Wetlands Conservation Plan
The Division of Coastal Management identified the need for a Wetlands Conservation Plan in 1992, when it found that the state could not determine the amount, type, location, functions and loss/gain trends of freshwater wetlands in the 20 coastal counties.
Unlike saltwater and brackish tidal wetlands, known as coastal wetlands, these non-tidal, freshwater wetlands were not specifically protected under North Carolina law or regulation at the time.* Yet freshwater wetlands serve important roles in water quality, floodwater control and wildlife habitat; and damage to freshwater wetlands can affect salt waters down stream.
To address these weaknesses, DCM has developed a Wetlands Conservation Plan for the North Carolina coastal area. The primary purpose of the plan is to provide detailed wetland information to local, state and federal governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations and the public, so they can make better resource management decisions.
The Wetlands Conservation Plan has several components:
DCM has completed its wetlands inventory, using an extensive geographic information systems (GIS)-based wetlands mapping program. Using the GIS coverage, DCM can generate maps showing wetland locations and types.
The functional assessment (called NC-CREWS - North Carolina Coastal Region Evaluation of Wetland Significance) examines the ecological significance of wetlands. DCM makes this assessment using a a GIS-based landscape analysis of each wetland in a watershed. The analysis evaluates the contribution each wetland has to water quality, hydrology and wildlife habitat, and the risk to the watershed integrity should a wetland be removed.
Wetland restoration, agency coordination, coastal area wetland policies and land-use planning all are means by which the wetlands maps and functional assessment will be used to improve wetland protection and management.
The results of the functional assessment will provide additional information about the ecological significance of wetlands in each coastal county. This information will help regulatory agencies determine the importance of protecting a particular wetland site in the event a fill permit is requested. It will also enable development projects to be planned so as to avoid, at all reasonable cost, the most ecologically important wetlands.
* The Division of Water Resources (DWR) 1996 Wetland Water Quality Standards provide some protection of wetlands now. DWR began to use these standards in March 1999 to protect wetlands from filling activities that violated the standards.