Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020MT098B

Rapid Wetland Benefit Assessment (WBA) for Montana State and Tribes

Institute: Montana
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-03-01 End Date: 2021-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $15,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $30,000

Principal Investigators: William Kliendl

Abstract: Since the early 1990s, Federal policy has required a no overall net loss of wetland area, functions, and values in the US. This policy led to the development of several assessment approaches to measure wetland function based on ecological theory that, along with wetland delineation, ensure proper Federal compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to these wetlands. Yet there has been little effort to develop assessment tools that measure wetland value in a rapid and repeatable manner. Theoretical advancements in the ecosystem service concept (ES) has improved our understanding of wetland value, including biophysical and social/cultural benefits, and these should be included in wetland assessment tools. From the State of Montana’s perspective, aquatic ESs are the beneficial uses (BUs) of waterbodies. Achieving designated BUs is the foundation of all water quality programs in Montana including the State’s oversight on impacts to wetlands and other Waters of the State (MT-DNRC et al. 2014, MT-DEQ 2019). To help meet Federal and State obligations for adequate wetland protection, there is a need for a framework and generalized methodology for the rapid assessment of wetland ESs and benefits (hereafter called Wetland Benefit Assessment (WBA)) for use in permitting, restoration and preservation decisions. In the late 1990s, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a step-wise action plan to develop and implement wetland biophysical assessment approaches (USEPA 1997) and to develop a wetland ES assessment tool, we are following a similar approach where we: 1) Establish a framework for linkages between wetland biophysical structure and potential ESs though a search of the literature (complete), 2) Test Montana’s six overlapping wetland biophysical assessment approaches to determine the best decision-making tool (preferred tool) to adapt this service assessment module (complete spring 2020), 3) Develop a list of suitable wetland services that link the ecological data from the preferred tool as well as readily accessible spatial and demographic data and potential services, 4) Refine the potential ES list with input from a selection of wetland decision-makers at Federal, State, Local, and Tribal levels in Montana, 5) Create a conceptual ES rapid assessment model from the refined ES list, 6) Test and refine the ES conceptual model with a selection of wetland consultant and permitting end-users, and 7) Develop a final ES assessment module, train end-users and provide web-based support.We propose to continue this step-wise practical approach to ESs assessment. Earlier efforts by PI-Kleindl have addressed steps 1 and 2. This seed grant addresses steps 3, 4, and 5. The ultimate goal of this 7-step approach is to create an add-on service assessment module to existing wetland ecological function or condition rapid assessment tools currently used in Montana and surrounding states for wetland permitting, and condition monitoring and reporting. Our current effort is testing which of these tools measure wetland disturbance with the highest sensitivity. The ES module will leverage the ecological data already provided by the preferred biophysical wetland assessment tool, and integrate these with existing social, cultural, and economic understanding in a spatial context to create wetland service metrics that go beyond acres and structure to include qualities that promote human well-being. This approach will provide ES metrics with little additional effort above what is already required for most permitting and policy obligations and thereby increase it applicability among the regulatory community.Through this project, we will present Federal, State, Local, and Tribal wetland managers and regulatory agents a list of wetland ES developed from the literature and that can be measured with available biophysical and spatial data. Through a survey, respondents will rank (low to high) ES importance until we have a consensus of a limited number of wetland ES. We will then link the consensus wetland ES to ecological data from the preferred wetland assessment tool along with additional spatial data to create a conceptual rapid ES assessment tool. Completing steps 3-5 will create important products in the step-wise action plan that will provide the necessary foundation to seek additional funds for a final product to meet the needs of Federal, State, Local, and Tribal wetland managers and regulatory agents.