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In 2007, CZM began a partnership with the Division of Wetlands staff at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and researchers at the University of Massachusetts in 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 have been working to develop coastal-specific models to enhance CAPS performance for salt marshes and other coastal wetland systems.
To support this effort, CZM and MassDEP have developed field methods and collected data on vegetation, macroinvertebrates, variations in microtopography, and water chemistry at 175 salt marsh sites since 2009. These data are being analyzed to verify and calibrate the CAPS model for predicting the ecological integrity of salt marshes. Similar efforts by UMass-Amherst and MassDEP are underway to verify and calibrate the CAPS model for other types of wetland systems, particularly forested wetlands.
CAPS will be used to report on coastal wetland condition as part of MassDEP's regular assessment reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, CAPS and the field methods developed by CZM and MassDEP could be used to evaluate wetland impacts from various types of land use and other stressors, assess the success and trajectory of recovery for restored and mitigated coastal wetlands, and identify and prioritize highly valuable coastal wetlands for acquisition and protection purposes, among other possible uses.