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Part 2 | December 18, 2014
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First Amendment Concerns over Forest Service Proposal

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 40

Earlier this year, the U.S. Forest Service submitted a proposal that if passed would enact the same criteria for commercial filming on federal wilderness property that is currently upheld on national forests and grasslands. On September 4th, The Federal Register sought comment on the proposal, and was confronted by many who believe such a proposal would restrict constitutional rights established by the First Amendment.

The U.S. Forest Service, however, remains adamant that the proposal would not hinder anyone’s constitutional rights if it is passed. Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, claimed, “The U.S. forest Service remains committed to the First Amendment. The directive pertains to commercial photography and filming only. If you’re there to gather news or take recreational photography, no permit would be required.”

Furthermore, the U.S Forest Service sights the 1964 Wilderness Act, and claims that they, subsequently, have the “responsibility” to restrict some commercial activities to preserve the natural condition of established wilderness areas. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness areas by stating that “a wilderness, in contrast to those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Today, approximately 110 million acres of land across the United States count as wilderness areas.

Public TV stations in Oregon and Idaho have already been asked to obtain permits from the Forest Service for both still and video photography. Furthermore, in order to maintain that the land stays “untrammeled by man,” restrictions prohibiting personal-use motor vehicles and mountain bikes would be put into effect.

Despite the Forest Service’s defense of the proposal, Republican Senators, as well as those others who are critical of the proposal, remain steadfast in their opposition. The top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, claims, “This proposed regulation is just one example of the kind of federal overreach that comes when we lock up our public lands in wilderness designations. If the Forest Service is intent on moving forward with its proposed regulation, it must make clear that these types of activities are exempt.”

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso has also raised his concerns over the proposed regulations. He stated, “To me, it’s a direct violation of American’s rights. . . . It’s clear that the Forest Service believes that wilderness areas are government land. But it’s public land. This is public land.”

The amount of concern raised by the proposal has resulted in the November 3rd deadline for public comment to be pushed back 30 days. Tidwell claimed, “We’re looking forward to talking with journalists and concerned citizens to help allay some of the concerns we’ve been hearing and clarify what’s covered by this proposed directive.” He also noted that photographers, both professional and amateur, would not need a permit unless models, actors, or props were used, or if they work in areas that the public is generally not allowed. Tidwell also pointed out that the agency has required permits for years for several activities from cutting down Christmas Trees to filming major motion pictures, such as “The Lone Ranger” (2013).

The debate over whether or not such a proposal goes against American’s First Amendment rights looks set to heat-up over the coming weeks.

EPA’s Proposal to Define its Jurisdiction over Bodies of Water

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 39

EPA’s Proposal to Define its Jurisdiction over Bodies of Water

In March, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed that a rule be implemented to establish more clearly which bodies of water—for example, wetlands and streams—actually fall under the Clean Water Act, and, subsequently, under their own authority. The proposal became a controversial topic that forced Gina McCarthy, the EPA Administer, to claim that the rule does not significantly expand the EPA’s current authority to those bodies of water that lay outside of the agency’s jurisdiction.

Such a statement only added to the debate, however. Republicans argue that the rule grants the EPA too broad a reign, and that inconsequential bodies of water will become subject to federal regulation. Pennsylvania Representative Lou Barletta asserted, “I have heard from many of my constituents that this rule would force them to prove that large mud puddles and ditches on their property are not federally regulated waters…sometimes, a mud puddle is just a mud puddle.” Perhaps the regulation of inconsequential bodies of water is exactly what McCarthy meant to allude to when she said that the new rule would not “significantly” expand the EPA’s authority.

Democrats, however, appear somewhat split on the issue. The larger percentage of Democrats dismiss the Republican concern as excessive use of hyperbole. Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resource Committee, claimed that if such concerns were taken seriously, then not only have we “departed from reality,” but have also returned to “the earlier era of the 2003 and 2008 guidance.” Other Democrats, however, such as West Virginia Representative Nick Rahall—the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee—agreed with the Republicans that such a rule may result in federal overreach. He stated, “The only certainty that these regulations provide is the sure knowledge that under them, anyone undertaking any activity so much as a ditch in the United States will have to deal with the bureaucracy known as the EPA.”

