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Net Gain Strategy


The Department has expanded from its traditional regulatory role to one of pro-active involvement in watershed management programs. Its watershed approach is community based, locally driven and specific to the needs of the local watershed. Backed by over $250 million of state funds for the next four years, cost effective best management practices will be planned and implemented by local watershed organizations to support and attain the Commonwealth's water quality standards and goals. The protection, restoration and creation of wetlands are critical components to effective watershed management in Pennsylvania.

Introduction - Historic Trends

Wetlands and their importance are now recognized for their many contributions to enhancing water quality, providing valuable wildlife habitat and contributing to public safety and welfare. In its June 1987 publication, "Mid-Atlantic Wetlands, A Disappearing Natural Treasure," the National Wetlands Inventory estimated that Pennsylvania lost 28,000 acres of wetlands over a 23-year period from 1956 to 1979, an average of 1,200 acres per year. In a 1994 study funded by the Chesapeake Bay Program, the National Wetlands Inventory concluded that between 1982 and 1989, Pennsylvania gained 4,683 acres of wetland within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, indicating a significant shift to a gain of wetland resources for the first time. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wetlands Inventory, roughly 404,000 acres of wetlands are now found throughout the Commonwealth. The purpose of the following wetland net gain strategy is to ensure the continuation of wetland gain by providing a framework and resources for the restoration of wetlands within the overall context of the Commonwealth's watershed management programs.

Redefining The Commonwealth's Goals And Objectives For Wetland Resources

The first and primary mission of federal and state agencies charged with wetlands protection was simply to stop the loss of these valuable resources through the implementation of "No Net Loss" programs. "No Net Loss" focused on replacing individual wetlands lost under federal and state permit program actions on a case-by-case basis, with the objective of having the wetlands replaced and replicated on-site or as close to on-site as possible. Permitting programs were not structured to achieve wetland resource gains or to facilitate wetland restoration within the context of a proactive watershed based water quality program. The implementation of "No Net Loss" only maintained the current status with minimal opportunity for an actual gain in wetland resources.

As the value of wetlands to our society and economy became better appreciated, a "Net Gain of Wetland Resources" has become the broader and more proactive long-range goal. As early as 1988, the National Wetlands Policy Forum, in its "Protecting America's Wetlands: An Action Agenda," recommended that beyond the interim goal of no net loss, the nation should pursue a long-term goal "to increase the quantity and quality of the nation's wetlands resource base." The Forum recognized the values that wetlands provide in their natural state including: the support of a vast array of wildlife and fisheries; their importance in the local and regional hydrologic cycles providing natural stormwater and flood mitigation during periods of high precipitation and runoff, as well as baseflows during drought conditions and their ability to capture and store sediment and filter other pollutants, thereby protecting our public waters.

In September 1998, Pennsylvania's 21st Century Environmental Commission confirmed that wetlands are key components in protecting and restoring aquatic systems. The Commission recommended the continuation of wetland protection and no net loss as well as the development and implementation of a program to restore historical wetland losses with a goal of generating a net gain in wetlands. The Department of Environmental Protection has refocused its wetland protection program to emphasize the restoration of these critical resources as an important component in long-range watershed management, planning and implementation.

In order to meet Pennsylvania's commitment to the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, output of 25,000 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands restored in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by the year 2010, Pennsylvania will establish a goal to create and/or restore a minimum of 400 acres of non-tidal wetlands per year. This figure represents the wetlands for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Evaluation Of Existing And Needed Protection Mechanisms

Permitting Program

Under the authority of the Commonwealth's Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, Pennsylvania has had an active permitting program since 1980. Regulations found at Pennsylvania Code Title 25, Chapter 105 provide the permitting criteria and wetland mitigation and replacement requirements. Supporting the Commonwealth's efforts, the federal Clean Water Act also provides for the protection of wetlands under the Army Corps of Engineers Section 404 permitting program. In the mid 1980s, in order to facilitate the coordination of these state and federal permitting programs, a joint permit application process was developed. Although the permit application process was simplified, jurisdictional differences between the state and federal programs created uncertainty, confused people and did not always result in the effective protection of wetlands.

