Losing Function Through Wetland Mitigation in Central Pennsylvania, USA
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- Hoeltje, S.M. & Cole, C.A. Environmental Management (2007) 39: 385. doi:10.1007/s00267-006-0212-z
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In the United States, the Clean Water Act requires mitigation for wetlands that are negatively impacted by dredging and filling activities. During the mitigation process, there generally is little effort to assess function for mitigation sites and function is usually inferred based on vegetative cover and acreage. In our study, hydrogeomorphic (HGM) functional assessment models were used to compare predicted and potential levels of functional capacity in created and natural reference wetlands. HGM models assess potential function by measurement of a suite of structural variables and these modeled functions can then be compared to those in natural, reference wetlands. The created wetlands were built in a floodplain setting of a valley in central Pennsylvania to replace natural ridge-side slope wetlands. Functional assessment models indicated that the created sites differed significantly from natural wetlands that represented the impacted sites for seven of the ten functions assessed. This was expected because the created wetlands were located in a different geomorphic setting than the impacted sites, which would affect the type and degree of functions that occur. However, functional differences were still observed when the created sites were compared with a second set of reference wetlands that were located in a similar geomorphic setting (floodplain). Most of the differences observed in both comparisons were related to unnatural hydrologic regimes and to the characteristics of the surrounding landscape. As a result, the created wetlands are not fulfilling the criteria for successful wetland mitigation.