The National Wetlands Inventory: Beyond Habitat and Birds


Malka Pattison: Good afternoon. I am Malka Pattison and I'd like to welcome you to the Interior's Office of Policy Analysis seminar. Our topic today is wetlands and we're going to get many perspectives on the Status and Trends report and the benefits of wetlands.

Our panel includes, Bill Wilen, Senior Biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wetlands Inventory; Mitch Bergeson, Project Lead, Fish and Wildlife Service's National Standards and Support Team; David Evans, the Deputy Director at the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Wetlands; Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, the Association of State Wetland Managers; Scott Yaich, the Director of Conservation Operations, Ducks Unlimited.

This is our largest panel and it is, because the topic that's important to so many of us. Please welcome.

Bill Wilen: The Fish and Wildlife's National Wetlands Inventory is part of the Division of Ecological Services. My name is Bill Wilen, I've worked on the National Wetlands Inventory since its inception, first as a contractor and since 1976 as an employee.

The take-away message for my presentation is, "Policy works." During my career, all the Presidents have taken actions related to wetland conservation, from President Carter's Wetland's Executive Order to President Obama's National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. Today, I'm going to talk a little bit about the National Wetlands Inventory and surrogate species.

There's a lot of talk about surrogate species. I want to talk about surrogate resources and use wetlands as an example. To use surrogates, you need to know the extent and location of the population and have the ability to monitor changes overtime. Here's a slide of the Surrogate Resource Wetlands. Population objective known at loss.

During my career, all the presidents, as I said from President Carter through Obama have had some kind of actions related to wetlands conservation. Conservation design objectives for this wetland resource. Simple, increase gains, decrease losses.

Conservation delivery, developing new policy incentives and disincentive or make changes in existing policies. Important existing policies 404, the Clean Water Act that reduces wetland losses, and the Swampbuster provision of the Farm Bill is important disincentive to reduce wetland losses due to agriculture.

The Emergency Wetland Resources Act mandates that the Secretary of Interior working through the Director of Fish and Wildlife Service report to Congress on the Status and Trends of wetlands on a10-year cycle. Produce digital wetland database for the United States archive and disseminate the wetlands data as it's complete. Mitch will tell us more about that later.

Outcome-based monitoring, the National Wetland Inventory digital data tells us how many wetlands of what type exist where. The Status and Trends Report documents changes in wetland acreage over time, not only through the national reports to Congress but through 100 state, regional and local reports that are available through our document search engine.

We hear and read so much about wetlands, their functions, their values and in some cases the impediments to development that we think they must be abundant. Wetlands only occur on 5.8 percent of the surface of the conterminous United States, 95 percent are inland wetlands, five percent are intertidal coastal wetlands. The wetland Status and Trends data are collected using stratified, weighted random sample of four-square-mile plots.

Our first of five reports to Congress covered the period from the mid '50s to the mid '70s. It reported an average annual net loss of 450,000 acres a year, the area half the size of Rhode Island every year for 20 years, 87 percent of losses were due to agriculture.

Changes in policy converted USDA from being the most important source of incentives for wetland drainage to the most important source of incentives for wetland re-establishment. Plus the Swampbuster provision of the Farm Bill was an important disincentive.

In 1985, Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study on the impacts of federal programs on wetlands. Jon Goldstein, a retired employee of the Secretary's Office of Policy Analysis was the lead author on the two-volume report.

Volume one covered Mississippi River floodplain and the Prairie Potholes. Volume two covered 12 additional regions. The regions were identified using Status and Trends information. Fish and Wildlife's field staff helped identify aspects of federal programs or their implementation that led to wetland losses. Generally, the programs aren't the problem, it's the interpretation and the implementation.

Jon would meet or call these individuals responsible for the programs. His contacts with program managers had a positive impact on the programs, long before the reports went to Congress. If you work with Jon Goldstein, you'd understand why.

Since the first report to Congress, we produced four updates. We went from 458,000 acres annual net loss to 296,000 by the mid '70s to mid '80s. It dropped to 58,500 between the mid '80s and the mid '90. Between mid '90s to 2004, we found the average annual net gain of 32,000 acres.

George W. Bush pushed hard to increase wetland gains through reestablishment of former wetlands. He directed the publication of Earth Day wetland reports from 2004 to 2008. These reports focus on the gains in wetland acreage, gains in wetland quality, and their protection. The thought was if we could insure wetland gains would consistently exceed wetland losses, we could reduce the burden of wetland regulation.

In 2004, when we reported a net gain, our colleagues at NOAA told us this wasn't what they were finding on the coastal watersheds. We analyzed the subset of sample plots that fell on the coastal watersheds and discovered an average annual net loss of 60,000 acres of wetlands.

