1. Indicators selected from the sixteen rapid assessment methods originally included in our analysis. Note that this table is not comprehensive in that it does not include all indicators given in each method. Indicators of most interest and/or applicability have been selected, with an emphasis on rapid indicators that make up the core elements (universal features, regional factors, and stressors) of any assessment method.





………………………………………………………………………………. 37

v INTRODUCTION

A priority of the EPA’s National Wetland Program is the development of wetland monitoring and assessment programs by States and Tribes. A primary goal of such programs is to report on the ambient condition of the wetland resource. Strategies for designing an effective monitoring program are described in what is known as the “three-tier framework” for wetland monitoring and assessment. This approach breaks assessment procedures into a hierarchy of three levels that vary in intensity and scale, ranging from broad, landscape-scale assessments (known as Level 1 methods), rapid field methods (Level 2) to intensive biological and physico-chemical measures (Level 3). Each level can be used to validate and inform the others, for example data collected with a rapid method can be used to validate and refine remote, landscape level techniques. Biological assessments (Level 3) are often used to calibrate or validate rapid methods (Level 2). Rapid assessment methods hold a central position in monitoring programs because once established, they can provide sound, quantitative information on the status of the wetland resource with a relatively small investment of time and effort.

This report provides an analysis of existing wetland rapid assessment methods that have been developed for use in state and tribal programs. There is an increasing number of wetland assessment procedures available. In this analysis we set out to identify the rapid methods that are most suitable for assessing the ecological condition of wetlands, whether it be for regulatory purposes, to assess the ambient condition of wetlands on a watershed basis, or to determine mitigation project success. The methods reviewed here were developed for a variety of purposes including use in regulatory decision making, local land use planning, and the assessment of ambient ecosystem condition. Despite the different program needs that sparked their development, many of these methods share common features.

As we began this work we recognized that there have been many rapid methods written over the past ten years, making available an abundance of very useful information on wetland assessment. This means that for wetland programs requiring an assessment method there are a wealth of tested ideas available, limiting the need to “reinvent the wheel.” In our analysis we have highlighted the common ground that many of these methods share, particularly the metrics that appear to be very robust under a wide variety of circumstances.

These metrics should be highly transferable among states or regions. Additionally, we identified some common pitfalls to avoid when developing a rapid assessment method specifically to evaluate wetland condition. We present many of the results of our review in the form of tables and bulleted text with the idea that the main points would be readily accessible to the reader. For those who would like more specifics on a method, we have provided complete citations and information on how to obtain copies of the 16 methods reviewed (Table 1).

Rapid assessment methods have been shown to be sensitive tools to assess anthropogenic impacts to wetland ecosystems (Fennessy et al. 1998; van Dam et al. 1998, Bartoldus 1999, Mack et al. 2000). As such they can serve as a means to evaluate best management practices, to assess restoration and mitigation projects, to prioritize wetland related resource management decisions, and to establish aquatic life use standards for wetlands. Our goal was to evaluate existing methods that were developed for a broad array of purposes for their use in assessing condition; this review is in no way a critique of each method relative to its intended use. An appropriate Level 2 method will be a valuable tool for many states that are moving toward developing state-wide wetland assessment programs.

By building upon existing monitoring tools we will be able to more fully incorporate wetlands into water quality programs.

Criteria used to evaluation assessment methods In adopting or developing a rapid assessment method for use in wetland monitoring

and assessment programs, we felt the following four considerations were important:

1) The method can be used to measure condition. A principal goal of the Clean Water Act is to maintain and restore the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the waters of the United States. According to 33 U.S.C. §1251(a) integrity can be defined as the ability of a system to support and maintain a “…balanced integrated, adaptive community of organisms having a species composition, diversity, and functional organization comparable to the natural habitat of the region” (Karr and Dudley 1981, U.S. EPA 2002a). By contrast, ecological condition describes the extent to which a given site departs from full ecological integrity (if at all). Condition can be defined as the relative ability of a wetland to support and maintain its complexity and capacity for self-organization with respect to species composition, physico-chemical characteristics and functional processes as compared to wetlands of a similar class without human alterations. Ultimately, condition results from the integration of the chemical, physical and biological processes that maintain the system over time. Methods best suited to measure condition reflect this by providing a quantitative measure describing where a wetland lies on the continuum ranging from full ecological integrity (or the least impacted condition) to highly impaired (poor condition). A single numeric score is the result. This score is not meant to measure absolute value or have intrinsic meaning, but allow comparisons between wetlands to be made.

By contrast, many of the wetland assessment methods developed to date report on a suite of functions and values, or assess only the habitat value of a given area. Many rapid functional assessment methods assign qualitative scores (high, medium, low) to each function individually, an approach that makes comparisons between wetlands sites difficult. Because a primary goal of monitoring and assessment programs is to report on the ambient condition of the wetland resource (U.S. EPA 2003), methods that evaluate condition directly should effectively serve program needs. Information derived from monitoring programs can also be used to develop and support aquatic life use designations for the implementation of wetland water quality standards. Condition can describe the relative ability of a waterbody to support its designated uses, thus the adoption of a rapid method is a key in the implementation of such standards. The issues associated with evaluating condition versus function are discussed in more detail below.

2) The method should be rapid. Consideration was given to how much time a method would take to complete. A rapid method must be able to provide an accurate assessment of condition in a relatively short time period. For this reason we define “rapid” as taking no more than two people a half day in the field and requiring no more than a half day of office preparation and data analysis to come to an answer. We also considered the relative ease of collecting field data required by each method. The time required to complete the methods evaluated here ranged from a few hours to more than two days.



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