The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in partnership with other federal agencies announced today the release of the updated National Wetland Plant List (NWPL). This national list of wetland plants by species and their wetland ratings provides general botanical information about wetland plants and is used extensively by federal and state agencies, the scientific and academic communities, and the private sector in wetland delineations and the planning and monitoring of wetland mitigation and restoration sites. The list is available at http://wetland_plants.usace.army.mil
A notice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) appeared on 6 January 2011 in theFederal Register (76 FR 777) (pdf) announcing the establishment of a National Wetland Plant List (NWPL). In summary,
“The National Wetland Plant List (NWPL) is used to delineate wetlands for purposes of theClean Water Act and the Wetland Conservation Provisions of the Food Security Act. Other applications of the list include wetland restoration, establishment, and enhancement projects. To update the NWPL, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), as part of an interagency effort with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is announcing the availability of the draft National Wetland Plant List (NWPL) and its web address to solicit public comments. The public will now be provided the opportunity to comment and vote on the wetland indicator status ratings of the plants, species nomenclature changes and the revisions to the definition of indicator status ratings contained in the NWPL.”
I’ve added links in order to annotate the summary text. I might have waited until World Wetlands Day (2 February) to post this, but there is a limited period for the public to make comments that ends on 7 March 2011, and everyone with interest should have as much time as possible to submit their comments. See the official USACE NWPL site to make your comment submissions. If you see a security warning, click through it to get to the actual informational site.
The background on the NWPL effort that is provided in the Federal Register notice is fascinating, and even more information is available at the official site. It’s great to have that much historical background entered into the federal record in such a concise form, and kudos to the program contributors for preparing what is essentially a report on the history of this effort. As an interagency collaborative program, this effort is almost as old as I am! To wit:
“The effort to develop a comprehensive wetland plant list began with the FWS in 1976 and paralleled the development of their wetland classification system for the National Wetland Inventory (NWI), which culminated in Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States [pdf] in 1979. A brief footnote in that publication mentions that the FWS intended to produce “a list of hydrophytes and other plants occurring in wetlands of the United States” for use in conjunction with the NWI. At about the same time the NRCS, then known as the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), initiated an effort to prepare a preliminary list of hydric soils, again for use with the NWI. Through a series of subsequent drafts, the FWS effort eventually led to the production of the National List of Plant Species That Occur in Wetlands: 1988 National Summary [pdf] (List 88)—and associated regional lists.
“The FWS initially derived the lists by searching some 300 national and regional floras and other scientific publications. This effort produced the Annotated National Wetland Plant Species Database, which documented the taxonomy, nomenclature, distribution, and ecology of wetland flora in the U.S. In 1987, the SCS (through a contract with the Biota of North America Program [BONAP]) updated the taxonomy and nomenclature that culminated in List 88. During the initial development of the database, a wetland rating system was created based on habitat descriptions derived from the various regional floras, botanical manuals, and other scientific works.
“In the early 1980s, the four primary Federal agencies involved in wetland delineation (Corps, EPA, FWS, and NRCS) realized the potential utility of the plant and soil lists for wetland delineation purposes in conjunction with wetland delineation manuals that were under development at that time. All wetland delineation manuals produced at the Federal level during the 1980s referenced these plant lists in defining hydrophytic vegetation.
“The four agencies agreed to participate cooperatively on Regional Interagency Review Panels. A National Panel of wetland ecologists was assembled to review and further revise the various plant lists and the wetland rating system established by the FWS. This rating system, based on the frequency that a particular plant occurs within wetlands versus uplands, eventually led to the five indicator categories listed in List 88 (i.e., obligate wetland, facultative wetland, facultative, facultative upland, and obligate upland).
“The FWS realized that subsequent editions of their List 88 would be inevitable and an appeal procedure was established for submitting proposed changes to the list (e.g. additions, deletions, and changes in indicator statuses). Since the original publication of List 88, many changes to the taxonomy and nomenclature of wetland plants have been proposed and accepted. Following the original publication of List 88, the FWS adopted a revised taxonomic standard, Synonymized Checklist of the Vascular Flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland (Kartesz 1994), as a basis for the names included within the proposed list, National List of Vascular Plant Species that Occur in Wetlands [pdf] (List 96).
