Planning, Implementation, and Long-Term Management Project Considerations

When undertaking a wetlands protection project, there are a number of critical factors that should be addressed during project planning, implementation, and maintenance phases. This may include:

Project planning. Planning your wetlands project is central to its long-term success. Prior to initiating your project, it is imperative that you know the local landscape, clearly outline your goals and objectives for restoration, consider potential project sites and their respective pros and cons, thoroughly evaluate your selected site, and understand if your proposed activities will require a permit.

  • Prior to initiating your project, it is recommended that you spend some time getting to know the local landscape, which will influence how your wetland develops and functions. [Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration. “An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.” June 2015.] [UPDATE] Visit the Best Practices in Voluntary Wetlands Protection webpage for additional details regarding site evaluation.
  • Based on the needs identified during the site evaluation, you should develop project designs (e.g., construction plans or specifications) inclusive of specifications for installation and construction features; descriptions of site preparation; descriptions for installing features, plants to prevent construction impacts; list of plant species, numbers of each to be planted, and planting locations; plans for site maintenance; and monitoring features. Don’t forget to consider features of reference wetland sites. [Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration. “An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.” June 2015.]
  • Some wetlands project activities, such as flooding, excavating, draining and/or filling a wetland, may require an aquatic resource alteration permit (ARAP)/Section 401 Water Quality Certification. Visit TDEC’s ARAP webpage to determine if your project will require such a permit.

Implementation. The process of restoring, creating, or enhancing your wetland is known as implementation, and is often the most publicly-visible stage of the project. Implementation typically includes activities such as site preparation, plant preparation, installation, maintenance, and continuous adaptive management.

  • Site preparation. At this stage, the project site is altered to allow natural processes to occur or to prepare the site for additional intervention. This may include removing non-native species; removing piles of soil, debris, and trash; adding nutrients or other enhancements to the soil or removing polluted soils; plugging or removing drains; fencing out herbivores; breaching levees; and mowing or burning the site to restore natural regimes. [Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration. “An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.” June 2015.]
  • Plant preparation. Use of native species and local plants is always recommended for wetlands projects, as these plants have a greater likelihood of surviving. When collecting native plants, always check with the property owner to seek their approval, and take precaution not to damage the collection site. Plant preparation may include activities such as collecting seeds; raising plants; collecting cuttings; and collecting plugs. [Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration. “An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.” June 2015.]
  • Installation/Construction. Minimizing the destructive impacts which may occur during installation and construction through use of best practices is encouraged. Installation and construction may include activities such as constructing water control structures; installing bank/edge stabilization structures; building habitat islands; grading existing soils; placing and grading new soil; planting plugs, seeds, or newly-grown plants; installing plant protections; planning irrigation systems; and constructing and placing habitat structures. Following project installation, it is recommended that an as-built assessment detailing the site conditions immediately after the installation be completed. This assessment serves as a baseline for measuring change during the monitoring stage. [Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration. “An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.” June 2015.]
  • Maintenance. Ensuring that the wetlands project remains in good ecological condition is extremely important. Therefore, having a plan for how the site will be maintained and monitored is critical. Maintenance activities may include controlling non-native and invasive species; controlling herbivores; repairing structures; maintaining monitoring and other equipment; replacing plants; mowing, burning, and/or other activity restoring the natural regime; reducing or preventing human intrusion; and controlling local pollutants.


Monitoring. Once a wetlands project is installed, the work is not complete. Monitoring is a means of gathering information regarding wetland site changes that can be indicative of problems and/or progress towards ecological goals. Ideally, several wetland attributes or parameters based on project objectives should be measured at regular intervals to identify changes in the wetland. These attributes or parameters and their respective values should be compared to as-built conditions (baseline assessment) and may be qualitative or quantitative. Monitoring frequency will depend on the project, its goals, and the qualitative and quantitative methods you select. However, it is important that you are consistent  n your monitoring frequency. Information gathered during monitoring should be used to determine whether project goals are met, what remedial actions may need to occur at the site, and to communicate the project’s progress with interested stakeholders. [Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration. “An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.” June 2015.]

