Why do I need a wetland professional?
Wetland professionals are generally hired by landowners or developers who want to do something on their property that may affect a wetland. In addition, many local governments hire professionals to provide a third-party review. Some professionals are self-employed; others work for larger environmental or engineering consulting firms.
Wetland professionals are usually hired to identify and delineate wetlands, rate them, assess functions and values, and provide assistance with wetland regulations and permits. They often complete the necessary application forms and studies needed to meet regulations. They also provide advice about designing and implementing compensatory mitigation projects that are needed to replace wetlands if they will be lost or degraded.
What is a qualified wetland professional?
At this time, there is no government-approved program for certifying someone as a qualified wetland professional or qualified wetland specialist. Generally, the term means a person with professional experience and comprehensive training in wetland issues, including experience performing wetland delineations, assessing wetland functions and values, analyzing wetland impacts, and recommending and designing wetland mitigation projects.
The Society of Wetland Scientists administers a professional certification program for wetland scientists that has two levels of certification: Professional Wetland Scientist (PWS) and Wetland Professional In-Training (WPIT). A person certified as a PWS would be considered a qualified wetland scientist. This program is discussed more below.
There is no simple way to determine if someone is adequately qualified. However, the following criteria are general indicators of someone who may be qualified to perform the tasks typically required of a wetland professional:
- At a minimum, a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts or equivalent degree in hydrology, soil science, botany, ecology, resource management, or related field. A graduate degree in one of these fields is usually an indication of more advanced expertise.
- At least two years of full-time work experience as a wetland professional: including delineating wetlands, preparing wetland reports, conducting function assessments, and developing and implementing mitigation plans. Generally, the more years of experience, the greater the expertise.
- Completion of additional wetland-specific training programs. This could include a more comprehensive program such as the University of Washington Wetland Science and Management Certificate Program or individual workshops on topics such as wetland delineation, function assessment, mitigation design, hydrophytic plant or hydric soil identification.
Keep in mind that most people engaged in professional wetland work have greater expertise in some aspects of the field than others. A person may have in-depth training in plant ecology, soils, or hydrology, but few people have all three. A person may have extensive experience in wetland delineation or function assessment and have little experience in designing and implementing mitigation projects.
Therefore, it is important to be clear what specific tasks you need completed and make sure the person or firm being hired has the specific expertise needed. Generally, more complex projects require multiple individuals that provide collective expertise to address all aspects of the project.
How to find a wetland professional
There are a number of ways to find the names of wetland professionals:
- Search the phone book or online for environmental services.
- Contact the local government planning office and ask for a list of professionals that work in their area. Some local governments have specific requirements for wetland professionals.
Below are examples from King County and Pierce County:
- King County Department of Local Services- Hiring an Ecological Consultant (September 2019) provides guidance on what to look for when selecting a professional for your development project.
- Pierce County Code Title 18 Development Regulations – General Provisions requires all wetland delineation reports and mitigation plans be prepared by a wetland specialist who meets the qualifications outlined in Section 18.25.030.
- Request the advice of associations or businesses that commonly encounter wetlands in their work, such as the Building Industry Association of Washington and Association of Washington Business.
- Search the Society of Wetland Scientists professional wetland scientist database. They keep a list of those who have qualified for their professional certification program for wetland scientists. You can search by name, city, and/or state.
How to select a qualified wetland professional
It is important to pick the right wetland professional. We recommend interviewing professionals to determine their qualifications. Here are some questions to ask:
- Does the professional have training or experience in the use of the 1987 Corps of Engineers wetland delineation manual and the appropriate regional supplement?
The selected professional should have the ability to apply the methods for identifying wetlands used by state and federal agencies. Make sure that the professional can identify wetlands and their boundaries consistent with regulating agencies.
- Has the professional had additional training or expertise in related fields such as hydrology, soil science, botany, or ecology?
- Is the professional familiar with local, state, and federal wetland regulations?
- How long has the professional been doing wetlands work?
How much experience do they have delineating wetlands in the field, assessing wetlands functions and values, or working with wetland regulations? Has the person worked in the part of the state where you propose to develop? Ask the professional for examples of previous work similar to the services being requested. Can the professional take you to a successful wetland mitigation project they designed and/or implemented?
- Does the professional have experience working with regulatory agencies?
Ask the professional to describe their working relationship with the agencies that will be reviewing and/or permitting your project.
- Does the professional have experience working on a team?
Given the complexity of some projects, it is expected that a wetland professional will team up with others who have experience in related fields such as water quality, wildlife, stormwater management, and hydrogeology. Ask the professional for a list of people with whom they have worked on a team in the past.
- Who were some of the professional’s past clients?
Request referrals and ask clients if they were satisfied with the professional’s work. Ask whether there were any problems that occurred during or after the project, how the professional handled those problems, and what they charged for their work. Find out what type of track record the company has with local, state, and federal agencies. Be sure to ask for references that include clients who have had projects reviewed and approved by the regulatory agencies (us, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and local government).
- Talk with colleagues and other businesses.
Speak with real estate, land development, or home building businesses that are routinely involved in wetland concerns. Ask them about their experiences and knowledge regarding the professional being considered.
- If you are considering a consulting firm, find out exactly who will be working on your project.
Will it be the principal professional with the years of experience, or someone with less experience who works for them?
- Get an estimate of how much the professional will charge.
Compare rates but do not let cost be your only reason for picking a professional. Be sure to consider training, experience, and the other factors as well. A good professional who charges more may end up saving money by reducing permit processing delays.