“The National Panel and the FWS considered it necessary to respond to requests for changes to List 88 and to the numerous revisions in both taxonomy and nomenclature by proposing List 96 and its derivative regional lists. The FWS published proposed changes to List 88 in the Federal Register (62 FR 2680) on January 17, 1997 [note that the original mistakenly refers to the “CFR” or Code of Federal Regulations], in compliance with a 1996 Memorandum of Agreement between the Corps, EPA, FWS, and NRCS. The National Panel received comments and, in conjunction with the Regional Panels, reviewed and considered all comments in developing the final draft of List 96. For a variety of reasons, List 96 was never finalized, and List 88 remains the only approved list of wetland plant indicator statuses.
“In 2005, the FWS developed plans to update and adopt List 96 as List 05. This new List was to include all of the changes in scientific names and wetland indicator statuses that were needed because of taxonomic and nomenclatural changes; however, this update never occurred. In December 2006, the administration of the list was transferred from the FWS to the Corps through a Memorandum of Agreement [pdf], which renamed the list as the National Wetland Plant List. The list continues to be an interagency product maintained by the Corps, FWS, EPA, and NRCS. The National Panel consists of representatives from each of the four participating agencies who direct the continued development of the NWPL. They guide the work by updating the taxonomy and nomenclature along with wetland indicator statuses of wetland plants nationwide. The number of plants listed has changed since List 88; growing from 6,728 species to 7,662 in List 96, with the majority of the increase resulting from taxonomic and nomenclatural changes, including the addition of many infraspecific taxa (i.e., varieties and subspecies). By 2010, further advances in systematic science involving wetland plants resulted in an additional 1,600 infraspecific entries. Because of taxonomic and nomenclatural changes since 1988, the number of infraspecific taxa has increased to 2,200; substantially more than the original 12 in List 88 and 600 in List 96. Because this seemed to be an impractically high number of entries, the National Panel of the NWPL decided to revert back to the species-level taxonomy, and to not include any infraspecific taxa. Thus, the current review of the 8,558 species does not separately treat these infraspecific taxa with their own distinct wetland ratings and includes all the infraspecific taxa at the species-level.”
Again, I have annotated the information provided in the Federal Register notice with links here. Much additional information on background, issues and procedures is available in the Federal Register notice and at the official NWPL site. Beyond this initial update, the future of the NWPL looks highly promising:
“Protocols were developed to ensure that updates to the NWPL will occur biennially or as necessary and that they will follow scientifically acceptable procedures. The updating process will provide guidelines established by the National Panel for testing wetland indicator status ratings for future recommended changes and additions to the NWPL. The process will be supported by an interactive Web site where all procedures and supportive information will be posted. Information on this searchable Web site will include the names of all National and Regional Panel members, prior ecological information obtained by the FWS or Kartesz (BONAP) for each species, any comments previously made by others that was retained in the FWS database on the NWPL, and links to botanical literature and plant ecology information to support assignment of wetland indicator statuses of all species under consideration.
“Once the NWPL is initially updated, this Web site will be expanded to include upland plants and facilitate regular updates as additional information is submitted and nomenclature changes. These changes will be generated through a modification of the web-based process outlined above. Regular updates based on nomenclature changes will be developed on a biennial basis. Anyone may petition for a change in indicator status for any taxon by submitting appropriate ecological data, literature review, testing description, and geographic data. This will include frequency and abundance data for the taxon in wetlands and uplands in a broad range of the wetland supplement region or subregion for which the change is proposed. Such data will be reviewed and evaluated by the appropriate Regional Panel, and any changes they recommend will go through a vetting process similar to the initial NWPL update. The Web site will contain the most recent, currently valid indicator statuses.”
If you have expertise and/or interest in wetland flora, make sure to review the available information and submit your comments by the current deadline on 7 March 2011!
On September 28, 2010, the Southern District of Florida awarded summary judgment to New Hope Power Company in its suit seeking to enjoin the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) from applying rules pertaining to its regulatory jurisdiction over certain former wetlands, which had been issued through agency memoranda. The court held that the agency had failed to properly promulgate the rules through the notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures required under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The decision has wide import, as it directly affects approximately 700,000 acres within the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), and other hydrologically managed lands nationwide for which non-agricultural uses may be proposed. SPR represented New Hope Power Company in the suit.
New Hope owns and operates a renewable energy facility in the EAA, an area of the Florida Everglades that was formerly wetlands but has been hydrologically managed through pumps and drainage systems since the mid-20th century to allow for agriculture. New Hope’s facility, constructed on former sugarcane fields, generates electric power through the burning of non-usable portions of sugarcane as well as wood waste. New Hope recently obtained state and local permits to construct a monofill on neighboring land, currently farmed for sugarcane, where it could place ash from the waste-burning operations, and thereby avoid trucking the ash to a distant landfill.
