Monitoring & Assessment
National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA)
The National Wetland Condition Assessment (NWCA) is the first-ever national survey on the ecological condition of the Nation's wetlands and is one of the five National Aquatic Resource Surveys initiated in 2006. These studies provide nationally-consistent and scientifically-defensible assessments of our lakes, rivers, wadeable streams, coastal waters, and wetlands, and can be used to track changes over time. The purpose of the survey is to generate statistically-valid and environmentally relevant reports on the condition of the Nation’s wetlands.
The NWCA only provides an overview of the condition (quality) of wetlands that remain in existence, and does address wetland loss due to drainage or filling. The first NWCA surveys were completed in the summer of 2011; the survey was repeated in 2016. The study is the product of cooperation and collaboration between EPA, states officials, tribes and scientists. EPA provided the funding for the study and states provided the fieldwork and expertise to complete the assessment. It is intended to compliment national wetland status and trends studies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that measure wetland gains and losses and estimate the quantity (number and area) of the nation’s remaining wetlands.
The NWCA is being used to:
- Determine the national & regional condition of wetlands (NWCA findings are not state-specific)
- Develop baseline information to evaluate change in condition over time
- Build state and tribal capacity for monitoring and analyses
Note: The NWCA is not being used to provide state-level information or for regulatory purposes.
For more information about the EPA’s NWCA, its design, results, findings, or future plans, please visit the EPA National Wetland Condition Website
For downloadable ASWM Draft Template NWCA Communication Documents for use by states and tribes to share with various audiences how the NWCA results relate to state wetland work, please go here. These include a general factsheet, administrative brief, legislative brief, and guidance for additional communications planning and social media efforts.
ASWM National Wetland Condition Assessment Communication Documents and Templates for Use by States and Tribes
The upcoming public release of the National Wetland Condition Assessment report is an opportunity for states and tribes to promote the work they are doing at the state level to protect and preserve wetlands, as well as highlight specific needs, for program development to protect and conserve state wetland resources. For this reason, ASWM has developed a set of communications templates for state and tribal use, if desired, to share the purpose and findings of the NWCA while simultaneously tailoring this information for individual states and tribes. EPA is expected to release the report on the 2011 NWCA findings this fall.
ASWM provides states and tribes with the following template documents:
- ASWM NWCA Communications Guidance for States and Tribes
- ASWM NWCA Template Factsheet [Word]
- ASWM NWCA Template Administrative Briefing [Word]
- ASWM NWCA Template Legislative Brief [Word]
- ASWM NWCA Draft Potential Tweets [Word]
- ASWM NWCA Press Kit Guidance
- ASWM NWCA Report Factsheet - Understanding the Key NWCA Findings
- Social Media Toolbox for NWCA Communications Factsheet #1: What you can do to improve your social media effort
- Social Media Toolbox for NWCA Communications Factsheet #2: Creating Quality Social Media and Website Content
- Social Media Toolbox for NWCA Communications Factsheet #3: Targeting and Timing Your Electronic Media Posts
Providing template communications documents this summer, provides states and tribes time to:
- Review the templates,
- Modify and revise the templates to meet specific state/tribal needs,
- Populate the templates with state-adapted information, photos, stats, links, etc.;
- Work through the communications approval processes within the state/tribe to have the documents ready for use when the document is released in the fall (reminder that this process can take up to 3 months).
ASWM’s templates have been designed as a starting point for states and tribes. ASWM encourages those who chose to work with the templates to take the time to revise them to be useful communications tools for an individual state or tribe. The templates have been vetted and improved through a working group of three states and one tribe over the past six months. They have also been reviewed by EPA NWCA Staff to ensure information about the NWCA is accurate, but they are a product of the Association of State Wetland Managers, not EPA. They are designed to support state and tribal communications about the NWCA.
ASWM welcomes any questions about the templates or how to complete them. However, ASWM is not able to develop the final products for individual states/tribes. Please contact Brenda Zollitsch, ASWM Policy Analyst with questions at or (207) 892-3399.
National Wetland Monitoring & Assessment Work Group Webinars
NWMAWG March 27, 2013 Call Theme: Use of Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Information to Inform Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Activities – State Examples
The March NWMAWG call focused on the use of monitoring and assessment data/information to inform state planning for wildlife conservation and restoration programs. Three states; Nebraska, Delaware and Wisconsin, highlighted elements of their restoration programs that make use of some level of assessment (Monitoring and Assessment Levels 1, 2, or 3).
