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CZM Wetland Assessment Projects Completed from 1995-2016

Find details and links to reports about these former Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) wetland assessment efforts.

Since 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has encouraged states to develop monitoring and assessment methods for wetlands and to begin reporting on wetland condition, similar to efforts required for statewide water quality conditions. CZM has actively worked to advance wetland assessment methods and approaches for coastal systems and to assist the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) with the development and implementation of a statewide wetlands monitoring and assessment program. CZM projects completed from 1995-2016 are described below. (See Coastal Wetland Monitoring and Assessment for current CZM efforts in this area, along with Overview and Index - CZM Coastal Habitat Program for links to all CZM coastal habitat work.

Table of Contents

Wetland Assessment Project and Cape Cod Salt Marsh Assessment Project

From 1995-2004, CZM and partners completed the following projects as part of this effort to develop, test, and refine a transferable approach for wetlands evaluation to determine impacts of adjacent land uses and nonpoint source (NPS) pollution on the ecological integrity of wetlands. 

In 2013, CZM revisited seven salt marshes originally sampled during these efforts. The goal was to re-sample these sites as closely as possible to the original sampling method and location, collecting vegetation and macroinvertebrate data. Five salt marsh locations originally sampled before tidal flow restoration from 1999-2003 were re-sampled as part of this 2013 study. In addition, two reference salt marsh sites located in relatively undisturbed watersheds of Cape Cod were re-sampled for comparison. The draft report of findings is available on request.

Rapid Assessment Method for Evaluating Coastal Wetland Health

From 2004-2006, CZM worked with the EPA Atlantic Ecology Division (AED) to develop a New England Rapid Assessment Method (NERAM) for coastal wetlands. NERAM was developed to support evaluation of coastal wetland restoration and mitigation projects being undertaken, as well as to support the state need to report on the overall health of its coastal wetlands. As part of an intensive pilot project, CZM applied an operational draft of NERAM to four Massachusetts coastal watersheds. The approach uses a suite of biological, physical, and social indicators of estuarine marsh integrity to measure wetlands condition, disturbance, and characterization metrics. The methodology was designed for all necessary information to be collected in about two to four hours, including desktop analysis and a site visit. The protocol was piloted in Rhode Island by EPA-AED. Drafts of the NERAM are available on request.

Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System for Wetlands

In 2007, CZM began a partnership with the MassDEP Wetlands Program and researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass-Amherst) to develop a comprehensive state monitoring and assessment program for wetlands. The centerpiece of this effort is a computer model developed at UMass-Amherst, called the Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS), that uses an ecosystem-based approach for assessing ecological integrity. CZM, MassDEP, and UMass-Amherst worked to develop coastal-specific models to enhance CAPS performance for salt marshes and other coastal wetland systems.

The CAPS team also sought to develop Indices of Biotic Integrity (IBIs), created with field-collected data of flora and fauna, to support the assessment approach. CZM and MassDEP developed field methods and collected data on vascular plants, macroinvertebrates, and habitat complexity at over 200 randomly selected salt marsh sites between 2009-2016. Although the data collection effort was robust, the creation of IBIs in salt marshes was not as straightforward as other habitats examined by the project (freshwater wadable streams and forested wetlands). Salt marshes, existing in the narrow band between land and sea, are complex with relatively few species able to tolerate the changing conditions; these factors in addition to sample sizes required to overcome variability within marsh systems impacted the development of the salt marsh IBIs.  

Details on the IBI effort can be found in the 2013 publication, Empirically Derived Indices of Biotic Integrity for Forested Wetlands, Coastal Salt Marshes and Wadable Freshwater Streams in Massachusetts (PDF, 1.14 MB). 

The salt marsh data collected from the project can help to improve understanding of coastal wetlands in Massachusetts beyond the creation of an IBI. CZM is exploring additional uses of this valuable multi-year dataset. In addition, CZM, MassDEP, and UMass-Amherst have worked closely to identify physical aspects of the marsh that may serve as indicators for condition assessment.

Potential Marsh Dieback Sites in Coastal Massachusetts

During the summer of 2006, staff from the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program (MassBays) and CZM surveyed 25 sites in coastal Massachusetts where previous anecdotal reports had indicated the occurrence of marsh dieback. The results of the survey and recommendations for future efforts for continued investigations and observations can be found in the 2007 publication, Survey of Potential Marsh Dieback Sites in Coastal Massachusetts (PDF, 1 MB).