During the 2005 and 2006 field seasons, Cleveland Metroparks Natural Resources Division staff assessed the condition of nearly 300 wetlands throughout the Park District. This was one of only three studies ever performed with such a wide scope statewide, and one of only about a dozen nationwide. Analysis of the data revealed a number of interesting and useful things. Cleveland Metroparks wetlands received a rating of "good." This rating compares Cleveland Metroparks wetlands to the wetlands in the Cuyahoga River watershed as assessed in 2007. Yet, wetland quality was highly variable, exhibiting some of the best, as well as some of the worst, regional wetlands as scored with the Ohio EPA procedure used to characterize these habitats.
So the inquiring mind asks "why was this the case?" This study also attempted to objectively determine the cause of the quality of wetlands observed. Three main factors were compared against wetland scores: Landscape Development Index (LDI, a measure of intensity of surrounding land use) and size and perimeter to area ratio of the reservations in which the wetlands were found (both being indicators of amount of fragmentation of the land holding). It was revealed that the condition class of the wetlands ("poor", "fair", "good", or "excellent") were inversely related to their LDI; in other words, wetlands in reservations with less intensive surrounding land uses were, as a whole, significantly higher in quality and the reverse was true in highly urbanized areas of the Park District.
It was also observed that less-fragmented reservations, or those that were larger translated into better quality wetlands. Additionally, it was found that superior quality wetlands exhibited fewer hydrologic and habitat stressors than low quality wetlands. None of these finds are likely surprising to ecologically savvy citizens, but as scientists it is our job to first determine objectively that the trends we might expect are truly present.
The study results revealed that the wetlands of Hinckley Reservation were the shining beacon of quality; this reservation had the single highest scoring wetland, the highest average score, and the most superior quality wetlands of any other in the Park District. Not surprisingly, this reservation also exhibited the lowest intensity surrounding land use and the lowest fragmentation of any other reservation.
So what does this all mean in addition to being of scientific interest? This data, and the corresponding findings, will allow our Natural Resource Mangers to make wise wetland management decisions and will allow Cleveland Metroparks, as an organization, to prioritize land acquisition with wetland conservation in mind. Focus should be on acquiring land adjacent to reservations with less intensive land use and fragmentation. Also, we now have the detailed information needed to direct restoration activities in areas that could most benefit from improvement, because even small wetlands in urbanized areas can provide havens of biodiversity and help interconnect populations of wetland organisms throughout the region. Finally, this information will be integrated into Cleveland Metroparks, and regional, resource management plans.
Read the full report (PDF)
—Mike Durkalec, Aquatic Biologist