Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota has signed an $880,000 agreement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to help inventory wetlands in the state’s Northwest region.
This is the largest single project awarded to the university’s GeoSpatial Services (GSS), a project center that integrates professional services and academic apprenticeships in the areas of natural resource assessment, geographic analysis, and digital mapping.
The two-year wetland project, which began in October, involves professional GSS staff working with Saint Mary’s undergraduate and graduate students interested in the fields of geographic information science and environmental science.
Saint Mary’s students under professional supervision will be generating the majority of the data for updating the Northwest Minnesota National Wetlands Inventory. Working at the university’s Prairie Island Field Station in Winona, up to 15 students will review digital aerial photos and LiDAR aerial laser measurements, interpret features on the ground, and delineate and classify current wetlands.
The paid student interns—selected through a competitive application process—will gain experiential and hands-on learning outside of the classroom and deeper understanding of the NWI and its benefits. They will also benefit from the wetland ecology expertise of Saint Mary’s environmental scientists, and utilize state of the art geographic information system (GIS) technology.
Students will be fully trained and supported by GeoSpatial Services staff to meet the accuracy requirements of the federal wetland mapping standards. Part of that training in wetland hydrology, hydric soil characterization, and vegetation identification will take place at Saint Mary’s Cascade Meadow Wetlands and Environmental Science Center in Rochester.
With the implementation of the Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) in 1991, state and federal agencies have been working toward a no-net-loss initiative in wetland quantity and quality, with the ultimate goal a net gain in wetland resources throughout Minnesota.
A large component of this no-net-loss initiative is establishing and updating wetland mapping, also known as the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI). This information can be used by federal, state and local governments, private industry, and non-profit organizations as baseline data for wetland regulation and management decisions, land use and conservation planning, environmental impact assessments, and natural resource inventories.
The existing wetland mapping for Minnesota is roughly 25 to 30 years old, and the Minnesota DNR has taken the lead to coordinate an update throughout the state. Saint Mary’s GeoSpatial Services has previously collaborated with the Minnesota DNR in creating, classifying, and ultimately updating the Minnesota NWI. From 2012 to 2015, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota completed wetland updates in the Southern Minnesota region.
More information on the National Wetlands Inventory for Minnesota is available online at www.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/wetlands/nwi_proj.html.