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Ralph Tiner, Regional Wetland Coordinator
Regional Office, National Wetlands Inventory Program
Ralph Tiner is a wetland ecologist with more than 40 years of experience mapping wetlands.
Since 1977, Tiner has directed wetland mapping in the Northeast U.S. as part of the Service's National Wetlands Inventory (NWI). Before that, he worked on Connecticut's original tidal wetland inventory while a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. This survey was done on-the-ground, walking around the state's 15,000 acres of wetlands through all seasons (yes, even in winter), marking the boundaries and recording their location on large-scale aerial photographs.
From there, Tiner accepted a position with the South Carolina Marine Resources Division, where he oversaw an inventory of the state's 500,000 acres of wetlands in addition to evaluating impacts of construction projects in the coastal zone. The South Carolina inventory was done using remote-sensing techniques where aerial photographs were viewed under a stereoscope and boundaries delineated with pen and ink on overlays.
As Regional Wetland Coordinator, Tiner works principally with other federal and state agencies interested in wetland conservation and with universities and private contractors doing the actual image interpretation. While wetland mapping is the focus of these activities, he has also conducted numerous studies of wetland trends and landscape-level assessments of wetland functions.
One special topic of recent interest is the effect of sea level rise on tidal wetlands. While most researchers are focusing on processes within the marshes that affect the ability of marshes to build up their surfaces as sea level rises, Tiner is directing his efforts to monitoring salt marsh migration. This is the process where tidal swamping of neighboring forests eventually converts the woodland to salt marsh. He is working with some of the Northeast refuges and other organizations to establish permanent plots in these lowlands to track long-term changes in vegetation patterns and soil properties. While Tiner doesn't expect to see the conclusion of these studies, he expects to be around to see some significant changes in the next two decades.
Besides the above, Tiner serves as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's national expert on wetland delineation and has been actively involved in improving delineation techniques for over 20 years. He teaches a fall course in wetlands at the University of Massachusetts, which helps prepare natural resource science students for work in the real world. He has also served as an associate editor for the journal – Wetlands – and has written a few books on wetlands.
"I guess you could say that once I got into the swamps, I never came out!" Tiner says. "And over the years, I like to think that my efforts have helped improve the conservation of wetlands, benefitting both wildlife and people."
August 13, 2014