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California Creates Rapid Assessment Method for Wetland Protection

The development of California’s Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) was a big step to help manage California’s diverse and rare wetland resources. Developed through a variety of different sources, including Wetland Program Development Grants (WPDG), CRAM is a tool with a broad value for other state wetland managers. The standardized and scientifically validated approach to assessing wetland condition and stressors is used to incorporate condition data into decision-making. CRAM data is also used to protect existing wetlands or alongside detailed biological monitoring data to assess the success of wetland mitigation and restoration efforts.  

CRAM combines metrics of landscape and buffer condition, hydrology, biotic structure and physical structure into a single score that reflects wetland condition and stressors affecting the wetland. Hydrology metrics, for example, include water source, hydroperiod and hydrologic connectivity. Physical habitat metrics include physical richness and topographic complexity. Validated with detailed biological monitoring, the Riverine and Estuarine protocols are methods based on bird, macroinvertebrate and plant community data.

Paul Jones of the EPA Regional office in San Francisco states, “CRAM is like an annual physical—detailed biological monitoring is like a complete blood panel.” As such, CRAM is useful to check on wetland conditions in a timely manner and the detailed biological monitoring (a by-product of the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup that complements CRAM) can provide even greater insight into the ecological condition.

California is home to seven different types of wetlands, and 91% of the state’s historic wetlands have already been lost. The CRAM helped make it possible to coordinate the monitoring efforts of agencies to protect these important and rare habitats. It can be a challenge in such a large state and agencies statewide can now use CRAM as a versatile tool to gauge wetland condition and sensitivity to stressors, to identify, protect and assess the effectiveness of mitigation on California’s wetlands.

CRAM is a cost efficient and practical method that supplements a suite of other tools currently available. The state offers a 5-day CRAM course, including both classroom and field sections for training aquatic resource practitioners on the CRAM approach, methodology and management applications. The CRAM training videos won the 2013 W3 Silver Award for excellence as an online educational training video. Overall, the tool has many applications for use in the Golden State and by other states and tribes looking to expand upon their wetland programs. 

Read more about California's wetlands protection by the State Water Resources Control BoardExit

This image depicts a wetland with birds on floating sticks