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has developed plans to guide wetland and wildlife restoration efforts using landscape tools and comprehensive assessment techniques. GIS modeling and LiDAR technology have been used to prioritize wetland potential to provide waterfowl habitat and to locate prime topography for restoration. Nebraska has used on the ground comprehensive assessment methods (Level 3) to validate these GIS maps (Level 1) and to document and assess vegetation communities. The Game and Parks Commission is collecting extensive wetland data now for future use, such as research involving climate change.
DNREC’s Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Program goal is to use wetland monitoring and assessment to inform education, voluntary restoration and regulatory protection programs. The program uses all levels of monitoring and assessment particularly a rapid assessment method (Level 2) and comprehensive methods (Level 3). Robust level 2 and 3 assessment methods/data are used to inform state programs, decision makers, and conservation partners. DNREC uses assessment results to report out on wetland condition and to provide data to inform restoration/protection efforts. Other goals include use of monitoring and assessment data to inform regulatory decision-making and the mitigation process, such as development of more ecologically based performance standards. DNREC has established a successful outreach campaign which relies heavily on electronic media (social media, websites, etc.) to share data and information and to foster public awareness.
Tom Bernthal – Wetland Ecologist, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Presentation title – Duck-Pensaukee Watershed Approach Project
The Duck-Pensaukee Watershed Approach Project was implemented to address the need to incorporate a watershed approach into §404/CWA mitigation project planning. The project, in partnership with the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) and the Nature Conservancy (TNC) aimed to develop/test/implement an approach and method for three pilot watersheds across U.S. with an objective of tying regulatory and non-regulatory conservation to the same objective: watershed health and functionality. Using the Duck-Pensaukee Watershed in Wisconsin the WNDR developed an index of ecosystem service change by creating maps at a watershed scale. These maps can then be used by conservation practitioners targeting restoration of specific ecosystem services or a suite of services. The Wildlife Habitat Tool, to be used in conjunction with the ecosystem services maps, was developed using GIS data and expert judgment to determine important habitats and habitat needs for wildlife. WDNR has a program that uses all levels of wetland monitoring and assessment and has used these methods to inform the Duck-Pensaukee Watershed Project.
NWMAWG June 18, 2013 Webinar Theme: Coastal Wetland Monitoring and the features that make it unique and important for state and National Estuary Programs.
Presentation Title – Validation of the California Rapid Assessment Methodology for Bar-Built Estuaries
The Central Coast Wetlands Group (CCWG) has been compiling existing comprehensive (Level 3) data from across the state on coastal lagoons and is collecting new Level 3 data using the California Rapid Assessment Methodology (CRAM). The cost effective and potentially valuable metrics will be used to verify and validate the new CRAM module. Next steps include quantifying the linkage between mouth dynamics and ecosystem services of marsh plains, investigating species services/nursery role of the estuaries, and interpreting historical topographic sheets (T-sheets) of coastal lagoons to look at what services these systems provided in the past.
Presentation Title – Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring in Michigan
Michigan is involved with two Great Lakes Coastal Wetland monitoring projects. The first project was to develop an implementable, long-term program to monitor Great Lakes coastal wetland quality across the state. The second project monitored and assessed approximately 75 coastal wetlands using Michigan’s Rapid Assessment Method (MiRAM) and comprehensive (level 3) intensive protocols for vegetation, invertebrates, fish, and water chemistry. Next steps include updating the Michigan Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Strategy, further develop GIS mapping tools, and analyze ongoing monitoring efforts for new priorities.
Jan Smith – Coastal Habitat and Marine Water Quality Manager, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management
Since 1995, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) has been actively working on projects to advance wetland assessment methods and approaches for coastal wetland systems. CZM has partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to develop and implement a statewide wetlands monitoring and assessment program. CZM is also engaged in identifying how information on wetland condition can be used to improve existing state programs for wetlands protection and restoration.
Danielle Kreeger – Science Director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary NEP and Martha Maxwell-Doyle – Deputy Director Barnegat Bay Partnership NJ NEP
Over the last few years, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) has led an initiative to establish an integrated wetlands monitoring and assessment network for the Delaware Estuary. PDE has also worked closely with the Barnegat Bay Partnership to expand the wetlands monitoring network into Barnegat Bay in New Jersey. The monitoring project uses the EPA’s three-tier wetlands approach for the development of a monitoring and assessment program. This project is a major step forward and is part of a larger initiative, the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Wetlands Assessment (MACWA), which is envisioned as a regular, ongoing monitoring program that will span the area from coastal New Jersey to coastal Delaware.
