An Analysis of Wetland Mitigation Success in Hillsborough County, Florida 2000-2007

Leigh Ann Elgin

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, July 09, 2014.

Abstract

Wetlands provide many functions to the environment including flood storage, water filtration/purification, foraging, nesting, and recreation opportunities. Wetland mitigation is the practice of replacing wetlands that are impacted by development. Wetland mitigation may take place on-site, off-site, or through a mitigation bank. Many authors including Dahl (2013), Robb (2002), Hallwood (2006), and Kihslinger (2008) report that wetland mitigation is not functioning as it was intended as wetland acreage is still being lost. Dahl (2013) found that freshwater vegetated wetlands in the lower 48 United States declined by 300,000 acres between 2004 and 2009. Many argue this continued loss is due to a lack of agency oversight and enforcement. As part of this research, one hundred forested wetland mitigation files were reviewed at the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). These files were reviewed for compliance, oversight, and enforcement. They were permitted between 2000 and 2007 and were assessed for permit compliance at the time of wetland mitigation release. Additionally, twenty files (20%) were field assessed for permit compliance as well. EPC is required to monitor forested wetland mitigation systems for a minimum of five years. If after the initial five years, the project does not reach success (e.g. meets the success criteria set forth in the permit), monitoring must continue until the criteria are met. This study is a qualitative assessment of mitigation projects within Hillsborough County. The results show that 79% of wetland mitigation projects meet success criteria vi at the time of monitoring release; however, some wetlands degrade after time. Results show that only 56% of field verified projects met success criteria at the time of assessment. In order to ensure mitigation success years after creation, it is imperative that mitigation areas be monitored until they are stable (i.e. meet success criteria for several years).