Nationally we had a net gain, but in coastal watersheds, we found a loss of 60,000 acres. David Evans and his staff at EPA started the Interagency Coastal Wetlands Working Group to investigate what was going on.

President Obama's National Ocean Policy implementation plan was released in June of 2013. It quoted from our interagency report concerning wetland losses on coastal watersheds and directed us to update the report. We spun off a second report for the coastal watersheds from our 2004 to 2009 National Report to Congress.

At the national level, we found 655,000 acres of wetland gains and 633,000 acres of wetland losses. The net change was not statistically significant. The net gains came from ponds, shrubs, and emerging wetlands. The net losses came from forested wetlands.

When we took a second look at the losses of wetlands on coastal watersheds, we found that it had increased to 80,000 acres. Nationally, we made a remarkable progress to reduce wetland losses, but now we're at a tipping point or at least a plateau.

Later this year, the Interagency Coastal Wetlands Working Group will report our recommendations on how to reduce losses and increase gains on wetlands on coastal watershed to the National Ocean Council, cabinet-level committee. The information on Status and Trends of wetlands have been used to support wetland policy changes from soon after the first report was released to the present.

Many people see the Wetland Status and Trends Report to Congress as the ruler by which we monitor success of the biological extent of the nation's wetlands. The next report to Congress on Status and Trends is due in 2020. Projects like the National Wetlands Inventory depend on working with many different cooperators and contractors. This necessitates holding a significant portion of our appropriated funds in cash.

This agency needs funds to start new initiatives to fund new priorities or to avoid the need to reduce existing staff. The funds needed for contractors, to pay contractors, and work with cooperators are redirected. This is a real problem for NWI and other projects that depend on cooperators and contractors.

Lastly, I'll take this opportunity to say to this group good public policy often requires going beyond the letter of the law. Thank you. Mitch.

Mitch Bergeson: Thank you, Bill. I'm Mitch Bergeson with the National Standards and Support Team, part of Ecological Services, Fish and Wildlife service. Our two primary projects are the National Wetlands Inventory database, the management and administration of that database and the conducting of the national Status and Trends studies.

What I'm going to talk today about today is a little more on the technical side of things. It's not going to be the policy side, but it's data access and distribution to both the National Wetlands Inventory's database and the Status and Trends information. First off, a little history.

Bill mentioned the Emergency Wetlands Resource Act of 1986 tasked the Secretary of Interior to map the wetlands in the United States and to provide tenure reports on status and change of the wetlands. That responsibility has become the official Wildlife Service's responsibility and the mapping portion is the National Wetlands Inventory, the monitoring portion is the Wetlands Status and Trends Reports.

The National Wetlands Inventory was recently identified or tagged as a National Geospatial Data Asset. That's because it supports mission goals of multiple federal agencies, statutorily mandated, and it supports presidential priorities as expressed by OMB, specifically OMB circular A-16, which identifies the wetlands layer as a national spatial data infrastructure.

National Wetlands Inventory dataset is over 20 million polygons. It's arguably one of the largest, if not the largest, polygonal data set in the public sector. It represents over 40 years and $220 million of investment and that's come from over 165 contributors, federal, state, local agencies, NGO's, tribal organizations, universities that have contributed either funds and/or data to this effort.

It gets a lot of use. Nearly a million website views annually and specifically the wetlands map are our primary interface to the information. It has over 335,000 unique users every year in this application. It was also the first DOI application hosted in the cloud. Now, to go over the Wetlands Mapper. This is going to be a little elementary for some of you, but it might be right on par for others.

We designed this to be as easy and simple to use as possible to make sure that folks from all walks of life and different technical abilities have access to this data. It's a simple viewer, you're looking at the 20 million polygons color coded in blues and greens, overlaid with base imagery as the base. On the table of contents, on the right hand side, you can add, draw, and turn off other layers.

In this example, I've shut off the base imagery and turned on the base map information. I've also turned on those red areas are the riparian mapping areas in the west. The blue outlined areas are where we've mapped historical wetlands. The dots are the Fish And Wildlife Service refuges.

We also provide three metadata layers. The fact that this dataset has been collected over 40 years, there's a lot of variation in the quality and the type of imagery that was used. In this case, it's imagery date. This gives the user more information about the usability and applicability of the data for their specific use, to give them some information about what was used to collect the data.

Navigation, fairly simple, pan, click and drag around the map. You can use the slider bar on the left hand side to zoom in and out. You can use your scroll bar on your mouse or your scroll wheel on your mouse to zoom in and out. More specifically, in the upper right hand corner, there's a find location option. That allows you to enter longitude, latitude coordinates, addresses, or geographic names.

In this case, I entered the Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi. It zooms to that area and you can see the wetlands a little more highly defined and color coded by basic wetland type. The legend on the right hand side, gives you an interpretation of what those wetland types are. You can click on a wetland, a pop-up window shows the user more information about the wetlands.