This debate remains far from over, however. In early September, the House passed legislation that would prevent the EPA from implementing their proposed rule with a vote of 262 to 152. The bill would block the EPA from using their proposal in any way regarding the Clean Water Act.

Obama’s administration, however, “strongly opposes” the bill, and will advise that President Obama veto’s the bill if it reaches his desk. The Obama administration is allegedly only interested in protecting the waterways from pollution. They claimed that “clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy.” They continued by asserting that the bill not only “would derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act, hamstring future regulatory efforts, and create significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance,” but would also “sow more confusion and invite more conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation.”

This debate is set to continue, and with the threat of a presidential veto looming overhead, it may prove to be a significant issue in upcoming elections.

Restored Wetland Site Homes Vulnerable Species

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 38

The amount of Chlidonias niger, commonly known as the black tern, found in New York has rapidly decreased since the 1960’s. The levels have lowered by such a significant degree that New York now considers the bird endangered within its state. The black tern has yet to reach this level of scarcity on a global basis, however, the species is being closely monitored as its global population also continues to decrease.

The black tern nests in shallow freshwater wetlands; the combination of open water and emergent vegetation provide ideal feeding and breeding grounds for the swallow-like bird. The marshes in New York, among other northern states, however, have become overrun with vegetation and, subsequently, are now unsuitable habitats for the black tern.

The 1960’s saw a number of dams constructed on the St. Lawrence River. These dams generate hydropower, maintain the water levels for commercial shipping on Lake Ontario, and prevent shoreline real estate from flooding. However, the dams also limit the annual water fluctuations within the marshes, allowing for dense vegetation to establish itself.

Records indicate that nesting sites in New York decreased by 57% between 1989 and 2004. Furthermore, the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas displayed 40% fewer black tern breeding areas in 2000-2005 than there were in 1980-1985. The largest explanation for such declines is the degradation of suitable breeding locations.

Seneca Meadows, Inc. owns the largest active landfill in New York, and in 2007 created a 600 acre wetland preserve to replace the 70 acres of wetlands that it destroyed in an expansion project. The current state standard for mitigation in New York is 3:1, however, Seneca Meadows opted for a much larger project given the potential impact the project could have due to its proximity with the Montezuma Wetlands Complex.

Applied Ecological Services (AES) were placed in charge of the project and restored 24 acres of grasslands, 157 acres of wooded wetlands by using invasive species management, and 419 acres of wetlands by altering hydrology and plantings. The once farm fields were transformed into robust wetlands and meadows.

Since the completion of the project, black terns have been spotted in the wetlands during surveying. It is expected that their appearance is a result of the proximity to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, an area within the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. The restored wetlands provide great opportunity for the black tern to forage, feed, and reproduce.

The wetland preserve is also home to several grassland species that have showed significant signs of decline due to many grasslands in New York being converted to agriculture or reverted to forests. A few of these animals include bobolinks, grasshopper sparrows, and savannah sparrows.

Furthermore, it is not only animals that are benefiting from the wetland preserve. There are also a variety of plants that are now flourishing within the wetlands. Sedges, rushes, arrowheads, and pickerelweed are all growing healthily within the preserve. The seeds of these plants have been harvested and used to restore similar habitats in the neighboring Montezuma Wetlands Complex.

The restoration of the wetland habitat in New York, therefore, is actively contributing to the preservation of both animal and plant species that are native to the land.

Fuel Benefits of Algae

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 37

For years Algae has been used as fertilizers, soil conditioners, and as a source of nutrition for animals. Derived from the first declension Latin word ‘alga’, algae literally means ‘seaweed’, and has generally not been used as much more than that. It captures runoff nutrients from soil deposits, and in turn becomes harvested as a fertilizer itself.

Algae also contains other useful molecules, such as lipids, and thereby has the potential to be used in order to make a number of profitable items, including high-energy fuel. However, the ability to extract these molecules is an arduous and expensive task, and, therefore, has yielded little reward. Until now, that is.