In 1995 the entire process, from permit application to permit decision, was streamlined through the implementation of the State Programmatic General Permit which has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This new innovative permit process eliminated the redundancy of the state and federal system, created a more effective and efficient permit process, clarified the process for the general public, reduced the number of permitted wetland losses and provided a mechanism where all permitted wetland impacts are subject to the full range of wetland mitigation including the replacement of wetland resources.

Wetland impacts statewide now average less than 75 acres per year. Further, no net loss of wetland resources has been achieved through the wetland mitigation requirements in the regulations. In situations where there are no practical alternatives and wetland impacts cannot be avoided or minimized, permit applicants must provide in-kind wetland replacement to replace the functions and values lost as a result of the permitted activity. This mitigation sequence of avoidance, minimization and replacement is a fundamental requirement in both the federal and state permitting programs.

Although the implementation of mitigation requirements did provide for a no net loss of wetlands, regulations alone do not account for the significant drop in wetland loss over the past decades. Credit must be given to the many organizations and individuals who advanced the values of these resources by providing endless hours of training and education to generate public interest in their protection.

Restoration Programs

During the 1990s, two federal agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), embarked on ambitious wetland restoration programs. The highly successful Partners for Wildlife, managed by the USFWS, and the Wetland Reserve Program, implemented by the NRCS, have contributed greatly to the Commonwealth's wetland resource baseline. These voluntary landowner assistance programs demonstrate the high level of interest and commitment among private landowners for the restoration of our natural resources. During the past ten years, these two federal programs have added more than 3,059 wetland acres to the state's resource base.

Other proactive programs, such as Section 319 and Growing Greener Grants, have provided and will continue to provide an effective method to target wetland restoration to support watershed needs. Targeting wetland restoration within a watershed context significantly improves the Department's ability to address and control non-point source pollution such as mine drainage discharges and other localized non-point concerns.

Since 1990, 4,660 acres of wetlands have been restored in Pennsylvania through various regulatory and non-regulatory programs and partnerships resulting in an overall net gain of 3,765 acres of wetlands in Pennsylvania.

Appendix A (pdf)

Appendix B (pdf)

Strategy Development And Implementation Plan

The Commonwealth's net gain strategy builds on the successes of present programs and creates new opportunities to encourage and support watershed based wetland restoration. On October 19, 1998, the Department convened a meeting with agencies and organizations that were currently advancing wetland restoration throughout the Commonwealth. The participants discussed: opportunities for wetland restoration; the desire to more effectively document and evaluate wetland restoration efforts; ways to provide information to the general public about the benefits of wetland restoration and opportunities to secure assistance and funding for wetland restoration. The following actions are being taken to support and strengthen these program efforts:

Data Management, Monitoring And Coordination

Standard definitions, tracking, monitoring and reporting procedures are being used for known federal, state and private wetland programs. Protocols have been developed to track functional wetland gains achieved through wetland enhancement projects, as well as acreage gains achieved through restoration programs. DEP tracks wetland gains geographically within watersheds and by community type consistent with the Cowardin system. Centralized data systems are used to compile, track and report wetland restoration and enhancement efforts conducted by the Pennsylvania Wetland Replacement Program, Partners for Wildlife, Wetland Reserve Program, Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation and permit mitigation activities (Appendix C1-3). In addition, permitted impacts and required replacement will be monitored through eFACTS (Environmental Facilities, Application & Compliance Tracking System).

Targeting Resources

Wetland restoration efforts will be focused within the context of local and regional comprehensive watershed management plans. These local initiatives will identify and prioritize specific restoration functions and locations necessary to sustain strong, healthy ecosystems.

The restoration of wetland resources continues to play an important role in the Department's watershed management approach to environmental protection. Watersheds that have had wetland impacts due to permitted activities are prioritized for wetland creation and restoration. Efforts are made to match the new wetland areas and functions with those of the impacted wetlands. The Department also prioritizes wetland restoration and creation efforts to mitigate non-point source pollution and improve and maintain water quality in water bodies with approved TMDLs or on the 303(d) list.

Education And Outreach

There remains a critical opportunity to continue to publicize the successes and the availability of wetland restoration and preservation programs to the public. Efforts are being made to generate interest from the media during project development and implementation. Periodic summary reports will be distributed to generate public interest in wetland restoration. Sources of grants, and financial and technical assistance will be identified and provided to private landowners and organizations to support project development and implementation.