The general wetland type, the acres, some information about the imagery, scale, the emulsion, the year of the photography that was used to delineate the wetland. There's also some links to project-specific metadata documentation that has an overview of the wetland types in the area, the vegetation, soils, geophysical attribution to the region.

There's also, on the top there's a classification called the "Wetland code," which is a coded classification, it's a map code that's unique to those that are familiar with wetlands mapping and the National Wetlands Inventory and may not be as familiar to the general user, but there is a decode link right next to that code.

When you click that, it brings you to this decoder that allows the user, general user, provides them a description of that wetland. In this case, the PF01C that they clicked on is a Palustrine forest, broad-leaved, deciduous forest that's seasonally flooded. That's the general inner face for interactive use. Many users want to have a hard copy map to bring into the field or to add to a report.

There's many reports, whether it's a development HUD or EPA reports, Wetland Army Corps delineation reports. In the upper right hand corner you can print a map that allows you to scale, pan around the image, add a custom title and remarks to your image. When you hit submit, you can download the PDF that has our standard banner, our legend on the right hand side, our disclaimer, but also the custom title and user remarks.

This has been used quite often. Just this past month alone, there's been nearly 14,000 maps printed. For the more advanced user that actually wants to access the GIS data, in the tools menu in the upper right hand corner, you can download either by watershed or by state.

In the case of watershed, you click on location, it selects that watershed, pans you out to the extent of that watershed to make sure that, so you can verify that's the one that you're interested in. It provides the name of the watershed and the eight-digit HUC. You click download and it brings a zipped file containing the layers in the upper portion of this interface here.

The wetlands polygons, riparian historic information metadata if it's available. If you selected download by state in the bottom, there is a list of states and you can either download the geo database or the shade file for those states. This again, is widely used. In 2014, there was nearly 21,000 state downloads.

The watershed downloads we just implemented recently this past month, there was nearly 1,000 watershed downloads interactively from the mapper. Now, to the more advanced users how do they access this data? We provide these map services and this dynamically and automatically brings the wetlands mapping, the wetlands polygons directly from the cloud to the users' application or desktop.

Basic users that are familiar with Google Earth can download the KML file, which allows the user to open it in Google Earth or any other spherical based viewer, whether it's Art Globe or Google Earth. The upper right hand corner is a screen shot of Google Earth.

It provides the basic functionality of Google Earth that many folks are familiar with, but one of the additional layers is the wetlands data. The wetlands mapping service and the REST service are two other map services, two different formats of services that again, allow the wetlands data to automatically be streamed directly from the cloud, from a published URL.

Some examples of these are the Fish and Wildlife Service IPaC system, Army Corps Arm System, EPA NEPAssist, USGS National Maps. We're working with the USGS US Topo on some of their map production. The data is also available on,, as it is on GS online, but also to any desktop user.

You can dynamically stream it into your desktop GIS application. The bottom right hand example is our desktop with wetlands drawing dynamically from the cloud.

Lastly, the Status and Trends information. We provide that in report formats, you can download the PDFs from our Status and Trends page. We also have a document search engine which allows you to use keywords to search for over 275 wetland specific documents that were published by the Fish and Wild Life Service entities and also the web services or the web pages. Now on to Dave Evans.

David Evans: Hello, I'm very glad to be here and I am imagining 93 and counting online. It's great to be here. I have had the pleasure working with Bill Wilen since I came to the office, first as Wetlands director, a position I held for about 8 or 9 years, I guess, going back to 2005. It's been a fabulous partnership with Fish and Wildlife Service.

My predecessor, John Markham, who Bill also would know very well, told me as I was preparing to take the job on. He said, "Well, one thing you will find out is that there are a lot of players in wetlands policy and wetlands management." He said that's at the federal government level, wide range of agencies. States are very actively involved, the environmental community, the NGO community, all very involved.

But people tend to look to EPA for leadership and it's because the scope of our authorities and the key role that we play with the Corps of Engineers and the 404 regulatory program, as well as the funding we have to support the development of state programs, puts us in that central role.

But what I can say for starters is that without the National Wetlands Inventory, without the status and tends analysis over the years, we absolutely would have been flying blind. This information is central to the ability to manage wetlands nationally, regionally at state level, and local.

For starters, we have a strategic plan goal at the heart of EPA's mission about protecting wetlands. Working with our partners, our goal is to achieve a net increase of wetlands nationwide. We blipped up over the net loss to a small net gain, but the most recent Status and Trends again, showed a loss. This continues to be a challenge to reverse the historic losses and get to an increase.

But as Bill was talking about the area of the country, of our efforts where we're falling most short of no net losses, is in the coastal regions, and so we put some additional emphasis, we say, with a special focus on coastal wetlands.