Algae Systems, a company based in Nevada, owns a pilot plant in Alabama that is used to generate behavioral information on algae. It is a smaller facility that is intended to identify a specific focus for algae study before larger plants are devoted to the cause. Subsequently, it claims to have found a way to produce diesel fuel from algae.

The process works by performing three separate tasks. First, municipal sewage, a treatment used to fertilize algae, must yield clean water. Second, a carbon-heavy residue must be used as fertilizer for the algae. Finally, valuable credits for advanced biofuels must be generated. If these tasks are completed in conjuncture with one another, then Algae Systems claims that a greater level of carbon will be extracted from the atmosphere then is added during the consumption of fuel.

The system works by heating the algae, along with the other solids found in the sewage, to temperatures in excess of 550 degrees Fahrenheit, at 3,000 pounds per square inch. This produces a liquid that appears similar to crude oil from a well. The chief executive of Algae Systems, Matt Atwood, refers to this as a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system.

Once produced, the liquid was studied by scientists at Auburn University, who, acting in line with the common procedure for oil refinement, added hydrogen to the liquid. This, subsequently, produced diesel fuel, which was later confirmed by Intertek, an independent laboratory, to meet all of the industries specifications.

The intriguing aspect of Algae Systems’ process is the means by which they separate the individual molecules from the algae. The high level thermal process they implement is a new system in algae treatment. It produces the potential to greatly reduce the amount of energy exerted on extracting molecules from algae.

Halil Berberoglu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, is also researching this area of algae treatment—separate from Algae Systems—and is excited by the prospect of such a “hydrothermal liquefaction” system. He described the older system as being “very energy-intensive,” whereby one must “dewater the algae, poke holes in the cell walls, and do all kinds of separation technologies.”

The high thermal process would not only allow the separation of lipids from the algae, but also the separation of proteins and carbohydrates, which may lead to further uses of algae.

Many obstacles remain in the advancement of such a process, for example the possible incorporation of heavy metals, nitrogen, and sulfur in crude oil compounds. Nonetheless, Algae System’s new perspective on algae treatment is both promising and refreshing.

Wetland Delineation Jobs in the Northeast

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 36

Periodically we get calls about wetland related jobs. One aspect of our school is that we try to help our students find work. We often post this information on our wetland career page.

This past week we were contacted by a large professional services recruitment company in the northeast. They are trying to hire 30-40 wetland delineators for a large pipeline right-of-way project that runs from Connecticut into the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Normally we would just port this job on our webpage and direct our students to it. However given the size of the job and the need for immediate placement we thought that we would post it as this week’s news event. Personally, I cannot remember the last time I was asked if I knew 30-40 people looking for a wetland job.

This is the job description and requirements.

  • 3-10 years previous Wetland Delineation experience
  • Fully proficient in state and federal procedures (e.g. 3-Parameter: vegetation, soils and hydrology) for wetlands delineation
  • BS/MS degree in Environmental Science, Biology/Wetlands Science or soils science
  • Wetlands and Soils Science Certifications preferred (PWS, CWS, Soil Science Cert)
  • Ability to work long hours (with paid overtime) in a construction environment and some weekends is needed
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills helpful along with working as part of a larger team
  • Experience with GIS and GPS highly desirable
  • This position requires leadership skills with the ability to lead and direct field teams

If you are interested in getting more information for the recruitment company we have posted a contact form below. We will forward you information on and have the recruiter contact you directly for your resume etc. The hiring company is using the recruiter to conduct the initial screens of potential candidates. They will be able to answer all of your questions. We do not have any additional information about this project. Please do not send us any resumes as we are not part of the hiring process.

This project is hiring in phases and we have been told that having the basic wetland training on your resume will go a long way to help you land this job. We have a couple of basic training sessions coming up this fall. We still have room and would love to see you in class!

Have a great week!


Northeast Wetland Delineation Jobs Contact Form
Please provide your contact information below. This information will be sent to the hiring organization and they will contract you directly.

EPA Releases Updated Wetlands Maps

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 35

On August 27, 2014, Representative Lamar Smith requested a set of maps that have been prepared by the USEPA depicting wetlands. His concern is that these maps are intended for regulatory use.

