The mission of the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) Program (hereafter "Restoration Program") is to restore natural resources injured from oil spills or hazardous substance releases into the environment. The Restoration Program assessments provide the basis for determining the restoration needs that address the public’s loss and use of these resources. Damage assessments are conducted in partnership with other affected state, tribal, and federal trustee agencies. DOI and other trustee agencies use funds acquired through settlements with responsible parties to restore, replace, rehabilitate or acquire the equivalent resources that were lost or injured. As part of its policies and operating principles for natural resource restoration activities, DOI encourages its practitioners to develop restoration performance criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of restoration projects and take into consideration contingencies if monitoring results suggest corrective action is necessary. Criteria for damage assessments rely on scientifically-defensible and validated methods for characterizing and quantifying injury to natural resources and the services they provide, including human uses. As part of the damage assessment, Natural Resources Trustees (Trustees) are required to determine the physical, chemical, and biological baseline conditions and associated baseline services for injured resources in the assessment area.
Ecological integrity assessment (EIA) provides valuable information for documenting wetland conditions, and ecologically-based monitoring. The goal is to provide a succinct assessment of the composition, structure, processes, and connectivity of a wetland occurrence. Ecological integrity is interpreted considering reference conditions based on natural ranges of variation, and with a practical interpretation of site information that can inform restoration activities over time. In this guide, we outline a series of steps to develop and implement an EIA in wetland-focused NRDAR projects. These steps include:
Step 1 – Getting Started – Review site documentation and applicable data pertaining to the project area and plan your project;
Step 2 – Reconnaissance Site Visit – Visit to the restoration site, taking into consideration actions needed to compensate for natural resource impacts from a spill or release, and identify extant restoration goals, objectives, existing plans or actions;
Step 3 – Characterize Reference Conditions – Identify existing reference site data, establish conceptual models, and create field sampling design and protocols within the impact area, and among all reference sites;
Step 4 – Document Reference and Baseline Site Conditions – Implement field sampling protocols and analyze data to produce text and tabular summaries for each wetland type from the project site;
Step 5 – Establish a Site Monitoring Plan – Determine measures suitable for monitoring at the restoration site, and;
Step 6 – Documentation – Organize and populate databases, for analysis, assessment, and monitoring.
We conclude by discussing the role that these assessments have in other ecosystem-based assessments. This guide is accompanied by a database designed for management, analysis, and reporting of EIA data for wetland assessments.