We also indicate that it's not just the acreage that we want to see at a net positive instead of a net decrease, but the functions in the values of those. Assessing biological and functional condition of wetlands is really key.

One of the most significant efforts that we've added to the knowledge of wetlands nationally is to complement the National Wetlands Inventory, which maps the type and the location of wetlands, to assess for the first time the conditions of wetlands. EPA, my Office of Wetlands Oceans and Watershed has had lead for a series of what we called National Aquatic Resource Survey.

First, through our Office of Research and Development, we assessed coastal condition, the shape of coastal waters. We then looked at first wadeable streams. We also have accessed lakes nationally and large rivers. We saved the best for last, wetlands, because the type of wetlands are so varied that it presented a level of difficulty that none of the other surveys did.

We have been about eight or nine years, trying to go from start to finish with the first National Wetland Condition Assessment and it's nearly ready to enter peer review and we hope we'll have a published report by about the end of the calendar year. I suspect it'll drift into 2016. We're aiming for the end of the calendar year.

We could never have taken that on absent the National Wetlands Inventory and absent the Status and Trends plot that have supported the analysis over the years. Using that as the foundation, we have sampled 1,000 sites nationally and what we look at is the hydrology of those sites, the soil, the plant community and more I think.

There's more, I'm forgetting it. But at the heart of it, the vegetation, the soil and the hydrology. More generally, the buffer area, what is the surrounding area. We're going to have wonderful complement to the Status and Trends.

We'll be able to say for the first time, not only this is how many wetlands there are and the conterminous US, but this is the condition. So many are in fair condition, so many are in good conditions, so many are in degraded conditions.

Our intent is to continue that analysis every five years. We'll establish a baseline of wetland condition within this next year, and then every five years thereafter, we'll be able to make comparisons how are we doing. Are things getting better, we hope and if they are getting worst, where are they getting worst, so that we can then take some action on that.

Anyway, this study, we would not have been able to undertake it absent the Wetlands Inventory.

To be more specific, the Status and Trends plot were our foundation for the first study. The Status and Trends plots, for various reasons that would take too much time to get into, don't have extensive coverage of West Coast, so one thing that we're looking to do, is to use the updated NWI map data to complement Status and Trends for our next field campaign in 2016.

Bill talked a little bit about the very significant losses of coastal wetlands. I want to say a little bit more and get some of the key numbers up on the screen, so that they'll stick in your head. What we saw for that time period, 1998-2004, the first time that the national stats showed that there was a small net gain of what was captured as wetlands.

When you honed in the coastal watershed, so not just estuarine wetlands, but Wetlands within the watersheds, the roughly eight digit HUC watersheds that drained to the coast, we were seeing nearly 60,000 hectares per year, being lost. As Bill mentioned, when that was recently updated, there's even more reason for concern because it now would round to 80,000 acres a year.

In the face of nearly 40 years of Clean Water Act regulatory programs of the conservation programs that USDA has, of all the efforts by states, why are we seeing this level of loss? That really was what we wanted to try and get at by forming an interagency workgroup.

You can see the participants, but right at the start, Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and EPA. Then we have been able to work to bring to the table, US Geological Survey, Army Corps of Engineers, very importantly for the 404 program, USDA for their conservation programs, and Federal Highways.

What we first did, and this is going back a few years, so probably in 2009 and '10, we did a series of stakeholder-based forums where we assembled in advance of those forums all the available information that we could have. We started with all the Status and Trends analysis.

We also worked with NOAA to use their C-CAP and I think it stands for Coastal Assessment Program. That's aerial photo based analysis, imagery analysis to identify changes in wetlands over time. Looking at all of that, we then tried to get all the federal players in a given area, all the state players, as well as the environmental and NGO community to come together and share perspectives and what seems to be going on.

That was a really valuable starting point and we developed a series of reports that are available on our website. If you just Google for coastal wetland reviews, I think it'll take you right to that site. It provided a lot of useful information, interesting information. But in many cases I think it stopped a little short of being actionable. It didn't tell us what we need to do differently to get a better result. It just told us broadly what the other areas of concern were.

Attached to the National Ocean Policy, we've been doing in-depth analysis in four watersheds. Those reports will be completed by the end of this year. Unlike the first reports, they will contain recommendations about what needs to be done differently, to try and approach that no net loss coastal watersheds.

We're looking forward to these reports and they, again, should be ready at about the end of the calendar year. Boy, I'm pushing the wrong buttons here. Let me get back to the slide I want to be at.

We also encourage Fish and Wildlife Service to take closer look at Prairie Potholes. I don't think they needed too much encouragement. But they very much appreciated that EPA stated its level of interest in this.

