Wetlands mapping plays role in keeping Daniel Boone National Forest healthy, thriving

Division of Water devotes time, resources to promote wetland health

John Brumley and Barbara Scott carry equipment for mapping and water quality testing to a constructed wetland in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Photo by Lanny Brannock

It’s  8 a.m. on a muggy Thursday morning in July, and it’s raining steadily. John Brumley and Barbara Scott, veteran scientists in the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection’s Division of Water, are headed deep into the Daniel Boone National Forest to look for wetlands to document, map and assess. They have an idea of where these areas are, but the terrain is daunting and the roads narrow. A small Jeep carrying two crew and equipment is winding its way along small roads with an idea, but no real certainty of where wetlands were constructed in the forest 30 years ago. But the wetlands serve so many purposes, dealing with the terrain, the rain and the remote location is worth it.

Water quality testing looks for dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and other measurements to give scientists an idea of the relative health and usefulness of a wetland. Photo by Lanny Brannock

Mapping wetlands is just a small part of what the Kentucky Division of Water does, but it’s a labor intensive effort. The wetlands these scientists are documenting help the quality of life and habitat for species of plants and animals that are important to our ecosystem, especially in protected areas like national forests.  Wetlands in the Daniel Boone forest can be found just about anywhere. They can occur naturally, but many were built in open meadows, power line right-of-ways, hillsides and even in closed roads.

Wetlands provide habitat for an array of plants and animals, including many rare species that are found in no other place.

Brumley and Scott plotting data into a hand-held computer. Photo by Lanny Brannock

Brumley and Scott are no strangers to going into the field to gather information that increases quality of life for animals, plants and people. Even in a steady rain, they get to work, pulling soil samples, using GPS and other technology to plot and document the wetlands they find. The small, boggy areas often hold several inches of water, and most are less than a tenth of an acre in size. A device that measures water quality is dropped in the water. Photos on a GPS enabled phone are taken. 

Hundreds of  man-made wetlands were constructed over the course of three decades in an effort to diversify and fortify habitat in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Construction began in the 1980s and continued into the new century, but many of the constructed wetlands weren’t mapped, assessed or counted.

John Brumley with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection maps a wetland and tests its depth to ensure it is functioning as intended and providing a value to this area. Photo by Lanny Brannock

Years after the wetlands were constructed, the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection has partnered with the National Forest Service and Eastern Kentucky University to find and document these areas. The wetland monitoring and assessment program is a critical tool for Kentucky to better manage and protect our wetland resources.  The program’s goals are to establish a baseline in wetlands extent, condition, and function, as well as to characterize trends over time.

Data entry is just part of the process for wetland mapping. Photo by Lanny Brannock

The wetland monitoring program has initially focused on assessing and establishing characteristics of its wetland resources before developing wetland-specific water quality standards and designated uses.  To date, our primary efforts have been to develop a rapid wetland assessment method (KY-WRAM) and participate in the National Wetland Condition Assessments.  Vegetation and amphibian indices of biotic integrity are being developed in partnership with Eastern Kentucky University.

The information gained from geo-mapping, photographing and testing on the wetlands will allow scientists and government entities to make decisions on how to further manage the wetlands.

Many of these areas need maintenance work to insure their viability in the coming years. Others may be in such poor condition or offer little benefit, and won’t receive maintenance funding. Others may be in good enough shape that no action is required. Scientists like Brumley and Scott can determine the quality of the wetlands by documenting the soil in the wetland, the quality of the water in the wetland, and looking at the size, shape and depth of the wetland.

Maintenance of these wetlands, often difficult to find and sometimes difficult to access with heavy equipment, is important if they’re going to provide habitat enhancement in the coming years.