“These maps show the EPA’s plan: to control a huge amount of private property across the country. Given the astonishing picture they paint, I understand the EPA’s desire to minimize the importance of these maps,” he wrote, in the letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

An EPA spokeswoman said the maps, from the U.S. Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service, do not depict which waters are subject to EPA control.

“Let us be very clear — these maps have nothing to do with EPA’s proposed rule or any other regulatory purpose,” Liz Purchia said, noting they were initially created years ago and subsequently updated.

The House committee only learned about the maps after hearing from the U.S. Geological Survey that the EPA was having them prepared. Lawmakers subsequently asked then-EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe about them at a hearing last month, and he agreed to release them.

Smith, in his letter, also questioned why the agency used taxpayer money to create the maps. He asked the agency to provide all documents related to its contract for the maps, turn over any other previously undisclosed maps, and extend the comment period for at least another two months. It is currently due to close on October 20, 2014.

The maps, letters and other information can be found here.

SAB Quality Review of a Draft Report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 34

On August 11, 2014 the USEPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) released Review of the Draft EPA Report Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters. There are at least two controversial items in this review. One relates to the role of groundwater in determining connectivity. The other is the issue of whose definition of wetlands should we use. The following is from the August 11th report.

3.2.4. Defining the Scope of the Report

The SAB finds that the scope of the Report, with respect to the types of waters and wetlands covered, needs to be clearly defined and discussed at the beginning of Chapter 3. As a synthesis of the scientific literature, the Report appropriately includes discussion of the relevant literature on processes that occur across landscapes to connect various waters and wetlands, relying on science-based and ecological (i.e., Cowardin et al. 1979) rather than regulatory definitions of waters and wetlands. That said, the Report is unclear about the degree to which its definitions of waters and wetlands include broader portions of the landscape (e.g., whether wetlands or rivers include their floodplains), and this could be clarified with discussion of functional roles of landscape elements. Many public commenters have expressed concern about the potential expansion of the scope of jurisdiction of the underlying Clean Water Act – from “three-parameter” to “one-parameter” waters and wetlands. These concerns could be addressed in a separate section outlining the scope of the Report immediately after the section defining connectivity. The Report should discuss the functional role of floodplains and riparian areas (i.e., the riverine landscape) regardless of their regulatory status. However, it should be made clear that this discussion does not imply an expansion of the definition of waters and wetlands under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The SAB recognizes that the Report is a scientific and not a policy document, but finds that ignoring this distinction only serves to create unnecessary confusion and concern among the readership.

The short version of this is the SAB report defines a wetland using the 1979 US Fish and Wildlife definition and that is not going to change. The reason is that it is more “scientific” than the regulatory definition. The problem is that this entire Waters of the US definition change in based upon the issue that what is regulated and what is not is unclear. It would seem to me that basing the definition of wetlands on anything but the regulatory definition will only make this issue more unclear.

We will dive into the groundwater issue next week.

Have a great Labor Day!



Mid-Year Wetland Plant Challenges

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 33

Twice a year the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) accepts challenges to its National Wetland Plant List (NWPL). Challenges from the public can be made between January 1 through March 31 and again from June 1 through August 31 of each year.

This is the procedure outlined by the COE.

Individuals or institutions may challenge or request a change to a plant species’ wetland rating if they believe it is incorrect. This three-stage challenge process, which involves an exchange of information among the Requester, the National Technical Committee on Wetland Vegetation (NTCWV), and the National Panel (NP) and Regional Panels (RP) of the NWPL, is designed to increase our knowledge of wetland plant distribution and disseminate that information to all.

In the first stage of each challenge, the Requester submits a recommendation and rationale with supporting documentation. If both the NP and RP agree with the Requester’s suggested rating, the plant’s wetland rating will be changed during the next annual update of the NWPL. If the NP does not agree with the Requester’s recommendation, the Requester may continue the process by testing their recommendation with a field study.

In Stage Two, Requesters submit a study proposal based on a study design template to be developed by the NTCWV. The NTCWV and the NP will work with the Requester to adjust these templates for a particular plant species or wetland type, including the appropriate spatial scale. Once the design is approved, Requesters may collect the data.