Existing ACOE regulations under the Clean Water Act provide that a permit is needed to conduct certain activities within wetlands. However, exempt from the definition of wetlands are lands that do not support wetlands vegetation under normal circumstances. The ACOE had in past rulemaking documents explained that “normal circumstances” was not to be read to include properties that had been transformed into dry land. Also exempt from regulations are “prior converted croplands,” lands formerly wetlands but converted to agricultural use. Rulemaking documents previously issued by the ACOE provided that a prior converted cropland could only lose such designation if wetland vegetation returned. In 1993, the ACOE had determined that the land on which New Hope’s power facility is built was prior converted cropland. In addition, the ACOE’s Wetlands Delineation Manual provides that in order to be a regulated wetland, land must exhibit both wetlands hydrology and vegetation, unless one of three types of “atypical situations” apply: (1) an unauthorized activity resulting in the loss of one of these characteristics; (2) man-made creation of a wetland; or (3) natural events.
However, in 2009, the ACOE issued internal memoranda interpreting “normal circumstances” in hydrologically managed lands to mean “pumps off,” and stating that prior converted croplands lost such designation upon a change to non-agricultural use. Based on these memoranda, the ACOE informed New Hope that it would likely need a permit to construct the proposed monofill. New Hope filed a lawsuit challenging the memoranda as legislative rules that the ACOE had failed to promulgate in accordance with the APA. The court agreed, holding that the memoranda extended the ACOE’s regulatory jurisdiction beyond that provided for in existing regulations, and diverged from the Wetlands Manual in deeming lands hydrologically managed with ACOE authorization an “atypical situation” to which the general delineation rules did not apply. The court therefore enjoined the ACOE from applying these new rules.
Very cool new software for wetland delineation data collection. Perhaps technology is finally catching on in field ecology.
Growing Season Definition and Use in Wetland Delineation: A Literature Review
by Karen Malone and Hans Williams
ABSTRACT: The definition of growing season in the 1987 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual is derived from the soil biological-zero temperature concept. Lacking direct information on soil temperatures, minimum air temperature thresholds are used as indicators of the beginning and ending dates for the growing season. The 1987 Manual regional supplements allow for field observations of above-ground plant growth to estimate the growing season period. Since acceptance of the 1987 Manual, the growing season concept has been controversial. Soil biological zero does not apply to large areas of the continental United States, minimum air temperature thresholds appear inconsistent with observations of above- and below-ground biological activity, and photoperiodism and thermoperiodism result in local, regional, and annual variations for determining the growing season period based on plant activity. Additionally, the belief that wetlands perform ecological functions year round supports the argument that defining the growing season is irrelevant. A literature review of the environmental factors that influence above- and below-ground biological activity is presented. Recommendations are made on the use of the growing season concept to support jurisdictional wetland delineation determinations.
If you wish to access/download the document (383 kb) in pdf format, the address is: http://libweb.wes.army.mil/uhtbin/hyperion/CRREL-CR-10-3.pdf
This is a great intro for the budding environmental engineer. At some point, you’ll have to get muddy to really understand wetlands though.
We wanted to shine a spotlight today on a new solution from CorpsJD, a newly launched online GIS GPS-Capable Wetland Delineation, Mapping & Reporting Software Service. Built on the Microsoft platform of Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, and Bing maps, and integrated with ESRI’s GIS application, CorpsJD provides a high performance and reliable service that simplifies the environmental assessment and permitting process associated with wetland properties. In the words of CorpsJD, “Imagine if you could instantly load Bing aerial maps and see your property’s aquatic constraints, soil concerns, FEMA floodplains and other state and local environmental variables that determine a properties net worth. That’s CorpsJD. All of this is displayed in a standardized GIS mapping format that’s easy to learn, all at the click of a mouse. Imagine saving 50% of the field time and 80% of the office time on a job you’re doing anyway.” CorpsJD is hosting a series of webinars introducing the new features and functionality of the service. Find out more at http://www.corpsjd.com
A free hydric soils identification book is available online. Click the link. Enjoy.
Wetland Delineation Training
Columbia, South Carolina
November 16 – 20, 2009
Discover Columbia, SC and Congaree National Park. Join us for Swamp School in beautiful downtown Columbia. The Columbia Conference Center is easily accessible and features onsite parking and in-house catering. Our field work will take us to Congaree National Park, home to the largest remnant of old-growth floodplain forest remaining on the continent. Experience national and state champion trees, towering to record size amidst astonishing biodiversity.
