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Wetlands Health

Floristic Quality Assessment (FQA) Benchmark Surveys

Monitoring Objectives

The surveys and data analysis to support development of FQA benchmarks for Wisconsin is expected to be completed at the end of 2017, if sufficient funding is secured. Survey design and methods are provided in detail in the current QAPP for the Northern Lakes and Forests Ecoregion. This Ecoregion was surveyed in 2014 by the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and data analysis will be completed under an Agreement with WDNR. In 2015 the Department will conduct the survey and data analysis of the North Central Hardwood Forests. Current plans call for conducting surveys of the remaining two ecoregions in 2016 and 2017.

When all ecoregions are surveyed, the total dataset will be analyzed to determine statewide benchmarks where possible, and to finalize plant community definitions to be used in the applications of benchmarks. Current Wetland Grant Funding is sufficient for surveying the 2 northern ecoregions. Subsequent funding will be sought to complete the remaining two and conduct the statewide analysis. Incorporating FQA benchmarks into Tiered Aquatic Life Use standards will commence in 2018, and is anticipated to be completed by 2020.

Develop Floristic Quality Assessment benchmarks to assess the condition of all commonly occurring wetland plant communities in the 4 major Omernick ecoregions of Wisconsin. Benchmarks will discriminate between different condition categories along the biological condition gradient and can be used to support designation of Tiered Aquatic Life uses. These need to be tailored to the plant community type and ecological setting.

Monitoring Design

Separate surveys will be conducted within each Ecoregion. Sites will be identified and stratified by wetland type as inferred from WI Wetland Inventory (WWI). Researchers will seek good spatial representation of the type throughout the ecoregion. Best available GIS Land Cover layers will be used to conduct a buffer analysis to identify "least disturbed" and "most disturbed" sites. Landowners and land managers will be contacted to request access permission. The target is to survey 10 "least disturbed" and 10 "most disturbed sites for each wetland plant community. Timed meander surveys and a Disturbance Factor Checklist will be completed at each site (or Assessment Area) from which FQA and site disturbance parameters will be generated. Some of the "least disturbed" sites will be wetlands within State Natural Areas, managed by the Natural Heritage Inventory program. The results of the 2014 field season in the Northern Lakes and Forests Ecoregion will be analyzed by the University of Wisconsin-Superior team and reviewed by the Department. FQA thresholds for setting Tiered Aquatic Life Uses for specific wetland plant communities in the Northern Lakes and Forests Ecoregion will be recommended as part of the study.

Water Quality Indicators

Data analysis will establish relationship of the FQA indicator parameters to independent measures of disturbance (GIS buffer analysis of land cover, Field Disturbance Factors Checklist); assess plant community independence vs overlap; assess distribution of indicator metrics by plant community; and set benchmarks where justified. FQA is based on the a priori expert assignment to all species in a regional flora of a "coefficient of conservatism" on a scale from 0 to 10, based on each species' site fidelity and tolerance of anthropogenic disturbance. The parameters to be explored are


Quality Assurance

Quality Assurance measures are outlined in detail in the Northern Lakes and Forests QAPP. After data analysis is complete for the Northern Lakes and Forests Ecoregion, the QAPP will be reviewed by WDNR and UW-Superior staff in light of the experience from the survey work to date, 2012-2014, and any needed modifications will be discussed. A QAPP will be prepared to guide fieldwork in the 2015 survey of the North Central Hardwood Forests. It is expected that the same procedures will be followed, and modifications will be minor.

Data Management

Data collection, data entry, error-checking, record keeping, electronic data security and backup procedures for the surveys are also outlined in the Northern Lakes and Forests QAPP. In 2015 the responsibility for these procedures will shift to the Department for the North Central Hardwood Forests and the subsequent two ecoregions. Data will be housed in the SWIMS system.


The results of each ecoregional survey and proposed benchmarks will be reported to the USEPA, through Wetland Grant reports and these will be referenced in the Clean Water Act Water Quality Report to Congress. As benchmarks are adopted for Tiered Aquatic Life Uses in our wetland water quality standards, they can form the basis for conducting probabilistic surveys to assess wetland condition on a watershed scale. It is a goal of the program to comprehensively incorporate wetland condition assessments into watershed-scale water quality reports to Congress and use the results to inform the setting of regional/location-based water resource goals.

Programmatic Evaluation

During the research phase to set FQA benchmarks, the study for each ecoregion will be peer-reviewed by scientists within and outside the Department. When all ecoregions are completed an analysis will be conducted on the total statewide dataset to determine where plant communities can be lumped and where ecoregions can be combined for benchmark setting.

It is anticipated that implementation will consist of probabilistic watershed surveys at the scale consistent with other water resource monitoring. It is intended that FQA surveys will integrated into the larger water resource monitoring. As these are begun, the extent to which wetland condition surveys inform watershed based water resource reporting, and conservation planning should be assessed.

FQA benchmarks and metrics are also expected to be used in the wetland and waterway regulatory program to provide a more intensive assessment of wetland floristic integrity where needed. FQA can also be useful in setting performance measures for compensatory mitigation projects and measuring their progress. As wetland restorations are conducted through Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Joint Venture of the North America Waterfowl Conservation Act and other funding sources, FQA metrics and benchmarks will be essential for objectively evaluating the effect of restoration and management activities on wetland plant communities. FQA can also be a valuable tool to monitor the condition of high quality wetlands, such as those preserved in State Natural Areas, to signal the need for management actions, as well as future compensatory mitigation projects that involve preservation. It is recommended an evaluation of program usefulness of FQA in all sectors of the Department where it is deployed, be conducted after 2-3 years of implementation, and subsequently every 5 years.

Last revised:

Tuesday May 30 2017