Setting priorities for coastal wetland restoration: A GIS-based tool that combines expert assessments and public values

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Over the years, many coastal wetlands have been degraded by filling, ditching, pollution, tidal restrictions, or other human activities. Recently, as the public has become more aware of the ecological importance of coastal wetlands, new programs and funding have been devoted to restoring wetlands. Within a given region, many wetlands may be candidates for restoration. However, funds are rarely sufficient to restore all possible sites. Thus, difficult choices must be made. Historically, the choice of coastal wetland restoration activities has often been unsystematic and politically driven, with restoration funds often going to sites that have strong community or political support. While community and political support are important, such ad hoc decisions may not lead to the most effective use of public funds. Recently, there has been a move towards prioritizing potential restoration sites based on ecological goals for a watershed or other region. Scientists have developed a number of tools to assess wetland functions, both before and after restoration (see Bartoldus, 1999 for examples). Many of these methods, however, require detailed, expensive, and time consuming field studies. Thus, these methods are most appropriate for evaluating sites already selected for restoration, or for making fine distinctions once a preliminary set of restoration sites has been selected. In this project, we are developing a decision-support tool that considers both social and ecological values for prioritizing coastal wetland restoration projects, using an integrated combination of ecological and economic indicators. While, ideally, restoration actions would be evaluated based on site-specific measures of the full range of economic and ecological values for each site, funding and time constraints often do not allow for the required full scale public and ecological field studies. Accordingly, the goal of this project is to develop a method that can be used to evaluate potential restoration sites using existing GIS data. This method should be useful as a "first cut" evaluation of sites for restoration, to select a set of sites that best meet various objectives. Site specific studies can then be conducted to further refine the restoration decisions. This approach can provide a cost-effective method for prioritizing wetland restoration actions, addressing both ecological and economic factors, and can thus help agencies spend public funds for restoration more effectively.

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Earth System Monitor





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