In Stage Three, the Requester submits the data to the NP for analysis. Alternatively, the Requester may enter and analyze the data they collect using a pre-formatted spreadsheet. All data and results generated during a challenge to a species wetland rating will be posted on the NWPL web site. Ultimately, the NP will determine the change in indicator status and the spatial scale at which the change is warranted.

Earlier in the year the National Home Builders Association submitted four challenges to the NWPL for the following species for the listed regions.

Lolium perenne – Perennial/Italian Rye Grass [Arid West]
Baccaris salicifolia – Mules Flat [Arid West]
Poa pratensis – Kentucky Blue Grass [Mid West]
Lonicera japonica – Japanese Honeysuckle [EMP & AGCP]

All four of these species are listed as FAC in the latest published NWPL.

Lonicera japonica had been re-evaluated in the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plain region prior to the release of the 2014 NWPL update. It had been changed only in that region from FAC to FACU. On May 22, 2014 The Eastern Mountains and Piedmont (EMP) Regional Panel reviewed a challenge request, for Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle) and Juglans californica (California Walnut),submitted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

The Eastern Mountains and Piedmont Regional Panel unanimously agreed to rate Lonicera japonica (Japanese Honeysuckle) as FACU after reviewing the challenge request package submitted by the National Association of Home Builders’.  The National Panel discussed the outcome of these results and also reached the consensus that Lonicera japonica should be rated FACU.

The voting results from the Arid West Regional Panel for Juglans californica (California Walnut) were tied at the regional level after reviewing the challenge request package submitted by the National Association of Home Builders’; 2 FACU and 2 FAC. The National Panel discussed these results and unanimously agreed to rate Juglans californica FACU.

The ratings listed above for Lonicera japonica (FACU) and Juglans californica (FACU) are effective immediately for 2014. The changes will be reflected on the NWPL with the next published version of the list in 2015.

One other species was updated. On July 15, 2014, the National Panel re-examined the rating of Phacelia distans Benth. ( Distant Scorpion-Weed ) and agreed to change it to UPL in the Arid West and in the Western Mountain Valleys and Coast Regions. A request for re-evaluation was submitted by Tony Bomkamp of Glenn Lukos Associates. This rating is effective immediately for 2014. The change will be reflected on the NWPL with the next published version of the list in 2015.

Please make sure to update your lists especially in the EMP region. Lonicera japonica has always been a problematic species and its presence in wet areas is not always representative of that area being a wetland. This is especially true when you find it in a floodplain. It seems to be climbing out of the water trying to keep its feet dry. Changing the indicator status of this plant does reflect its nature of not really being a wetland plant.

Have a great week!


Wetland Delineation Backlog

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 32

On July 30, 2014 roughly 350 farmers from across eastern South Dakota attended a public forum with Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) officials to discuss issues related to wetland delineations. The forum was spooned by South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Soybean Association (SDSA), South Dakota Corn Growers, and the South Dakota Farmers Union. As of July 1, 2014 the NRCS has reported that there are over 5,130 wetland determination requests in the Prairie Pothole region of the US waiting to be reviewed. South Dakota leads the backlog with over 2,993 requests.

NRCS estimates that it takes one to two years to process a wetland determination request given this backlog. It is the hope of both NRCS and the farmers to find a way to bring this time frame down to one year or less. Once a farmer does receive the wetland delineation, he or she has only 30 days to take action if an appeal is desired. This was a point of concern given that 30 days is a relatively short length of time. This is especially a problem if the appeal occurs during a farmer’s peak planting or harvest season.

“The number of people attending this forum speaks to the importance of finding a solution to the backlog and confusion over how wetland delineations are handled,” said Wayne Smith, Executive Director of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, which represents 14,000 farm, ranch, and rural families across the state. “These farmers are sincere in their desire to work with the NRCS, but they also want to be able to get information in a timely way and to know that that information is consistent and science-based.”

