Assessment of wetland condition: An example from the Upper Juniata watershed in Pennsylvania, USA

Abstract

The requirement of Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) that all waters of the U.S. be assessed every two years has been historically ignored for wetlands, even though they are included in the definition of “waters of the U.S.” This paper presents the use of a landscape and rapid assessment to describe the wetland resource and assess wetland condition in the Upper Juniata watershed in central Pennsylvania, USA. A Floristic Quality Assessment Index (FQAI) is used to calibrate and refine the landscape and rapid assessments. The landscape assessment defined ecological condition of sites in terms of the degree of departure from reference standard condition (i.e., wetlands in predominantly forested settings). Criteria for condition categories were based on the literature or best professional judgment and resulted in more than half of the area of the resource being rated in high or the highest condition, while about 12% was rated in low condition. The rapid assessment adjusts the landscape assessment by accounting for the presence of Stressors and the ameliorating effects of a buffer. This resulted in a 38% decrease in the proportion of wetland area in the highest and high condition categories and almost quadrupled the area in low condition. Classification and Regression Tree (CART) analysis was used to evaluate 1) whether the results of the landscape and rapid assessments correspond to those from the more quantitative data in FQAI and 2) whether the condition categories established for the landscape and rapid assessments agree with those established using FQAI. CART results indicate that our initial delineation of condition categories for the landscape and rapid assessments should be more stringent. However, it appears that the rapid assessment does a better job of gauging the factors important to wetland condition, as measured by FQAI, than the landscape assessment. This work can serve as a template for wetland monitoring and assessment and reporting as required by the U.S. Clean Water Act. Overall, such monitoring provides information that can be used to target areas for attention or protection, prioritize sites for restoration, design restoration projects, and choose best management practices.

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Correspondence to Denice H. Wardrop.

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Wardrop, D.H., Kentula, M.E., Stevens, D.L. et al. Assessment of wetland condition: An example from the Upper Juniata watershed in Pennsylvania, USA. Wetlands 27, 416–431 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1672/0277-5212(2007)27[416:AOWCAE]2.0.CO;2

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Key Words

  • ecological condition
  • wetland assessment
  • wetland monitoring