Ecological condition assessment methods measure overall wetland condition with an emphasis on ecological integrity or the ability of an ecosystem to support and maintain the species composition, diversity, and function comparable to similar systems in an undisturbed state. CHNP has developed protocols for assessing and monitoring ecological condition at all three levels within the Level 1-2-3 Framework. In particular, we have used the Ecological Integrity Assessment (EIA) method to assess the condition of Colorado's wetlands through a series of wetland assessment projects. All methods listed here have been developed with funding from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 8 and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In addition to protocols developed by CNHP, several other wetland and riparian protocols are used by various Colorado agencies and partners.
The FQA provides a unique approach to ecological monitoring and assessment that moves beyond simple measures of species richness and abundance and provides an estimate of the quality of native plants at a site. Under the assumption that plants effectively integrate spatial and temporal human impacts to ecological systems, FQA indices provide a cost-effective means of assessing ecological condition. FQA indices also provide consistent, quantitative measures of floristic integrity, can be used in any plant community, do not require extensive sampling equipment (only a competent botanist), and can be applied to existing data sets.
Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity (VIBI). Biotic integrity is defined as the ability of an ecosystem to "support and maintain a balanced adaptive community of organisms having a species composition, diversity, and functional organization comparable to that of natural habitats within a region." An index of biotic integrity (IBI) is a cost-effective and direct way to evaluate the biotic integrity of a wetland by measuring attributes of the biological community known to respond to human disturbance.
CNHP developed vegetation indices of biotic integrity (VIBI) for three selected headwater wetland types within the Southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado:
Colorado’s VIBIs are a valuable tool that can be used by land managers to monitor and evaluate: (1) the performance of wetland restoration, enhancement, and creation projects; (2) the success of preserving ecological integrity via wetland protection projects; and (3) the effectiveness of on-going management practices.
Functional Assessment of Colorado Wetlands (FACWet) was developed by Dr. Brad Johnson with funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation. FACWet is a functionally based condition assessment method that focuses on physical drivers of wetland processes in an effort to highlight the causes of degradation. The FACWet method has been endorsed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and is now required to accompany all Section 404 permits for wetland impacts or mitigation plans.
From a comparison of the EIA and FACWet methods, see Section 5.0 of the report Setting Mitigation in the Watershed Context.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Aquatic Resource Survey (NARS) Program has developed rigorous quantitative assessment methods for wetlands, lake, and rivers and stream. The NARS Program surveys the health of the nation's waters on a rotating five-year cycle, focusing on one resource type at a time. CNHP has been very involved in the National Wetland Condition Assessment, which has taken place twice in 2011 and 2016.
The Bureau of Land Management has developed three methods for assessing the physical functioning of riparian and wetland areas.
- Proper Functioning Condition (PFC) is a qualitative rapid assessment method often carried out by a multi-disciplinary team. The term PFC is used to describe both the assessment process, and a defined, on-the-ground condition of a riparian-wetland area.
- Multiple Indicator Monitoring (MIM) of Stream Channels and Streamside Vegetation is a more quantitative rapid assessment method that monitors both short-term, livestock grazing use indicators as well as long-term indicators of resource condition.
- Assessment Inventory and Monitoring (AIM) National Aquatic Monitoring Framework (NAMF) defines standardized aquatic core indicators, field sampling methodologies, electronic data capture, and the use of statistically valid sample designs for wadeable streams and rivers (i.e., lotic systems). CNHP is assisting the BLM in developing a wetland monitoring protocol that can be used by the AIM program in future years.
The U.S. Forest Service's National Stream & Aquatic Ecology Center has developed a core monitoring protocol for riparian areas on National Forests. The purpose of the National Riparian Protocol (NRPC) is to provide guidance on sampling riparian vegetation and physical characteristics along wadeable stream channels and their associated floodplains and valley bottoms. This NRCP is a basic protocol designed for sampling ecologically important characteristics of riparian areas at the reach scale, including: (1) species composition, (2) vertical structure of vegetation, (3) size-class structure of trees, and (4) physical channel characteristics.
The National Park Service's Rocky Mountain Inventory & Monitoring Network has developed Wetland Ecological Integrity monitoring protocols for use in all National Park units within the network, including Rocky Mountain NP, Great Sand Dunes NP, and Glacier NP. Objective's of the NPS wetland monitoring program include determining long-term status and trend in the spatial extent of wetland by key type within each park and monitoring the status and trend in vegetation assemblages at the park scale using multimetric indices. CNHP has been working with NPS to monitoring wetlands in Great Sand Dunes NP since 2016 to inform the Park's future ungulate management plan.