Much of the backlog is related to the current NRCS policy that all wetland delineations submitted by a consultant on the farmer’s behalf must be field inspected by NRCS. Even if this is a spot check the time to travel to the site and spend just a few minutes on-site really adds up when you look at the number so these inspections that must be done. If you allotted just 4 hours per site, which would include travel to and from the farm it would take over 6 years for one inspector to clear the current t backlog in South Dakota alone. There are three individuals listed as NRCS wetland specialists in South Dakota. So, if these three folks eat and sleep in the wetlands and only do inspections, they could easily knock this out in 2 years. They cannot go back to the office and must visit at least two sites per day.

I have run into some pretty intense work schedules in my nearly 30 years in the wetland delineation business. However this beats all. I do not see how anyone could ever keep up this regime without burning out.

These wetland delineations are being done for compliance with a variety of USDA agricultural programs. The USDA program is not a regulatory compliance program. The wetland delineations are done to help NRCS evaluate eligibility for a number of USDA subsidy programs. It is the current policy of the USDA to avoid wetland impacts to the maximum extent possible. A farmer who impacts a wetland runs the risk of losing farm subsidies and depending upon the date of impact could be forced to return prior subsidy monies.

If a farmer has impacted a wetland there is also the possibility of Clean Water Act (CWA) violations being discovered by the Corps and EPA. This too has severe labor concerns as there are far fewer regulators able to look at potential violation sites.

There have been a couple of suggestions to solve the review problem. One suggestion is to employ remote sensing technologies to confirm the presence of wetlands. Currently NRCS does do this to a limited extent. At issue is that many farmers have reported that when NRCS uses offsite methods more areas are determined to be wetlands then the on-site methods would reveal. The main issue is the presence or abscess of hydric soils. Many of the prairie potholes lack any hydric soil indicators and consequently are not wetlands.

In many cases even if the prairie pothole is a wetland it may be deemed isolated and not subject to wetland regulation under the Clean Water Act. However, USDA policy usually precludes impacts to wetlands whether or not they are waters of the US. Under current CWA rules isolated wetlands are not waters of the US. Under the proposed new CWA rules they would be jurisdictional. The new rules make it quite clear that all prairie potholes are waters of the US regardless of the presence of hydric soils.

The solution to the backlog seems to be found in the new CWA rules. If there is no dispute that prairie potholes are waters of the US, then there should be no reason for a backlog. Categorically these areas would be waters of the US and there would be no need for a wetland delineation. It would be fairly easy to identify the prairie potholes remotely as they do tend to stand out on an air photo. There would be no need for a soils investigation so there is no real reason to ever leave the office.

Perhaps this is a solution. Prairie potholes are a unique landform and offer a variety of ecological benefits. However, there is a significant economic impact to the farmers in this region if they have to develop a total avoidance practice. It may not even be possible for this to be achieved. Unfortunately, the new CWA rules do not address these economic impacts at all. The Whitehouse Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report on these new rules is focused entirely on the cost to manage compliance and never addresses the cost to the public. In my humble opinion there needs to be a balance between environmental stewardship and the economic impacts of that stewardship. In this case perhaps the non-wetland prairie potholes should be exempt from the CWA rules. However, this will bring the backlog back on line.

What do you think?

Lean Wetland Delineations

Swamp Stomp

Volume 14, Issue 31

Last week we discussed the Theory of Constraints (TOC) as a business improvement method. The idea is based upon how we make your wetland business more profitable using key bottlenecks in the process. Get more done in the same time using the same or less resources.

This week we will look at a key concept that at times seems to conflict with the Theory of Constraints. However, if managed properly these two concepts can complement each other. This concept is known as “lean.” The lean model is often credited to Toyota in its “just in time” manufacturing process. However the lean process is much older. Once of the earliest publications that focused on lean concepts was written by Benjamin Franklin in 1758. His “Way to Wealth” is collection of adages and advice presented in Poor Richard’s Almanac during its first 25 years of publication, organized into a speech given by “Father Abraham” to a group of people. Many of the phrases Father Abraham quotes continue to be familiar today. The essay’s advice is based on the themes of work ethic and frugality. Remember what Poor Richard says, “Buy what thou hast no need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessaries.”

