Hiring a Qualified Wetland Professional

This web page contains recommendations to help locate and select a professional who is qualified to assist with wetland issues. 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.

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 review as a third party. Some professionals are self-employed; others work for larger environmental or engineering consulting firms.

What is a Qualified Wetland Professional?

There is no government sanctioned 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 further at the bottom of this web page.

If the person is not a certified PWS, there is no simple means of determining if they are adequately qualified to undertake the tasks listed above. However, the following criteria are indicators of someone who may be qualified to perform the wide range of 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 using the state or federal manuals, 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 wetland delineation, function assessment, mitigation design, hydrophytic plant or hydric soil identification, etc.

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 or 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. Thus, it is important to be clear what specific tasks need to be 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 Qualified Wetland Professional

There are a number of ways to find the names of wetland professionals. Finding a qualified one, however, can be difficult since this group of professionals is not required to be certified, licensed, or bonded in the State of Washington. One approach is to look in the Yellow Pages under Environmental and Ecological Services. You can also contact the local government planning office and ask for a list of professionals that work in its jurisdiction. Some local governments have specific requirements for wetland professionals.  Below are examples from King County and Pierce County:

Wetland professionals may also be found by requesting 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. Finally, state and federal resource agencies can be asked for referrals. Be aware, however, that most agencies will not be able to provide recommendations because of questions of fairness.

Finally, the Society of Wetland Scientists maintains a searchable database of “professional wetland scientists.”

How to Select a Qualified Wetland Professional

A number of factors should be considered before hiring a wetlands professional. When interviewing professionals, their qualifications should be carefully considered (see above for the minimum recommended). Be sure to ask the following questions before making a selection:

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 (Corps, Ecology, and local government).

Talk with colleagues and other businesses, such as real estate, land development, homebuilding, etc. 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 the sole criterion. 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.

Society of Wetland Scientists Professional Certification Program

The Society of Wetland Scientists keeps a list of those who have qualified for their professional certification program for wetland scientists. The certification program web page  allows you to search by name, city, and/or state.

As explained in the Professional Wetland Scientist program overview:

Certification is not required by any agency and has no official or legal standing. However, certification signifies that the academic and work experience of a Professional Wetland Scientist (PWS) meets the standards expected by his or her peers of a practicing wetland professional and provides acknowledgment to his or her peers of adherence to standards of professional ethics with regard to the conduct and practice of wetland science.

Wetland Professional in Training (WPIT) is considered a preliminary step for persons who meet the requirements for either (but not both) education and experience. Professional Wetland Scientist (PWS) certification is awarded for those meeting both educational and experience requirements.

Minimum degree requirements for WPIT and PWS are the BA or BS degrees, with course distribution of 15 semester hours each in biological and physical sciences and 6 hours in quantitative areas. For certification as a PWS, an additional 15 semester hours in wetland-related courses are required. In addition to comprehensive training in wetland science, a PWS is expected to have professional experience of at least 5 years as a wetland scientist, demonstrating the application of current technical knowledge dealing with wetland resources and activities.

Back to top