This is maybe a chance for me to say that while the Clean Water Act, Section 404 is foundational in terms of its protection for wetlands. 404 and the regulatory programs aren't going to cover all the wetlands that we might value and want to protect.

Since a 2001 Supreme Court decision referred to as SWANCC, South West Cook County, an Illinois case, it's been very difficult to assert jurisdiction over a lot of wetlands. People refer to them as geographically isolated wetlands but in many cases, that's a bit of a misnomer.

Broadly, many Prairie Potholes are gaged to be geographically isolated. They don't directly connect to the surface stream network. Very few of them have had Clean Water Act protection since 2001.

They were under great threat and many were filled far before then, but I think there's no doubt that the construction of the Clean Water Act protection has placed them more at jeopardy. This report documented that there are substantial loses occurring in Prairie Pothole wetlands.

The region has about six and a half million hectares of Wetlands, about six percent of all the Wetlands in the lower 48 states and 74,000 acres of Wetlands were lost during that 12-year time period. More than 6,000 acres a year.

Just like the coastal watersheds, this special analysis of the Status and Trends report of the Prairie Potholes would help inform public policy. It's just another example of how important that foundational data is for our ability to manage national wetlands. Now, I'll turn over to Jeanne Christie.

Jeanne Christie: Thank you Dave. I can't even remember the first time I met Bill Wilen, and started getting involved in wetlands. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the late 80's at some point in time. In thinking about the intersection of public policy and science and things like maps, when we're trying to address an issue or a problem, there's three questions that you have to be able to answer.

The first is what's at risk. The second is why is it important, and the third is what will it take to fix it. We wouldn't be able to have that conversation about wetlands without the National Wetlands Inventory and the US Fish and Wildlife Service Status and Trends.

This has been a remarkable resource for helping us understand what the challenges were with respect to wetlands in the United States, articulating why they were important, and coming up with a strategy. Absent, these two very important resources, I'm not sure what we would have for wetland policy. It would certainly, at a minimum, be much different.

We, on behalf of the Association of State Wetland Managers in states, care a lot about the status of the wetland map resource, the National Wetlands Inventory and a number the states that have partnered to help with doing these maps or updating these maps. In fact, in our website, we have a database that summarizes what's happening with respect to mapping state by state.

At, you can go and when you look at each state, and we've identified the various uses that the National Wetlands Inventory Maps are put to in that state. Each one of these summaries includes a status of the map, whether it's scanned or digital, the imagery age, and then some examples of how it is used.You can see the key in the legend there that identifies not all of the uses by any means, but at least some of them that we've identified.

When we look more broadly at the various ways that the National Wetlands Inventory is used we find out that is used by a very large number of parties. Remarkable to think at the time that they started mapping, there was no such thing as Geographic Information Systems.

If we're going to do any kind of analysis, you'd have to get out your Mylar data sheets. They're using stereoscopes and all kinds of what would consider very antiquated methods of mapping at this point in time. Yet, as our understanding and use of maps has converted into the GIS environment, the National Wetlands Inventory has been part and parcel of that evolution.

Just some examples of how states use the National Wetlands Inventory. In many areas, they are trying to identify where wetland restoration should take place. They are used in modeling efforts like SLAM and SLOSH and others to identify both the potential for sea level rise and where it would occur, and to what extent it's used in resource management plans by various local communities as part of the section 404 permitting program.

There's 18 states that have their own Dredge and Fill Permitting programs, as well as 50 states that can condition federal permits. The National Wetlands Inventory is often an important resource in reviewing permit applications to dredge and fill and alter wetlands.

You can look at a state like New York. In New York City, which has saved literally billions of dollars by protecting its watershed from degradation, they are keeping wetlands intact. It's been a large part of those cost-savings.

Wildlife planning, transportation planning, it can add hugely to the cost of a transportation project if the planners failed to identify all of the wetlands that are going to be in a future corridor ahead of time. It literally can kill the project if they learn late in the process that they've got 20 or 30 or 40 or 100, or 200 wetlands to somehow mitigate for.

A lot of this is pretty straightforward for those of you involved in public policy. Wild and Scenic designation was...wetlands were pretty critical recently in the state of Washington. Climate change impact evaluations, you can read though the list. We could go on and on. There are multiple examples from state to state.

Dave spent a little bit of time talking about the reviews that were done, the analyses that were done in the coastal areas, and then in the Prairie Potholes. These are of concern because there is not a federal program that protects these, and in many places there's not a state program that is protecting these wetlands that are being lost right now.

In recent years, one of the primary reasons that wetland losses declined overall has been because of programs such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the USDA Wetlands Reserve Program, which have resulted in the restoration of hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands.

We are just completing an interview of all 50 states about the status of their wetland programs, their regulatory programs, their voluntary programs, their monitoring assessment, as well as their work towards developing water quality standards for wetlands.

