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:

Providing template communications documents this summer, provides states and tribes time to:

  1. Review the templates,
  2. Modify and revise the templates to meet specific state/tribal needs,
  3. Populate the templates with state-adapted information, photos, stats, links, etc.;
  4. 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).

Ted LaGrange  Wetland Program Manager for Nebraska’s Game and Parks Commission

Presentation title  Using Monitoring and Assessment Information to Inform Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Planning and Activities

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.

Alison RogersonWetland Monitoring and Assessment Program, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC)

Presentation title  Use of Monitoring and Assessment to Inform Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Activity and Planning

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 BernthalWetland 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.

Cara Clark  Wetland Scientist Central Coast Wetlands Group at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories California

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.

Anne Hokanson  Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Ecologist at Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Water Resources Division

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

Presentation Title  CZM Programs and Wetlands Monitoring and Assessment – A Review of Legislative Mandates and the Massachusetts Experience

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

Presentation Title  Monitoring and Assessment of Coastal Wetlands in Representative Estuaries of the Mid-Atlantic

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

Terri Lomax Environmental Program Manager, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

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

Presentation Title: State/Tribal Communications Planning for the National Wetland Condition Assessment

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.

Monitoring and assessment is one component of the U.S. EPA’s Core Elements Framework. To view the EPA’s webpage on monitoring and assessment, click here.

Indicators

IndicatorsMany 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

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? 
              Restoration, other?
          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?
          b. Functions?
          c. Values?
          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?

          a. Acreage?
          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?

          a. Forest
          b. Neighborhood, urban
          c. Rare ecosystem
          d. Coastal
          e. Other?

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?

          a. Hydrogeomorphic
          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