NWMAWG December 10, 2013 Call Theme: Highlighting State Wetland Monitoring and Assessment Programs Status and Applications
Presentation Title: Wetland Monitoring in Alaska
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) conducted its first wetland condition assessment during the summer of 2011. The assessment was conducted on freshwater emergent wetlands in the Arctic Coastal Plain and included random and targeted sites. The lack of development, limited population, and remote nature of Alaska drives the selection of random surveys, typically only selecting sites with reference condition. In prior DEC surveys this proved to be problematic as you need a range of disturbance to understand condition and develop metrics based on stress. To overcome this “problem” we included targeted sites with known or potentially impacted conditions.
Barbara Scott – Wetland Programs Coordinator, Kentucky Division of Water
Presentation Title: Kentucky's Wetland Assessment Program
The Kentucky Division of Water has begun development of a wetland monitoring and assessment program. The program is modeling itself on the Level 1, 2, and 3 (Landscape, Rapid, Comprehensive respectively) approach advocated by EPA. Current efforts are concentrated in Level 2 and Kentucky is close to launching a rapid assessment method for wetlands. Winter of 2014/2014 Kentucky will develop a wetland program plan using the core elements framework, which will provide a road map for further development of the Kentucky’s wetland monitoring and assessment program.
Brenda Zollitsch – Policy Analyst, Association of State Wetland Managers
In 2014 the U.S. Environmental Agency will publish the National Wetland Condition Assessment, the first-ever national survey on the condition of the Nation's wetlands. The report will provide regional and national estimates of wetland ecological integrity. Many states as well as tribes and other federal partners participated in the design and sampling conducted to gather information about wetland health. The release of this report will provide states and tribes with an important opportunity to share additional information about the health of their wetlands. The Association of State Wetland Managers is developing materials to support development of state and tribal communication strategies to coincide with the release of the national report. Support materials for interested states and tribes currently planned include press kits), a fact sheet, Frequently Asked Questions, ‘plug and play’ website content, and briefing documents.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has measured wetland losses for half a century and subsequently produced periodic Status and Trends studies on the nation's wetlands. These reports are based on a statistical sampling of the National Wetland Inventory (NWI) maps that focus on wetland acreage. Over the past decade, studies in wetland health and trends in wetland health have gained importance in understanding the quantity and quality of the nation’s wetlands. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with states and tribes, conducted the first ever national wetlands condition assessment. The 2011 results will be posted in 2015. States and tribes also conduct wetland assessments, and have developed a number of tools for assessment, such as: Rapid Assessment Methods (RAM); criteria for determining functions, values, ecosystem services; and ecological integrity assessments, using biological indicators. Local governments and nonprofit organizations may employ similar and other wetland assessment methods specific to their locality. Wetland monitoring and assessment information is used in regulatory and voluntary wetland programs and other areas.
Many of the characteristics and processes of wetlands are indicators of wetland functions. Indicators are used for wetland monitoring and assessment activities. Identification of these indicators can assist in determining the status of specific wetland function and changes in function over time. Indicators can also allow for comparison of wetland functions between similar wetland types. Not all wetlands have the same functions and therefore not all wetlands can be assessed with the same indicators. As the Maryland Department of the Environment explains, “…tidal and nontidal wetlands have fundamental differences in their hydrology, vegetation and soils, and are subject to different environmental factors that influence their function. Therefore, some indicators are specific to certain wetland types.”
Indicators are used in assessing wetland condition (aka health) as well as for monitoring restoration progress over time. Reference wetlands are often used for assessing wetland restoration projects to evaluate a restoration site’s recovery. Many state agencies categorize their wetlands by condition (i.e., Class I, II or III) as part of their regulatory program. For example, wetlands in poor condition may have fewer regulations than those in excellent condition.
On the ground field assessment is always the most reliable but not always practical. Reports, photographs (aerial and ground) and GIS maps can all be used to identify and evaluate most wetland indicators. The Maryland Department of the Environment has a very useful website with detailed descriptions of wetland indicators and a glossary of terms.
Useful Publications & Resources
- National Wetland Plant List – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- 1987 Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- Regional Supplements to the 1987 Wetland Delineation Manual – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- Wetland Indicator Status – U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) webpage
- Field Indicators of Hydric Soils in the United States – U.S.D.A. NRCS publication (PDF)
- Wetland Indicators – Maryland Dept. of the Environment webpage
Suggested Checklist of Considerations When Developing Wetland Assessment Methods
The Association of State Wetland Managers has prepared a checklist for states developing wetland monitoring and assessment methods and tools. This document is available in PDF format and may be viewed and/or downloaded by clicking here.