We're finding the opposite of what we would hope for, which is that states wetland state programs are growing and expanding. In fact they are struggling. That's in part due to the Supreme Court cases that have weakened the ability of the Clean Water Act to protect many of these wetland resources.

We used the states as the first line of defense during the time when there's been recessions and other budgetary challenges, and so it's been very difficult for the states to try to step in. There's been a few states that have, but not very many.

One of the problems for folks using the National Wetlands Inventory is that most of the imagery is from the 1970s and the 1980s. All of the pink on this map is 1980s imagery, and the yellow is 1970s. It's a little bit ironic that some of the areas most critical for Waterfowl Management habitat, because they were so important, they were mapped first, so they're 1970s imagery, and they are, sadly, out-of-date at this point in time.

In some areas, probably things haven't changed a lot. Having maps that are 30 years old or 40 years old are not problem. In areas where there is change going on, the age of the imagery is a serious issue. Wetlands are disappearing on the landscape or being restored on the landscape. The National Wetlands Inventory is not able to keep up and provide new updated maps.

Many states are trying to step in. We're very thankful to some of the grant money that they've been able to secure overtime from the Environmental Protection Agency to help with the mapping efforts. As time goes on, without a commitment to update these maps nationally, that lack of current information will impact all of those decision making processes that I just went through, transportation planning, sea level rise. You can go through the whole list.

It would be like trying to plan your community's growth using a 1980s map before the roads were, it's going to be challenging. It's OK if you live in a neighborhood in Maine like many of my friends do, where nothing has changed since about 1950. If you're in the Washington DC area, or other equivalent areas where there's been a lot of change, it would be a real problem.

One thing that's truly remarkable about the last 30 years or so of wetland policy in the United States is that US has managed to reverse and stop the loss of wetlands at the time that that's not what's true in the rest of the world. This is a report. The first bullet says "Worldwide freshwater wetlands and floodplains shrank by nearly two thirds between 1997 and 2011. 165 million hectares, 408 million acres of wetlands valued at 2.7 trillion."

This is a report from Bob Costanza, who I think many folks know, pioneered much of the work identifying and mapping ecosystem services. Roughly that same time period, we saw populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish drop by 52 percent. This is World Wildlife Fund report that came out recently.

The rest of the world has seen some pretty serious losses. We've seen, at least to some degree, a reversal of some of these issues that were previously plaguing us in the United States. That is why having a mapping resource like the National Wetlands Inventory is so important.

Those 20 million polygons and hopefully growing allow us to evaluate, and map, and plan for our wetland resources and all the aquatic resources, and plants, and animals and wildlife, and people that are dependent on them.

The Status and Trends Report is our grade on how well we're doing. We look to the Fish and Wildlife Service and to the Department of Interior to provide that essential leadership as we move ahead. With that, I'm turning it over to Scott Yaich.

Scott Yaich: Thank you Jeanne. I'm happy to be here. My name is Scott Yaic. I'm the chief scientist with Ducks Unlimited. For those of you who aren't familiar with our organization, we're a habitat conservation organization. Some people think we're a clothing manufacturer or just a duck counting organization, but we focus our resources on habitat conservation, wetlands and associated habitats across the continent.

Starting out, I'll just mention briefly the Status and Trends Report. We use those to guide our policy efforts like the other organizations in the ways that have been mentioned up to date. The most recent Status and Trends Report documented 140 percent increase in the rate of loss relative to the reporting period before that.

That's very important information, given the time timing and association with the Supreme Court cases and helped, as I said, guide our policy effort with regard to trying to restore protection to habitats that lost as a result of the Supreme Court cases.

Status and Trends reports are really important measures of how we're doing across the US. We all need that for the reasons that have been articulated. I was asked to talk primarily about how Ducks Unlimited uses the National Wetlands Inventory information to guide our conservation programs, to deliver on our mission.

I'm from Ducts Unlimited, most everything I will touch on here in my whirlwind tour around the US and the ways that these kind of data is used, most everything is delivered in broad partnerships. We rarely do anything alone. State partners, federal partners, Fish and Wildlife Services is probably one of our more important federal partners. We work entirely through those partnerships.

Most of what I'll talk about will be to give examples of how we use National Wetlands Inventory to build models that help us all, through these partnerships, be as effective and efficient as we can in delivering and using public dollars matched with private dollars. These tools are broadly useful. You'll hear me and see me reference Ducks a lot.

Bt I'm sure you can all appreciate how the models and illustrations I'll use to go through this quickly can be tweaked slightly. It can be used as a surrogate to some extent for the broad ecological resources and services that wetlands provide well beyond waterfowl and other birds.