Henry Ford built on this concept and in his book My Life and my Work, (1922) wrote a single paragraph that describes the entire concept of waste:

“I believe that the average farmer puts to a really useful purpose only about 5% of the energy he expends…. Not only is everything done by hand, but seldom is a thought given to a logical arrangement. A farmer doing his chores will walk up and down a rickety ladder a dozen times. He will carry water for years instead of putting in a few lengths of pipe. His whole idea, when there is extra work to do, is to hire extra men. He thinks of putting money into improvements as an expense…. It is waste motion— waste effort— that makes farm prices high and profits low.”

So how do we apply lean to wetland delineation? First you need to think of wetlands delineation as a process. There is even a manual. Actually there are 11 manuals plus few dozen reference documents. This is where lean comes in. We have to look at the overall process and identify where we have waste and bottlenecks. Lean tells us that waste is bad. The Theory of Constraints tells us that some of the bottlenecks could be exploited to improve the efficiently of the whole system.

Lean however is a micro-management style. Micro-management always seems to get a bad reputation and too often we discard it as some sort of totalitarian management system. However, it is a key concept for identifying waste. I will mention that not all waste is really waste. First we need to identify it. Then though a process we decide if it is adding value or not. Real waste is bad, but some inefficiencies may add overall value.

An example of this was featured a few years ago on the NBC TV series “Chuck.” In the series the CIA had been using a “Buy More” store as a secret base. It was a real Buy More store with real, snarky inefficient Buy More employees (remember Jeffster?). At the end of season 3 the store was blown up. In season 4 the CIA completely takes over the running of the store as a secret base. The store is clean and efficient. It is staffed by courteous and not creepy CIA and NSA agents. It looks totally fake and the operation is in jeopardy. The solution. Hire back the inefficient, creepy and rude old employees. This makes the Buy More feel like a real Buy More. By adding inefficiency to the store the overall improvement is that the store looks like a real Buy More, not a CIA base. That is the real objective. This is the Theory of Constraints in action.

However, the lean analysis by the CIA and NSA yielded a completely efficient Buy More. In fact it even won a corporate award which garnered it more attention. This was the last thing the CIA wanted.

So how can we use lean in wetlands delineation? We need to examine every process that we undertake when doing a delineation. Let us take a look at hanging wetland flags.

When we make the decision where the wetland boundary is there are a myriad of options as to how to demark it. First we need to decide what we should use. The convention is to use surveyor’s ribbon. However, there are also pin flags, wooden stakes, re-bar, and a host of other options. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, pin flags provide the highest degree of accuracy. However, they are easily lost in the grass and tend to get pulled up. Re-bar is the most permanent but is also the most difficult to install due to its weight.

Tying surveyor ribbon to a nearby tree or shrub is the lightest option. However the degree of accuracy is somewhat diminished. At issue is the fact that the tree or shrub you tie the ribbon too may not be precisely on the wetland boundary. So we increase speed by introducing some inaccuracy. We need to determine what level of inaccuracy is acceptable and balance that with the overall objective of getting the job done in a timely fashion. Using the Theory of Constraints we can make this assessment.

So where is the waste? Waste can be found in the type of ribbon you use. Color for example is a major issue. If you use a green ribbon in the fall it stands out clearly. However, in the spring and summer when the surveyors go to survey it is invisible due to the green foliage. The waste shows up in the time searching for ribbons.

Another example of waste is the need to double flag the wetland line with two colors of ribbon. There is a concern that the surveyors will be confused if you use the same pink or orange that they use for other features. So you tie a pink and blue ribbon to wetland boundary point. This effectively doubles the time to mark each point, doubles the cost and requires that you carry double the amount of flagging that you need. This is an incredible expansion of time and materials for a job.

What is the real concern? The surveyors will be confused by the wetland flagging. Is there a lean way to fix this? Yes and it is really simple. Communicate with the surveyors directly and tell them what you did. You are taking field notes and sketches of your work. Share this with the surveyors. This may add a few minutes to your work estimate, but it is not double the time to hang flags.

Over the coming months we will be adding more Lean, Six Sigma and TOC ideas to our newsletters. We hope that they are helpful to you and would love it if you could comment on any LSS or TOC methods your have found and would like to share.

Have a great week!

– Marc

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