The U.S. Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center provides technical assistance to state and local governments, institutions, and non-profits.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, provides a broad range of national expertise in geography, geology, hydrology and biology. The mission of the USGS is to provide reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; assist others in managing water, biological, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect quality of life. The USGS National Wetlands Research Center (NWRC) is headquartered in Lafayette, Louisiana, and operates a restoration research branch in Baton Rouge. NWRC’s mission is to develop and disseminate scientific information needed for understanding the ecology and values of wetlands and for managing and restoring wetlands, coastal habitats, and associated plant and animal communities throughout the world.
NWRC’s programs focus on four major areas of research. Watershed Science for Management and Restoration programs seek to encourage discovery and understanding by providing biological information needed for sustainable management of watersheds at a landscape scale under dynamic influences related to anthropogenic activities and changing environmental conditions. Watershed researchers also develop scientific information that quantifies the complex processes that drive the health and viability of plant and animal communities and their habitats. The second area of focus is Science for Coastal Environments. These programs provide the scientific information required for sustainable management of freshwater, wetland and coastal environments, including relationships to the human dimension and footprint. It supports freshwater, wetland and coastal restoration projects, and it further develops science and technology programs to determine ecological consequences related to natural hazards. NWRC staff involved with modeling and spatial analysis focus on improving prediction and forecasting by developing conceptual models of large systems, both geographically and ecologically based, that guide adaptive management/adaptive science approaches to complex biological problems (especially restoration). Modelling and Spatial Analysis programs include the development and implementation of quantitative and predictive models to assist resource management decisions that link management actions to ecological outcomes. The last major area is Science Impact. This research uses innovative approaches to enhance the fusion of biological, hydrological, geological, and geographic information. Researchers ensure the appropriate understanding and use of information and tools by policy and decision makers, resource managers, and regulatory agencies. They develop biological and wetland-focused information tools and products critical to Federal and State stakeholders and the public, supporting their use through training, education, and outreach.
The main public outreach goal of NWRC is to provide education about wetland issues and other areas of research to students and adults through presentations, center tours, conferences and other events. Learning materials and events are tailored to meet the needs and interests of the specific target audience. When developing programs for elementary school teachers, NWRC reaches out to school boards to tailor materials to specific grade-level curriculums. For adults with interests in sciences and environmental topics, NWRC holds seminars on topics of interest and advertises in local media or to targeted audiences. When reaching out to the local public who may not know about NWRC, events are developed to draw atypical groups to their facility.
NWRC partners with many Federal, State and local agencies focused on natural resources, environmental protection, marine resources, engineering and geology. Specific partners include other Department of Interior agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Task Force, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. State partners have included the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, among others. NWRC has strong research relationships with Louisiana’s public and private universities as well, such as with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Loyola-New Orleans, Nicholls State, and LSU. Partnerships with environmentally-focused NGOs, such as the Audubon Nature Institute Aquarium of the Americas and Zoo, are also important for outreach and education.
The staff at NWRC study wetlands around the world but place a strong emphasis on issues related to Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. Infact, NWRC’s work is informing the State’s current coastal restoration planning. Geographers track land change and monitor the progress of restoration projects as loss rates continue to threaten coastal Louisiana. For example, the Coastwide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS) gathers information from a suite of sites that encompass a range of ecological conditions across the coast. Trajectories of changing conditions within the reference sites can then be compared with trajectories of change within Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration project sites. Information about land change in Louisiana including NWRC’s latest report and map, “Land Area Change in Coastal Louisiana from 1932 to 2010,” are available to the public online at http://www.nwrc.usgs.gov/topics/landloss.htm.
Ecological research conducted by USGS scientists involves post-hurricane impact assessments characterizing the degree and extent of damage to ecosystem structure (e.g. downed and defoliated trees, marsh loss or compression, broken coral). NWRC scientists have had first-hand opportunities with major hurricanes such as Hugo (1989), Andrew (1992), Mitch (1998), Katrina and Rita (2005) and Ike (2008) to investigate the scale and magnitude of impact on coastal wetlands, as well as process and pattern of recovery. Examples of research projects include mapping wetland loss and land cover change; monitoring vegetation, soils, surface and pore waters; analyzing linkages between habitat destruction and faunal populations; and modeling forest damage and wind-throw patterns.
NWRC scientists develop conceptual ecological models to help understand the natural wetland environment and how human activities and natural events threaten these environments. The models enable more informed management decisions and are used to increase the efficacy of wetland restoration and protection activities in sustaining coastal resources. One such project involved the development of a Wetland Morphology Modeling Tool to predict effects of coastal restoration and protection projects for the State’s 2012 Master Plan. Invasive plants and animals play a large part in the loss of wetland and coastal habitats as well. Therefore, NWRC scientists are researching several invasive species.