I'll start in the Prairie Pothole Region that's already been mentioned. This is the most important landscape for breeding waterfowl on the continent. One of the first things we did, when we developed our US program in 1984, was to put together, again with partners, US Fish and Wildlife Services in particular, what we call the Thunderstorm map.

This illustrates a model, the results of a model that shows the settling patterns for waterfowls that return in the spring in these areas. From the typical pattern, you'll see this over and over in my models, where the red is the hotspots with the highest density of waterfowl breeding and the light blue are the lower densities.

This begins to help us target where we should focus our efforts. The Prairie Pothole Region is a vast landscape. To avoid random acts of conservation, we need tools like this to help us focus. This was the first step in doing that. From there, we can develop models that help us focus on what we ought to be doing, where. Again, with the idea of being as efficient and as effective as we can with limited resources.

In this example for instance, the red are the hotspots where for fewer dollars, we can protect existing habitat. The blue and the green are areas where we can step down to the next lower priority, but at much greater cost. This is, again, the kind of a model that we use based on the National Wetlands Inventory and another information to help us direct our efforts in ways that we could be most effective.

Those two previous slides illustrated all waterfowl. This is the same region, the Prairie Pothole region, but this is focused on pintails. You can do the same things on a species-specific bases. You can do it with other ecological services as well.

Northern pintail is a species of waterfowl that has a population that dropped pretty dramatically in recent decades. Folks who live in that part of the world want to focus some efforts on species like this to avoid the pintail, for example, becoming the next sage-grouse. Most of you probably experienced with what happened in sage-grouse in recent years. We want to avoid that with species like pintails.

At a finer level, and I know this is impossible to tell what this is, but this is a smaller image of what I showed before. This is a portion of the Prairie Pothole Region with the green denoting native prairie, the blue denoting the wetlands that are out there, and then the beige color being primarily agricultural land.

If you've got, say, a million dollars to put into conservation, even looking at this small piece of the Prairie Pothole landscape, the question is where do you put it? How do you get the best use out of that?

We've built models, again, using data like the National Wetlands Inventory that shows us where we're most likely to lose habitat first. That would be the red in this case. If you've got a million dollars, you want to focus your efforts on those red areas first in terms of that's where the losses is most likely to occur.

We're using this kind of model in conjunction with our partners like the US Department of Agriculture, for instance, who's putting many millions of acres of habitat in the ground in that part of the world. Fish and Wildlife Services is delivering an increase level of duck stamps revenue there.

This thing, again, helps us target those efforts and avoid the Random Acts of Conservation. This is one more slide that shows how we can home in on habitat quality, and assessment of habitat quality with these models, again based on National Wetlands Inventory.

All three of these images have about the same member of pairs settling in them in the spring, based on the models. But you can see the image on the lower left is only going to produce successfully four broods that year, where the one on the lower right will produce 88. The one in the lower right is where you're going to get the biggest bang for the buck investing those resources there.

Without the inventory information, we couldn't build models like this. We do the same thing in the other parts of the country. This is the Great Lakes Region showing the distribution of mallard breeding populations, looking more broadly at all waterfowl. We've got the same sort of Thunderstorm maps for breeding waterfowl in the Great Lakes region and wintering waterfowl in the Great Lakes region.

That dark blue area, I should point out, is the boundary of the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Joint Venture, which is led by the Fish and Wildlife Services and includes many other partners, state, private, and other federal organizations working together to focus their resources on wetland conservation and waterfowl habitat conservation in those areas.

Looking well beyond birds and habitat, I'll go up to the Pacific Northwest and plan for sea level rise. We're looking at this, like many other organizations and agencies are. If we can keep a landscape looking like this, we have a chance to adapt down the road better than if the landscape begins to look like this.

We've got development along shorelines, the obviously becomes more difficult, infinitely more expensive when that change in the landscape is allowed. What we're trying to do in areas like this is take out our cultural easements with private landowners to keep those lands in agricultural use, to avoid this, so that down the road we might be able to exercise some adaptation.

We've developed models that look at the wetland habitat types along the coast in all the bays and estuaries in that region. We're looking at an area like Tillamook Bay, for instance. Current conditions reflect these habitat types, wetland habitat types that you see.

In 100 years or in 2,100, it will look like this. You see some changes in types, particularly open water, but not much expansion of the wetland habitat there as a result of sea level rise because of the topography in that part of the world.

If you look at Skagit Bay, for instance, using the same models based on the SLAM models that were mentioned. Again, those incorporate National Inventory Data. This is the current condition of wetland types in the Skagit Bay. If we can keep the intense development from occurring, at 2,100, we can actually have net gain of wetland habitat.

This is a good example of where this kind of information built on the inventory information can allow us to plan for the future in a pretty effective way.

