- The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is the largest developer of wetlands land in the state of Washington. Consequently, they are also the largest wetland mitigation developer in the state. Through various federal legislation, state and county environmental policies, and legal court decisions, all negatively impacted wetlands must be compensated for with equal value wetland creation. The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is given oversight under the Clean Water Act Section 404 to regulate this policy. Permits for wetland destruction and mitigation are only issued by the USACE after steps have been taken to avoid known wetlands and all efforts to minimize the damage have been exercised. Since construction projects by WSDOT are limited by geography and existing road transportation in a region of the country with a very high density of wetland land, WSDOT increasing must compensate for wetland loss.
Wetland creations involve developing wetland hydrology and specific soil conditions, which attract a specific subset of vegetation known as hydrophytic vegetation, adapted to survive and flourish within water saturated soils. Permitting from the USACE requires annual monitoring created mitigation sites for a period of 5-10 years. WSDOT Department of Wetland Monitoring exists to satisfy this legal requirement for every mitigation site in the state.
WSDOT Wetland monitoring has formed a partnership with The Evergreen State College (TESC) to provide interns to collect the qualitative and quantitative data necessary for mitigation permits. The Monitoring Department gains access to TESC's plant laboratory, a ready source of internship candidates, and the reputation gained only by an alliance with an academic institution. TESC increases summer enrollment and provides an excellent professional experience to students.
Each wetland site has development goals, which are monitored quantitatively, through specific performance standards each year. Monitoring teams develop site-specific sampling techniques based on sound ecological statistical experimental design parameters. In the majority of cases a baseline with orthogonal transect lines are established across the entire site. Along these transects pairs of data collectors sample to provide data on density, survival, and cover percentage of woody, herbaceous, and invasive plant species in specific zones (emergent, wetland, and buffer) of the mitigation site. Qualitatively, vegetative community sketch mapping and bird surveys give further indicators of the mitigation site's overall health and development progress. TESC's laboratory facilities are utilized by interns to identify unknown herbaceous specimens sampled during field days. This process is necessary to fully comply with USACE permitting and provides interns with an opportunity to develop robust botany and plant identification skills.
The WSDOT Wetlands Monitoring Division is run on roughly half a million dollars a year. The majority of this money is salary and benefits for full time employees. The remaining pays for the internship program expenses, travel, and equipment each year. There has been an increasing trend in workloads while funding and full time labor have decreased over the last several years. These conditions have forced WSDOT to modernize and streamline workflows. The internship program has expanded over time; major efforts to increase efficiency through new technology and data collection methods have been explored and evaluated.