Accurate wetland delineations are a necessity for many types of land use projects. When you need to expand your business capabilities and hone your skills, this intensive combination of classroom and field training will teach you what you need to know and provide valuable hands-on delineation experience. This traditional 38-hour (4½-day) wetlands delineation class covers the current and proposed USACOE wetlands delineation methods as well as the recent Rapanos decision and the new regional supplements.
Call 1-877-479-2673 for more info.
The California State Water Resources Control Board is considering a proposed definition of “wetlands” that could significantly expand the state’s regulatory jurisdiction beyond the longstanding federal definition administered by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. State Wetland Policy Historically, the State and Regional Water Boards have relied primarily on the federal Clean Water Act program to protect wetlands. But in response to a series of Supreme Court decisions limiting the scope of federal wetland jurisdiction, the State Board has acted to regulate wetlands under state law in order to “fill the gap” created by receding federal jurisdiction. As part of this effort, the State Board directed its staff in April 2008 to develop a wetlands and riparian policy to strengthen the protections for wetlands and water quality. The first phase of this policy is directed at wetland impacts from dredge and fill activities and seeks to: (1) create a state wetland definition that “would reliably define the diverse array of California wetlands based on the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ wetland delineation methods to the extent feasible”; (2) develop a mechanism to regulate activities in wetlands, based on existing federal guidelines requiring the avoidance of wetland impacts to the extent practicable; and (3) identify wetland assessment methods to evaluate the efficacy of wetland regulatory programs. Later phases of the wetland policy will seek to expand wetland protections to reach “other activities” that do not involve dredging or filling a wetland and, ultimately, to reach activities occurring in riparian areas adjacent to wetlands. Proposed Wetland Definition To implement the first phase of its wetland policy, the State Board convened an independent Technical Advisory Team, which determined that the existing wetlands definitions — including the long-established Corps definition used by the State Board for decades — were not broad enough to capture all areas that provide wetland functions, such as certain un-vegetated areas like mudflats and tidal pools. On September 25, 2009, the State Board released for public review the team’s proposed definition which provides: An area is a wetland if, under normal circumstances, it (1) is saturated by ground water or inundated by shallow surface water for a duration sufficient to cause anaerobic conditions within the upper substrate; (2) exhibits hydric substrate conditions indicative of such hydrology; and (3) either lacks vegetation or the vegetation is dominated by hydrophytes. At first glance, this proposed definition appears to rely on the same three factors that the Corps has long used to distinguish wetlands from non-jurisdictional uplands: wetland hydrology, wetland soils and wetland vegetation. However, the proposed state definition differs from the Corps’ definition in a number of important ways: • Wetland Hydrology: Under the proposed definition, the presence of wetland hydrology would be presumed in most California environments whenever an area is wet for seven consecutive days. This contrasts with the Corps’ approach, which requires a showing that an area is, under normal circumstance, saturated for at least 14 consecutive days annually. As a result, application of the proposed state definition could greatly expand the amount of land in California that is deemed to have the requisite wetland hydrology. • Wetland Soils: The proposed state definition would replace the Corps’ requirement that an area have hydric soils with the new requirement that an area exhibit “hydric substrate conditions.” The meaning of this change is uncertain, however, since the term “hydric substrate” is not clearly defined. Read broadly, the definition could be interpreted as removing the requirement that wetlands have hydric soils. • Wetland Vegetation: Under the proposed definition, an area can be considered a wetland when it either has hydrophitic vegetation or lacks vegetation. This contrasts with the Corps’ definition, which requires the presence of wetland vegetation. This change is intended allow the state to classify mudflats and tidal pools as wetlands, but it may also have unintended consequences, by regulating areas such as cropped agricultural fields that provide no wetlands functions. The State Board has not yet set a date for when it will consider formal adoption of a new wetland definition, although it previously indicated its goal to adopt a such a definition in 2009. Potential Significance of Expanded Definition If the Board adopts the proposed definition, it would go far beyond merely filling the gap created by the Supreme Court decisions limiting federal wetland jurisdiction. Indeed, the new definition could cover areas never previously regulated as wetlands under federal or state law. Because the definition departs significantly from the Corps’ longstanding program, it also may require landowners and developers to conduct two separate wetland delineations for the same piece of land—one for the Corps using the traditional definition, and one for the state using an expanded definition. To date, neither the California State Board nor the Team has provided the scientific basis for the Team’s conclusion that its dramatic changes to the Corps’ definition are needed to protect wetlands. Accordingly, it is impossible to determine at this juncture whether these changes, and the increased regulatory burdens they could create, will in fact serve to enhance water quality or the environment.