Looking close to where we're sitting close today, the Chesapeake Bay. About a dozen years ago, we worked with a number of other organizations, the Wildlife Service, USGS to develop some models to look at where we ought to be focusing efforts to get the best effectiveness outcome for wetland conservation, streamside, riparian conservation, and to deal with the water quality issue.

Looking across those three categories, riparian, wetland, water quality, we developed a spatial model that shows where ought to and can best focus our resources to derive benefits for riparian habitats, wetland habitats, and issues that deal with water quality.

They can be put together, and they were to produce some model like this that showed across the spectrum these are the best places, again, the hit kind of map to invest our resources for the greatest, broadest possible outcomes. I keep repeating, but I think my mission today is to help underscore that none of this would be possible with the National Wetlands Inventory data to base it.

Finally, moving to the Gulf Coast real quickly, recently we've worked with the USGS, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Gulf Coast Joint Venture led by the Fish and Wildlife Service and a couple of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives that I'm sure you're all familiar with to delineate the marsh types, the wetland types along the Texas Coast. That's been expanded to look at the whole West Gulf Coast.

With this model, with this data in hand, we can do a lot of things. One of which, down there, is to focus conservation efforts on mottled ducks. You can see the population trend there. This is a species with restricted range on the coastal marshes. You can see we're in a long-term steady downward trend. Again, Texas having been through the recent prairie chicken wars are not anxious to enter into a mottled duck war as well.

We can take the information I showed, develop models like this which shows the lower Chenier Plain of Southeast Texas, Southwest Louisiana, where the best habitat exists now for mottled ducks, where we can invest resources to get the possible outcome to benefit the mottled ducks.

Finally, we've taken the same approach and we're working, again, with very broad partnerships here to look at what sea level rise is going to mean for coastal marsh and habitats in that part of the world. Again, none of this would be possible without National Wetlands Inventory data.

These are all broad partnerships. They're all focused on trying to derive the most effective, most efficient outcomes and use the public dollars and private dollars as best as we can to do that. Thank you.

Malka: While the panel assembles, you may start thinking of your questions. We're going to alternate from the questions from the Internet, questions from the room.

Malka: Are there questions from the Internet? My goodness! I guess you've made your point that the inventory is necessary. Are there any questions from the room? Oh, great.

Hilary Smith: Hi, I'm Hilary Smith. I'm the Invasive Species Coordinator here at the Interior. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about how invasive species may or may not be included in the inventory, any of the assessment data or establishing baseline condition.

Bill: We don't go down to the species level with the National Wetlands Inventory, except Phragmites is one invasive species that is easily mapped and been mapped by the National Wetlands Inventory.

Jeanne: In addition to what's done with the National Wetlands Inventory that I know, for example, in Wisconsin, they added to that by mapping reed canary grass. Basically, you can map your wetlands in Wisconsin, as I understand, if you just map the reed canary grass. It's so persistent.

In a number of areas, additional layers of GIS data or information are used to look at what some of the patterns are. I don't have an example off the top of my head, but it is an area of intense concern, as you know, in terms of wetlands resource management. I am guessing that there will be any number of studies in various areas around the country looking more closely at data and to what degree you can use different kinds or remote sensing information to infer what your vegetation is on the ground.

Dave: For folks on the phone, Dave Evans with EPA. I do want to say a little bit about our National Wetland Condition Assessment. Assessing the vegetation was a key part of that. It was based on taking a look at the whole plot and then breaking it down and taking intensive 10-meter by 10-meter areas and literary inventorying every plant that was in there.

When we published the results of that study, probably in about another year, hopefully a little less, there will be some really valuable information on plant communities, and how often you still have pretty intact native communities versus where you have a lot of invasives and what type of invasives.

Malka: Any questions from the audience here? My goodness have you done a job. Well, this concludes our panel discussion. I thank you all. If you take a minute to let the panel know our appreciation.

Malka: Good bye.

Transcription by CastingWords

Wetlands provide a multitude of ecological, economic, and social benefits beyond habitat for fish and wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has produced five reports to Congress on the Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States from the 1950s to 2009. With help from over 165 contributing organizations, the USFWS has built a wetland database covering the Conterminous U.S., Hawaiian Islands, Pacific Territories, Puerto Rico and 35% of Alaska.Please join Interior's Office of Policy Analysis for a panel discussion on how the National Wetland Inventory and related reports support programs and policies that are key to multiple Federal missions, as well as wetland conservation activities of many states and nongovernmental organizations.

Bill Wilen, Senior Biologist, USFWS National Wetlands Inventory

Mitch Bergeson, Project Lead, USFWS National Standards and Support Team

David Evans, Deputy Director, EPA - Office of Wetlands Oceans and Watersheds

Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, Association of State Wetland Managers

Scott Yaich, Director of Conservation Operations, Ducks Unlimited