Informed planning and resource management requires information about status, trends, and changes in fish, wildlife, plant populations, and their habitats. The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) Inventory & Monitoring (I&M) Initiative and Southeast Region I&M Network efforts are focused on both biotic and abiotic resources. Examples of abiotic resources are soils, water, air, landforms, and climate.
Some of the current abiotic efforts being conducted by the Southeast I&M Network, refuges, and partners include Fire Effects Monitoring, Hydrogeomorphic Analyses, Marsh Elevation Monitoring, and Water Resource Inventory and Assessments.
The Southeast I&M Network has worked closely with regional Fire Ecology staff to revise the Southeast Region's 2006 Fire Effects Monitoring Guide. Based on input from the National Fire Ecology team, NWRS I&M Initiative, Southeast Region Fire Management Division, and refuge staff, a revised Fuel Treatment Effects Monitoring Field Guide and an Interim Fuel Treatment Effects Monitoring Plan have been developed and are currently available.
- Southeast Region Monitoring Hazardous Fuels Treatments Plan, August 2013
- Southeast Region Monitoring Hazardous Fuels Treatments Field Guide, August 2013
The purpose of these regional documents is to provide technical and planning guidance on fuels treatment monitoring activities on refuges in the Southeast. The Plan serves as an interim regional monitoring plan until a refuge-wide I&M plan is developed. The revised Field Guide provides information on field methods, sampling design, data collection, storage and reporting fuels treatment monitoring data.
This year, I&M Network staff have been conducting Fire Effects Monitoring workshops across the region to train fire staff on the new Field Guide techniques. For more information, please contact I&M botanist, Forbes Boyle, or ecologist, Sue Wilder.
Hydrogeomorphic (HGM) analysis is a three-step process used to evaluate riparian and wetland ecosystems and surrounding landscapes. It is used to identify options for restoring areas to their original functions, before human induced alterations, all within the context of landscape-scale conservation and species preservation. The HGM process is outlined below:
- The first step in an HGM analysis is to evaluate the historic conditions of the land and its surroundings by studying the soil, vegetation, topography, hydrology, flora and fauna.
- The second step is to evaluate how the land has been altered through manipulation of drainage systems, topography, or vegetation communities, and how those changes have affected the natural ecological processes. Current conditions are assessed as well as each community’s resilience to change and potential for restoration.
- The third step is to identify strategies for restoring an area to the historical condition within the context of the larger landscape. Common approaches might involve removal of invasive species or undoing human-induced changes to hydrology.
The HGM analysis will help to insure that habitat and landscape restorations will be successful by matching restoration strategies with the historical conditions of the targeted ecosystems. In the Southeast region, the I&M Network is currently conducting HGMs at Cape Romain and White River NWRs. For more information about the HGM efforts in the Southeast region, please contact the I&M Network aquatic ecologists, Theresa Thom or Lee Holt. The HGM fact sheet (215KB) is also available for download.
Sea level rise and its potential impacts to habitats and species are a concern for the refuges across the United States. The mean elevation of wetland surfaces must increase to keep pace with the annual rise in sea level and subsidence of organic substrates. Understanding rates of wetland elevation change and relative sea level rise will help managers at these refuges answer critical questions (i.e. Are marshes going to keep pace with relative sea level rise?) and adjust management techniques towards future and changing conditions.
In the Southeast region, the I&M Network has installed a network of rod surface elevation tables (RSET) on 18 refuges in the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (SALCC) area to monitor wetland elevation change resulting from sea level rise. We are partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service (NPS), the SALCC, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), and the National Geodetic Survey to accomplish many aspects of this project. Furthermore, the data collected from this project will be used in conjunction with similar data collected from RSET benchmarks maintained by the NPS, the NERRS, and USGS to better examine landscape-scale changes resulting from sea level rise.
This year, I&M Network staff coordinated and trained 18 refuges to collect data from the RSET benchmarks and established permanent vegetation monitoring plots at all RSET sites. For more information about marsh elevation monitoring, please contact I&M coastal ecologist, Nicole Rankin. Also, please view the FY2011 project report (106KB) and 2012 Refuge Update article.
Water is a critical resource for the NWRS, as well as a vital component of nearly every aspect of our society. An accurate reconnaissance-level water resources inventory and assessment (WRIA) of water quantity and quality on NWRS lands is essential to identify needs and threats, prioritize work, and to take action related to the water resources the NWRS protects and manages. WRIAs are the first and crucial step to understanding the data needs for a targeted water monitoring effort.
- The WRIA effort comprises a centralized database, a GIS function, and a web application that will collect, store, and retrieve water resource information from the entire NWRS.
- The inventory component of the WRIA will gather existing information about each refuge’s water features and supply, water quality, water rights, water-related infrastructure, needs and threats.
- The WRIA process also provides an assessment in the form of a narrative document with station-specific information that will guide water resource management for that individual refuge.
In the Southeast region, the I&M Network is currently conducting WRIAs at Cache River NWR, Cahaba River NWR, Erwin National Fish Hatchery, Lower Suwannee NWR, Okefenokee NWR, and White River NWR. The Cape Romain NWR WRIA (5.6MB) is complete and available for download.