State of the Science





Restoration Decisions: (and theory)


reference sites

Case Studies


State of the Science

success criteria
floristic quality


Created by:

Abby Rokosch
Jessen Book
Siobhan Fennessy

Thus far, most attempts at restoration have been overwhelming failures (Mitsch and Wilson, 1996; Malakoff, 1998; Mitsch et al., 1998; Grayson et al., 1999). For example, Erwin (1991) examined success rates of Florida restoration projects. Of the 430 hectares that were slated for restoration, less than half had actually been completed (in Mitsch and Wilson, 1996). And of those sites, only 40 projects were considered to be successful; thus over 60% of the completed projects can be considered failures (Mitsch and Wilson, 1996). Furthermore, some sites were originally labeled successes, yet with closer examination have been proven to be failures (Grayson et al., 1999). (For more information, see success criteria.)

"In Fiscal Year 1994, over 48,000 people applied to the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for a Section 404 permit [for wetland mitigation purposes]. Eighty-two percent of these applications were covered by general permits in an average time of 16 days. Less than ten percent of the applications were subject to the more detailed individual evaluation - which took an average of 127 days. Only 358, or 0.7 percent, of the permits were denied. In the 22-year history of the Section 404 program, EPA has vetoed only 11 permits. In short, almost all individuals who applied for a Section 404 permit in 1994 got their permits, and the average time for a decision was 27 days."


There are obviously "loopholes" in the legislature governing wetland mitigation. Often more times than not, wetlands are overlooked by local and federal governments. In review, here are some of the overall problems.

The Overall Problem(s); and Our Solutions

As we see it, the greatest challenges to restoration ecologists (specifically wetland restorationists) are:

Understanding that there is no way to recreate a functionally equivalent wetland.

Because the ecosystem is so complex, there is insufficient data explaining how both abiotic and biotic processes function together within a wetland. Consequently, this lack of understanding makes it difficult to (re)create "functionally equivalent" wetlands.

Developing assessment indices with strong correlatory value to wetland structure and function could be one proposed solution to this problem. There are already many assessment methods that measure the health of a wetland (e.g. vegetation-FQAI, animal species composition-IBI). More individual research needs to be conducted to test how well these measurements can assess the health of the wetland ecosystem. Furthermore, future research may also lead to the development of additional assessment indices. These indices may, in turn, allow researchers to assimilate the available data to such a degree to allow better comparisons of disparate wetlands (e.g. HGM).

Understanding that long term monitoring is both needed to establish wetland "success" or failure, and helpful in generating restoration/management criteria.

It is easy to define a wetland restoration project as successful merely on the establishment of vegetation (one of the Section 404 requirements). While these projects initially seem to be successful, long term monitoring has proven that it takes other components (and efforts) than vegetation alone to guarantee the long term perpetuation of the wetland.

In many cases wetland "success" is only monitored for a short period of time (1-3 years) after mitigation/creation efforts are completed because: there is insufficient funding to support continued assessment, and/or legislative regulation that does not require monitoring.

In short we believe that long term monitoring is vital for understanding wetland ecosystems, and for assisting in wetland restoration projects. This could be instituted in a number of ways: 1) the government could allocate money for the long term management of projects (ha, ha, ha); 2) grant-givers, or grant-writers, must take into consideration the necessity of long term management, and budget for these extra costs from the start; and 3) stricter laws can be written/implemented mandating long term management.

Understanding that much can be learned from our (meaning restoration ecologists) failures and our successes.

The science of restoration ecology (specifically that of wetland mitigation/creation/restoration) has grown considerably in the last decade. From isolated researchers, the field has grown into quite an established community.

However, inter-community communication is limited and/or lacking. Papers are written, journals are dedicated to, and conferences are convened all in response to the issue of wetland destruction and environmental degradation. Yet, it seems as if researchers across the country and across the globe are not learning from one another, and thus the same issues are re-addressed and the same problems are confronted over and over again. It is time to use the insights gained from the entire field. It is time to follow all the suggestions (i.e. that long term management is necessary, and that hydrology is the master variable) that have been generated over the past 10 years. And it is time to move forward.