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Developing an Integrated Approach to Assess Gulf of Mexico Coastal Wetlands Condition: Survey Design and Indicators

Janet A. Nestlerode 1, Yvonne Allen 2, Pete Bourgeois 2, Virginia Engle 1, James Harvey 1, Linda Harwell 1, Tom Heitmuller 2, Stephen Jordan 1, John Macauley 1, Lisa M. Smith 1 and Gregory D. Steyer 3

1 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Gulf Ecology Division, Gulf Breeze, Florida
2 U.S. Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center Gulf Breeze Project Office, Gulf Breeze, Florida
3 U.S. Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center Coastal Restoration Field Station, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

EPA has partnered with USGS to develop, test, and validate tools to conduct a regional survey of northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) coastal wetlands condition. This effort builds upon the monitoring strategies of EPA’s National Coastal Assessment and Wadeable Streams Assessment to develop approaches to assess the ecological condition of coastal wetlands and shallow, near-coastal habitats across broad geographic scales. The results from this survey, along with other regional pilots from the mid-Atlantic and West coasts, are intended to contribute to a design and implementation approach for a national wetlands survey scheduled for 2011 by EPA’s Office of Water. The GOM coastal wetlands survey will focus on estuarine and palustrine systems with herbaceous, forested, and shrub/scrub habitats within coastal watersheds delineated by the USGS 8-digit Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) dataset. The target population will consist of wetland areas delineated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service National Wetlands Inventory Status and Trends (NWI S&T) program that fall within this coastal region. Indicators of wetland condition which can be applied to multiple wetland types in the Gulf of Mexico region will be employed. Selected metrics, organized within a 3-tiered conceptual framework, are based upon existing wetland rapid assessment and detailed field evaluation protocols in use in other coastal systems. Quantitative and qualitative models will be developed to evaluate ecological services by linking the extent of wetland condition with the properties of wetlands and the services they provide to society.

Keywords: Coastal Wetlands, Condition Assessment, Biological Indicators, Ecological Services

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