The Department will continue to develop, compile, maintain and distribute informational resources to provide individuals, local organizations and government agencies with the latest information on how to protect and restore wetland resources.

The Department will continue to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners, local governments and volunteer organizations interested in watershed and wetland restoration projects. Department staff will offer a full range of technical assistance including, site assessments, grant assistance, design, construction expertise and project monitoring.

Funding Initiatives

Growing Greener grant funds are used to support wetland conservation activities throughout the Commonwealth. These activities are implemented through local initiatives as part of the Department's focus on comprehensive watershed management. Growing Greener grants support the activities of large non-government organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which plans to restore 2,400 acres of wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by 2005.

Section 319 grant funds are used for wetland restoration projects that affect non-point pollution problems in impaired watersheds identified on the Commonwealth's 303(d) list.

Pennsylvania's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) provides $218 million to improve water quality, enhance wildlife habitat and reduce nutrient loads in twenty counties of the Susquehanna and Potomac River watersheds. Wetland restoration and creation is one of the conservation practices targeted by CREP.

Partners for Wildlife - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Partners for Wildlife is a voluntary program that uses the combined efforts of federal, state and local government agencies, private groups and individuals to restore and enhance fish and wildlife habitats. This program focuses on reestablishing wetlands, native grasslands and riparian areas. The Service's partners in the program include Ducks Unlimited, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, County Conservation Districts, private landowners and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Since 1989, over 300 projects have been completed, restoring nearly 3,059 acres of wetlands. Landowner response has been extremely positive. For each completed project, three or four nearby landowners often request a restoration project on their property.

Wetland Reserve Program - Natural Resource Conservation Service: The Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) was created by the 1990 Farm Bill. To date, 34 permanent easement projects (990 acres), three 30-year easement projects (115 acres), and 118 non-easement projects (1,836 acres) have been enrolled for a total of 2,941 acres statewide.

Pennsylvania Game Commission: The PA Game Commission has extensive land holdings throughout the Commonwealth that are managed for wildlife through improvement to water quality. The PA Game Commission partners with other agencies to create wetland areas. The PA Game Commission also supports a highly successful stream bank-fencing program on game cooperative properties.

Strategy Review And Evaluation

The Department evaluates the effectiveness of this strategy annually to measure its success in meeting wetland restoration goals and objectives. A meeting of all state, federal and interested persons is convened to evaluate program implementation, develop new initiatives and partnerships and make recommendations to improve wetland restoration and preservation efforts. Data collection, output tracking and project monitoring issues for statewide application and the Chesapeake Bay Program are addressed at the meeting.



Appendix C-2

Net Gain Tracking Form Instructions

General Information -

Project Year: The year of project completion.

Project Number: Use your agency's project numbering system if applicable or leave blank.

County Code: Name or code number of the county, where the project is located.

Basin: Use the State Water Plan Map to identify the watershed basin that drains the project.

Property owner: Enter the name, address and phone number of the property owner of the project site.

Lat & Long: The latitude and longitude coordinates of the center of the project site. (Degrees, minutes and seconds.)

Existing Site Conditions -

Type and Size: Enter the area of the existing wetlands the project site, if any, by wetland type. PEM (Emergent), PSS (Scrub/shrub), PFO (Forested wetlands) or POW (Open water). (To the tenth of an acre).

CH. 93 Classifications: Classification of the watercourse affected by the project. WWF (warm water fishery), CWF (cold water fishery), TSF (trout stocked fishery), HQ (High Quality) or EV (Exceptional Value).

Contributing Drainage Area: Size of the immediate watershed that drains to the project wetland.

Predominant Land Use Type: List no more than two predominant land use types for the drainage area. Include a rough area percentage for each land use type. (Land Use Types include: till agriculture, conservation till agriculture, pasture land, hay land, forestland, impervious urban land, pervious urban land, or mixed open land.)

Prior Converted: Check only if the project involves wetland(s) that were previously converted to agriculture land.

Completed Project Data -

Hydro-geomorphic Class: Enter the HGM classification of the wetland if known.