1. What is the purpose of the assessment? How will the assessment be used?
a. Will the assessment be used for planning purposes? Regulatory? Acquisition?
b. Has this been mandated by a state agency or is it part of guidance or Clean Water
Act 404/401 certification program?
c. What will be done with the results?
d. Will the assessment be compatible with an existing wetland monitoring program?
2. What will be assessed?
a. Wetland condition?
d. Natural hazards?
e. What do you want to find out? Be specific. How do you define the terms
"condition," "functions," "values?" If an assessment aims to determine "ecological
integrity," be sure to define that term. Is it the ability to recover from stressors and
disturbance? What is a "healthy wetland?" Make sure everyone on the team is
working with the same set of agreed-upon terms, definitions and criteria.
3. How much will be assessed?
b. Watershed, streams and wetlands together, riparian areas?
c. Demonstration watersheds or wetlands to be identified as reference sites?
d. Is this a snapshot of a regional, state or national condition or wetlands?
e. Or is this an assessment of an individual wetland for a permit?
4. If using reference sites, which wetlands will be used?
a. Types of wetlands included?
b. Reference criteria (see criteria to assess wetlands below)
c. Demonstration watersheds?
d. Include tributaries and stream reach?
e. Are these wetlands in urban areas?
5. What is the context for these wetlands?
b. Neighborhood, urban
c. Rare ecosystem
6. Any existing state policies that may help determine a baseline or "yard stick" for wetland assessment?
a. How will this assessment fit into the regulatory framework?
b. How will it fit into heritage program ecological assessments?
c. 404 program?
d. State water quality standards?
e. Other policies, e.g. an anti-degradation policy, comprehensive plan or guidance?
7. What criteria will be used to assess wetlands?
a. Indicators for water quality, mitigation success, flood storage function, etc?
b. Stressor indicators
c. Scales to be used to grade wetlands?
d. Biota: algae, macroinvertebrates, aquatic plants
e. Hydrology—water levels, water marks, water processes, flooding
8. Which levels of assessments would be useful?
a. Level 1: Landscape (GIS mapping)
b. Level 2: Rapid Assessment Method
c. Level 3: Intensive Assessment
9. Are there other methods that would be useful for wetlands in your state or region?
b. Site Level Assessment Method (SLAM)
c. Dual-approach with some combination of the 3 EPA levels
d. A sophisticated landscape-based ecological assessment, e.g. CAPS
e. Other method specific to needs in the state or region
10. What are the priorities and timelines, perhaps limited by funding?
a. How much funding is available?
b. Is a systematic method needed that does not take a lot of time? (days/weeks, as
opposed to months/years)
c. Is there funding for a 1-3 year multi-phase assessment?
d. Can a portion of the assessment burden be shifted to project applicants?
11. How will other agencies’ wetland assessment & monitoring programs help this state assessment endeavor?
a. U.S. FWS Status and Trends Reports?
b. EPA’s National Wetland Condition Assessment program?
c. Regional or state agency partners?
12. What tools, computer programs and/or staff will be necessary?
a. Database to store information on reference sites and completed assessments?
b. GIS technician(s), mapping program or partnership with a GIS lab
Other Useful Publications:
- Biological Assessment Program Review: Assessing Level of Technical Rigor to Support Water Quality Management (U.S. EPA)
- Application of Elements of a State Water Monitoring and Assessment Program for Wetlands (EPA, April 2006)
- REPORT: Preparing for the Third Decade (Cycle 3) of the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program (NAS, 2012)
- An Integrated Wetland Assessment Toolkit (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2009)
- Status and Trends of Wetlands in Minnesota: Depressional Wetland Quality Baseline
- A Practical Guide for the Development of a Wetland Assessment: the California Experience (Martha A. Sutula, Eric D. Stein, Joshua N. Collins, A. Elizabeth Fetscher, and Ross Clark)
- An Evaluation of Wetland Assessment Techniques and Their Applications to Decision Making (EPA)
- A Rapid Assessment System for Riparian and Stream Corridors for California: A Discussion on How Can We Improve a Rapid Assessment System for Streams? (A. L. Riley, Ph.D., Watershed Division and Jill Marshall, P.G., TMDL and Planning Division of the San Francisco Bay Region Water Quality Control Board)
- Rapid Permit Process for Stream Protection (San Francisco Bay Region Water Quality Control Board, California, February 2008)
- Rapid Permit Checklist (San Francisco Bay Region Water Quality Control Board)
- Classification and Conservation Assessment of High Elevation Wetland Communities in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia (WV DNR – December 2007)