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 Branch 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 Branch, refuges, and partners include Coastal Wetland Elevation Monitoring, Fire Effects Monitoring, Hydrogeomorphic Analyses, and Water Resource Inventory and Assessments.
Sea level rise and its potential impacts to habitats and species are a concern for the refuges across the United States. Rising sea levels can lead to wetland loss, saltwater intrusion, habitat conversion, and inland migration of marsh and forested ecosystems. The mean elevation of these 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 is important to help refuge managers answer critical questions and adjust management techniques of wetlands towards future conditions.
In the Southeast region, the I&M Branch initiated a Coastal Wetland Elevation Monitoring (CWEM) effort on 18 refuges within the South Atlantic geography in 2012. The overarching CWEM objectives are to observe impacts of sea level rise and change in priority habitats, determine rates of wetland elevation change and relative sea level rise, and forecast longevity of these habitats in refuges within the SALCC geography. This monitoring effort involves collecting surface elevation (surveying and rod surface elevation tables [RSET]), accretion, porewater salinity, and vegetation community data at permanent sites to provide data to refuge managers on the status of and trends in wetland conditions within refuges. The data collected will help managers make better ecologically-informed decisions with regards to conservation and management of wetlands on refuges.
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, project participants will continue to collect RSET, accretion, and porewater salinity data from all sites. Other project highlights include:
- The Southeast and Southwest Regional I&M staff are working together to develop a multi-regional Coastal Wetland Elevation Monitoring protocol.
- In summer 2016, vegetation monitoring was conducted at all sites, and the Resample Vegetation Report will be finalized in 2017.
- In 2015 and 2016, static GPS surveys were conducted at most CWEM sites, and the Baseline RSET Benchmark Elevation Report will be finalized in 2017.
- Baseline Vegetation Report (9.7MB) of CWEM sites completed. This report summarizes data collected from each refuge within the geography in 2013.
- Refuge Update Article, 2012.
For more information about the Coastal Wetland Elevation Monitoring program, please contact I&M Branch coastal ecologist, Nicole Rankin.
The Service recognizes the importance and role of fire in ecosystems in the Southeast. The Southeast Region I&M Branch works closely with the National Fire Ecology team, NWRS I&M Initiative, and Southeast Region Fire Management Division to develop tools for monitoring and understanding fire ecology and management on refuges. Some of the current efforts include the development of Fire Atlases, Fire Management Species Profiles, and Fire Monitoring Plan/Field Guide.
- Fire Atlases - The Southeast Region I&M Branch and the National Fire Management Branch are working together to develop fire atlases for refuges across the Southeast Region. The objective is to develop parcel-specific fire occurrence and fire intensity histories based on 30-m Landsat Thematic Mapper imagery. A Fire Atlas is a spatial dataset of historic fire boundaries for both wildfires and prescribed burns. The resulting spatial and temporally explicit dataset will allow correlations to be made between fire history and current habitat characteristics, particularly in reference to managing and restoring optimal conditions for listed or imperiled species, and species of concern for a refuge. To date, Fire Atlases have been developed for Big Branch Marsh, Sabine, and St. Marks NWRs. Current Fire Atlas projects include Grand Bay and Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWRs. For more information, please contact I&M Branch coastal ecologist, Sue Wilder.
- Fire Management Species Profiles - The Southeast Region I&M Branch in collaboration with the Southeast Region Fire Management Division has developed Fire Management Profiles for seven species: Bachman's Sparrow, Henslows Sparrow, Little Bluestem, Wiregrass, Pine Snake, Painted Bunting, and Brown-headed Nuthatch. These seven profiles can be downloaded from the Southeast Region Fire Ecology site. The objective of the Fire Management Species Profile project is to identify habitat management objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, clearly communicate among habitat management professionals and are firmly based in the best available science. Their use is intended to guide habitat managers in setting local objectives for habitat management in fire-adapted ecological systems. Fire management objectives are specific to habitat conditions in which maintenance and improvement, rather than restoration, of habitat condition is the goal. For more information about this project, please contact I&M Branch coastal ecologist, Sue Wilder.
- Fuel Treatment Effects Monitoring - A revised Fuel Treatment Effects Monitoring Field Guide and an Interim Fuel Treatment Effects Monitoring Plan have been developed and are currently available. 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 the regional monitoring plan, and the revised Field Guide provides information on field methods, sampling design, data collection, storage and reporting fuels treatment monitoring data. I&M Branch 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 Branch botanist, Forbes Boyle, or I&M Branch coastal 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.
In the Southeast region, the I&M Branch has completed HGMs for Cape Romain and Dale Bumpers White River NWRs. For more information about the HGM efforts in the Southeast region, please contact the I&M Branch Chief, Janet Ertel. The HGM fact sheet (215KB) is also available for download.
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 Branch anticipates completing an additional WRIA in the coming year. The station will be selected from the priority station list for WRIA selection. Completed WRIAs are available for download from the following refuges:
- Cache River NWR
- Cahaba River NWR
- Cape Romain NWR
- Dale Bumpers White River NWR
- Erwin National Fish Hatchery
- Lower Suwannee NWR
- Okefenokee NWR