Wetlands in Colorado are a vital, yet often under-valued resource. While their extent is less than 2% of the land area, wetlands provide a host of essential services, including flood attenuation, groundwater recharge, nutrient cycling, water quality improvement, carbon sequestration, and habitat for a disproportionate share of the state’s biodiversity. Yet due to their limited acreage within the state, there is little state-level protection for wetlands in Colorado and no single state agency coordinates their management.
Starting in 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encouraged states and tribes to formulate strategic plans, called Wetland Program Plans (WPPs), to articulate statewide goals and objectives for wetlands. To guide the structure of WPPs, EPA developed the Core Elements Framework for state and tribal wetland programs, which focuses on four core components of an effective wetland program.
The four core elements of the Core Element Framework are:
In Colorado, there is no official State Wetland Program to carry out the full range of activities defined under EPA’s Core Elements Framework. Instead, multiple agencies and organizations play a role in their protection, regulation and management.
Monitoring and assessment has been led by CNHP and other researchers at Colorado State University, as well as several land management agencies.
Water quality standards are the purview of the Water Quality Divisionwithin the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
In 2010, because no Colorado state agency planned to write a WPP, CNHP developed a WPP to describe our own vision of wetland program development during 2011–2015, and this document is currently the only Colorado WPP accepted by the EPA. The CNHP WPP has proven a useful roadmap to strategic development of major aspects of Colorado’s wetland program. It has been particularly effective at guiding the systematic development of technical tools, key data and educational resources (e.g., wetland mapping, systematic wetland assessments and assessment methods, and wetland plant field guides). However, the current WPP is necessarily limited in breadth because there was no state body to provide agency input.
In 2018, CNHP began facilitating a strategic planning process involving representatives from many agencies and organizations with the goal of developing a new multi-agency WPP. The new WPP will cover all four Core Elements and will articulate shared interests between agencies and opportunities to leverage resources to more efficiently accomplish common goals. The planning process will follow guiding principles laid out in the Association of State Wetland Managers WPP Handbook and examples provided by other states where wetlands work is dispersed between many agencies (e.g., Montana, Washington, Wisconsin ). Out of the planning process, we will establish a long-term Interagency Wetland Program Plan Workgroup. The Workgroup will continue to meet at least annually to facilitate communication and leverage resources to carry out the WPP goals.