Frequently Asked Questions
Just as habitats are not degraded overnight, habitat structure and function also take time to become reestablished, even when the best available engineering and scientific techniques are used. Restoration is still a relatively young science, and many habitat restorations completed over the last decade are still becoming established, evolving toward better functioning, and so are still under evaluation. During this monitoring phase, research often reveals that further modifications or corrections are needed to achieve the desired level of restoration. Some habitats have been degraded so severely over such a long period of time that it may take years before they become as productive as undamaged areas, so it is critical to evaluate every project with a thorough and ongoing monitoring program.
The nine attributes listed below provide a basis for determining when restoration has been accomplished. The full expression of all of these attributes is not essential to demonstrate restoration. Instead, it is only necessary for these attributes to demonstrate an appropriate trajectory of ecosystem development towards the intended goals or reference. Some attributes are readily measured. Others must be assessed indirectly, including most ecosystem functions, which cannot be ascertained without research efforts that exceed the capabilities and budgets of most restoration projects.
The restored ecosystem contains a characteristic assemblage of the species that occur in the reference ecosystem and that provide appropriate community structure.
The restored ecosystem consists of indigenous species to the greatest practicable extent.
All functional groups necessary for the continued development and/or stability of the restored ecosystem are represented or, if they are not, the missing groups have the potential to colonize by natural means.
The physical environment of the restored ecosystem is capable of sustaining reproducing populations of the species necessary for its continued stability or development along the desired trajectory.
The restored ecosystem apparently functions normally for its ecological stage of development, and signs of dysfunction are absent.
The restored ecosystem is suitably integrated into a larger ecological matrix or landscape, with which it interacts through abiotic and biotic flows and exchanges.
Potential threats to the health and integrity of the restored ecosystem from the surrounding landscape have been eliminated or reduced as much as possible.
The restored ecosystem is sufficiently resilient to endure the normal periodic stress events in the local environment that serve to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem.
The restored ecosystem is self-sustaining to the same degree as its reference ecosystem, and has the potential to persist indefinitely under existing environmental conditions. Nevertheless, aspects of its biodiversity, structure and functioning may change as part of normal ecosystem development, and may fluctuate in response to normal periodic stress and occasional disturbance events of greater consequence. As in any intact ecosystem, the species composition and other attributes of a restored ecosystem may evolve as environmental conditions change.
Most often, habitat restoration activities are conducted by federal, state, and local government resource agencies, as well as by private and nonprofit groups in order to restore and enhance degraded ecosystems. Even private landowners are restoring habitats on their lands because they are good stewards of the land and believe it is the right thing to do. Often habitat restoration appeals to many private landowners because they can get financial and technical assistance to help with the project.
Habitat restoration is important for reasons varying from aesthetic and recreational to economic and pragmatic. Wild lands and wilderness have aesthetic properties that help to maintain mental health for millions of people every year. Restoring habitats can facilitate the return of wildlife to disturbed areas for its own sake or for the sake of recreational activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing, and bird-watching. Returning disturbed land to health can add to existing habitats, making them larger and thereby helping to protect species against the dangers of small population sizes. Restoring areas that have been damaged through human use can allow an area to be used again for another purpose. Healthy forests and riparian zones help control erosion and maintain good water quality in streams and lakes. Reforestation and restoring damaged riparian zones and wetlands helps ensure clean drinking water, control floods, and maintain healthy fish and amphibian populations. Numerous small and large-scale projects are underway to restore the natural hydrology, soils and vegetation to habitats around Wisconsin.
Habitat restoration is accomplished through management, protection, and reestablishment of plants by returning abiotic factors (e.g., soil chemistry, water content, disturbance) and biotic factors (e.g., species composition, interactions among species) to historical levels. Properly restored ecosystems demonstrate the historical species diversity of the area instead of one species in monoculture. Reestablishing plants provides a food source for animals and thus helps restore animal populations.
Habitat restoration projects vary greatly in scale, ranging from small urban restorations aiming to restore patches of native plant species through landscape-scale projects that aim to counteract the impacts of habitat fragmentation by increasing the amount and connectivity of habitat over broad areas. In all cases, however, the level of success achieved will depend on a careful consideration and clear statement of the project’s goals. Goals are derived from a complex mix of ecological, social, historical, and philosophical viewpoints.
Habitat restoration is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability. It involves measures necessary to restore, enhance, or create healthy ecosystems, including the reestablishment of native vegetation and fish and wildlife habitat on disturbed or denuded sites.
In Wisconsin, wetlands are regulated by the WDNR and the US Army Corps of Engineers – depending on the wetlands location and isolation from “waters of the United States.” Counties and other municipalities may have their own wetland / environmental regulation.
Wetland delineations conducted by either Mr. Havel or Mr. Bretl or me do not require field concurrence by the WDNR, which is important because an on-site review by the WDNR could take up to 30 days and cost a fee. Therefore, hiring NES to oversee your wetland projects could save you both time and money.
Although neither the federal government nor the State of Wisconsin currently have professional licensing or registration requirements (like engineers or surveyors) for individuals conducting wetland work, the WDNR has an Assured Professional Wetland Delineator program that allows wetland professionals with significant knowledge and experience to bypass certain parts of the regulatory process. James Havel and Kyle Bretl of NES are WDNR Assured Wetland Delineators.
We can conduct wetland delineations during the growing season. The dates will vary throughout Wisconsin, but the general timeframe is from April – October.
Poorly drained soils often are associated with areas containing high water tables or standing water. If this situation is present, the site likely contains wetland vegetation and is wetland. Somewhat poorly drained soils may have similar hydrologic conditions, but in many cases the presence of water is much less evident and may only occur during brief periods. In these situations, the soils may or may not have hydric indicators and the vegetation community will likely be composed of a mix of upland and wetland species. If one of these criteria is missing, the site is likely upland. Documenting the three wetland criteria is critical in these determinations. If the site is questionable, contact NES or another wetland professional for assistance.
A site visit by a qualified wetland ecologist can help determine the presence of wetland. The WDNR will provide this service for a fee; however, they will not determine the location of a wetland boundary, if present. You will need to hire a consultant to complete a wetland delineation, if necessary. Determining the need for a wetland delineation prior to having the WDNR on-site will be important as this could save you money. NES can help determine the presence of a wetland and mark their location in one step, saving you the WDNR site visit fee. In many cases, we will also be able to conduct wetland determinations for a fee similar to the WDNR.
There are 33 wetland community types found throughout Wisconsin. Of these, only 3 communities routinely have cattails present. Many of these wetlands also have little or no standing water present for much of the year.
The length of time water is present on the site will be the main factor in determining if the area is wetland. If the site has water present above, at or below the ground surface or the soils are saturated within the upper 12” for 14 consecutive days during the growing season, the area meets the hydrology criteria. In most cases, these areas will also support wetland plants and show signs of soil reduction indicating the presence of hydric soils. The presence of all three criteria indicates the presence of wetland.
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act: Those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water (hydrology) at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation (hydrophytes) typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions (hydric soils). Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas (40 CFR 232.2(r)).
Wisconsin DNR: “Wetland” is defined by state statute as “an area where water is at, near or above the land surface long enough to be capable of supporting aquatic or hydrophytic vegetation and which has soils indicative of wet conditions.” Section 23.32(1), Wisconsin Statutes.