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Wetlands Health

Wisconsin Wetland Rapid Assessment Methodology of Function and Condition WRAM v.2

Wisconsin's current water quality standards for wetlands are based on wetland functional values, and regulatory decision making ultimately rests on protecting these values. CWA 104(b)3 Review process emphasizes avoidance, minimization, analysis of practicable alternatives and significance of impacts to functional values. The Wisconsin Rapid Assessment Methodology was first developed to assess functional values for projects which required determining the significance of impacts to functional value. Recent changes to Wisconsin water law include a requirement that a functional assessment be performed for every wetland permit that is issued. WRAM v.2 has been produced to provide Department field staff with an improved tool for functional assessment and include a tool for condition assessment.

Monitoring Objectives

The Wisconsin Wetland Rapid Assessment Methodology (WRAM) version 2 is a qualitative method developed to provide a standardized process for the professional to evaluate the extent to which a wetland performs a given function. It is based on best professional judgment guided by a series of questions about an assessment area in the context of its aquatic connectivity, adjacent land cover and habitat and watershed conditions. WRAM v.2 also contains a condition assessment, based on a stressor checklist.

Monitoring Design

The presence or absence of specific characteristics is used to determine the importance of each functional value for a site, relative to the watershed in which it occurs. The method documents the best professional judgment of the evaluator and can typically be completed with an hour of office search and preparation and a 1-2 hour field visits. The WRAM consists of two components.

Water Quality Indicators

The WRAM allows the evaluation of the following wetland functions: human use values, wildlife habitat, fish and aquatic life habitat, shoreline protection, storm and floodwater storage, water quality protection, groundwater processes and floristic integrity. The presence or absence of specific characteristics that can be evaluated with existing GIS data and a field visit is used to determine the importance of each functional value for a site. Where a more intensive assessment of floristic integrity is required an FQA survey should be utilized.

The WRAM also contains a condition assessment section that utilizes a stressor checklist approach. The user evaluates the qualitative level of current impacts of each stressor present in the assessment area and a 100m buffer around it. Historic impacts that are evident but no longer affecting the wetland are noted. The relative frequency in the watershed (the default scale is the 12 –digit HUC) in which the wetland occurs is also noted.

Quality Assurance

The method documents the best professional judgment of the evaluator and requires one field visit and office preparation. Wetland Functional Value evaluations provide qualitative levels of significance for each function for each assessment area. Functions are considered separately; they are not summed or averaged for an assessment area.

A plan for using the WRAM in the water quality program needs to be developed. As the implementation plan is developed the proper Quality Assurance measures will need to be addressed, particularly issues of consistency and comparability across watersheds and ecological regions. At a minimum periodic staff training and limited consultant training will be required.

Data Management

WRAM consists of questions answered by BPJ to guide overall qualitative assessment. Assessment decisions can be supported by a narrative when necessary. Currently the data are stored in SharePoint files and not integrated into a larger Oracle or GIS database that would be available to DNR staff or partners. The Department is developing a plan to import or gather data from WRAMs completed by water regulatory field staff and import into SWIMS.

An essential step in pursuing a probabilistic sampling design is the conversion of WWI mapping to the NWI+ system. The US Fish and Wildlife Service's Status and Trends program has developed a protocol for conducting this conversion and parts of the state have been converted to NWI.


Currently the data used in this work is made available for onsite and site specific decision making and is not shared or stored in a location available to other DNR staff.

Programmatic Evaluation

The wetland datasets and monitoring results need to be moved to a shared location and better integrated with the SWIMS system and SDE feature class environment so that staff may use the fruits of the wetlands evaluation and assessment tools more readily. Further, wetland site level functional assessments need to be integrated into the water resource monitoring system, with staffing and training needs assessed.

Last revised:

Tuesday May 30 2017