  • Qualitative attributes are more observational or general in nature, and may include approaches such as aerial photographs to show general hydrology, evidence of channelization and general substrate levels, and the extent of the site covered by plants; ground-level photographs for identification of some plant species, general level of plant growth, general substrate levels, and general water levels; and general observations, such as water clarity and scum, presence of trash, evidence of human use, bird species present, vegetation condition, presence of invasive plants, etc.
  • Quantitative attributes are numerical and specific in nature, and may include methods such as measuring water level changes; collecting and testing water samples for water quality; collective a representative sample of sediment cores to test for organic matter and other soil characteristics; surveying surface elevations; recording plant species and cover; and setting traps for small mammals to determine species diversity and abundance.      

Volunteers. A great way to leverage community involvement and resources and help reduce the costs of implementation is through the engagement of volunteers to assist with implementation and monitoring. Identify potential partners by workout through non-profit environmental groups, schools, community service groups, and local corporations. Don’t forget to acknowledge any volunteers involved in the project for their efforts!

Long-term management. Planning for the long-term management of your wetland is another important component of ensuring its success. As land use, hydrology, and other features of the watershed evolve over time, you may need to take action to guarantee your wetland is continuing to achieve its goals. One way to do so is through development of a plan for long-term management, which clearly describes who is responsible for the site and what kinds of activities should or should not occur on the site. Within this plan you may choose to establish a stewardship program with the assistance of local stakeholders, establish legal protections, or a number of other arrangements. [Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration. “An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.” June 2015.] 

  • Legal protections. Considering whether you want to take legal action to ensure the wetland is permanently protected is another component of long-term management. For example, you may establish a conservation easement, a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that limits use of the land to protect conservation values. A similar option is a green belt, or a land use restriction to limit the use of land surrounding an urban area.

Landscaping and Aesthetics. [Interagency Workgroup on Wetland Restoration. “An Introduction and User’s Guide to Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement.” June 2015.]

  • Generally, the use of native plants in wetlands protection is preferable for sustainability, maintenance, and functional purposes. The right plant should be placed in a location suitable for its water and solar requirements.
  • Consider using groupings of plantings, which work better aesthetically than many individual, disparate plants thrown together. This makes for a cohesive design. 
  • Opt for some diversity in plant selection. A good mix of species and deciduous and evergreen material will promote a healthy diet and habitat for local wildlife.
  • Riparian edges and transitional zones between forest and meadows tend to be thick with undergrowth. Therefore, a manicured edge may not be realistic for a wetland. Don’t forget to balance aesthetics with the need to allow plants to behave naturally. If periodic and selective pruning is desired for aesthetic purposes, consider building this into the maintenance budget.  
  • When designing your space, consider the plant palette and composition of the local wetlands. Landscapes will look more like they belong there if their materials are rooted in the local context.
  • Plantings can be utilized to control views.
  • Consider how you would like for people to engage with and/or move through the landscape. For example, you may wish for people to view wetlands from afar or access select areas from a path, or a number of any other situations.
  • Consider scale and variety in terms of high, medium, and low. A good rule of thumb is to plant in layers. An overhead canopy provides a sense of shelter; a mid story offers visual interest at eye level; and ground cover acts as a carpet.
  • Consider the ability of your wetland to provide seasonal interest. Whether its buds, blooms, foliage, fall color, berries in the winter, or exfoliating bark visible in the early spring, it’s always great to have some kind of visual interest throughout the year.
  • Play with proportion in your wetland. Equal plant masses will carry the same visual weight. However, a variety of items, for example a large swath of grasses and single specimen understory tree, can add visual impact. 

This Page Last Updated: January 7, 2021 at 12:08 PM