Acreage Impacted: Enter the area of impact to existing wetlands by wetland type. PEM (Emergent), PSS (Scrub/shrub), PFO (Forested wetlands) or POW (Open water). (To the tenth of an acre.)

Acreage Restored: Enter the area of wetlands restored or created.

Enhancement Activity: Enter the type of activity used to enhance the wetland. Enter the area of enhanced wetlands to the tenth of an acre.

Definitions -

Created Wetlands: Manipulation of the physical, chemical or biological characteristics of an upland or deepwater site to develop a wetland where one did not previously exist.

Restored Wetland: Manipulation of the physical, chemical or biological characteristics present with the goal of returning natural/historic functions to a former wetland site.

Enhanced Wetland: Manipulation of the physical, chemical or biological characteristics of a wetland (undisturbed or degraded) with a goal to heighten, intensify, or improve specific function(s) or to change the growth stage of the vegetation present. Enhancement is undertaken for a purpose such as water quality improvement, flood water retention, wildlife habitat, etc.

Deepwater Site: Permanently flood lands with a depth below the 18-inch boundary limit for wetlands.

Former Wetland: An area that was once a wetland but has been modified to the point that it no longer has the hydrologic characteristics of a wetland.

Degraded Wetland: Wetland with one or more functions reduced, impaired or damaged due to human activity.

Uplands: Land that is neither a deepwater site nor wetlands. It is seldom or never inundated, or if frequently inundated, its soils are saturated for only brief periods during the growing season, and, if vegetated, it normally supports a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life only in aerobic soil conditions.

Appendix C-3

Standard Definitions for Wetland Tracking


  1. water quality enhancement (reduction of pollutant loading, including excess nutrients, sediments and toxics);
  2. attenuation of flood waters and storm waters;
  3. bank and shoreline stabilization;
  4. sediment and erosion control;
  5. habitat for many species of plants and animals;
  6. food chain support; or
  7. groundwater discharge or recharge.




Required restoration, enhancement or creation of a wetland that is or will be lost under a state or federal program.


The establishment of a wetland where one did not formerly exist. Creation generally takes place in upland environments.

Cumulative Impacts

The impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of an action when added to other past, present or reasonably foreseeable future actions (adapted from 40 CFR Section 1508.7).

Ecological Value

The societal importance, usefulness or desirability of a function attributed to a wetland.


Actions performed to establish or improve the functions of a wetland or other aquatic sites or resources.


The roles a wetland is capable of performing, such as:

Functional Assessment

A qualitative or quantitative approach to determine the roles a wetland performs.


Replacement activities which are intended to replicate as closely as possible the vegetation, hydrology and landscape characteristics of a wetland.


The sequential process of avoiding, minimizing and compensating for impacts to wetlands under a state or federal program.

No Net Loss

No Net Loss is comprised of two factors:

Spatial: Acreage of areas meeting wetlands definitions is the same at beginning and end of accounting period.


Functional: Cumulative ecological value of wetland areas is the same at beginning and end of accounting period.

Net Gain

Net Gain is comprised of two factors:

Spatial Gain: Acreage of areas meeting wetlands definitions is greater at the end of the accounting period than at the beginning of the accounting period. 

Functional Gain: Cumulative ecological value of wetland areas is greater at the end of the accounting period than at the beginning of the accounting period.


Activities which ensure the continued existence of a wetland and its ecological values.




Actions performed which establish wetlands on former wetland sites.


Areas that are inundated or saturated by surface water or groundwater at a frequency or duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances does support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil (40 CFR Part 232, Federal Register 53 (108): 26764-20787). < 18 inches of standing water *

A Jurisdictional Wetland is an area meeting this definition that is regulated by a state or federal agency.

Wetland Loss

Spatial Loss: Alteration of an area so that it no longer meets the wetland definition.

Functional Loss: Alteration of existing vegetation, water levels or soils that significantly impairs or eliminates principal wetland functions.

Natural Losses: Those actions described above that result from no direct human cause or a natural disaster, including:

  1. sea level rise;
  2. natural vegetation succession;
  3. floods.

Regulated Losses: alterations of wetlands described that are governed under a state or federal program.

State Wetlands Strategy Glossary; Chesapeake Bay Program, 1998

* Pennsylvania requirement