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Tulula Creek Mitigation Bank: Using GIS to Guide Wetlands Restoration

Spatial Data and GIS in Western North Carolina

Part of the overall mission of the Tulula Wetlands Research Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville is to provide GIS/GPS research and educational opportunities for undergraduate students.

Tulula Creek once represented one of the most regionally significant mountain swamp/fen complexes in western North Carolina. Despite extensive clearing, draining, and grading (all part of a failed golf course development project that occurred at the site in the mid-1980s), this Graham County site still retains ecologically significant areas. It retains many of the attributes that warranted recognition by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program (NCNHP) prior to disturbance. The site is now a mitigation bank under the care of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Supported by NCDOT and the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE), the Environmental Studies Program at UNCA has been collecting ecological data and carrying out spatial analyses using GIS to determine present conditions at the site. This information will guide future restoration. Our research has included:
Our initial efforts have focused on developing a vegetation classification for the site, using a combination of photo-interpretation, field survey, and CAD drawings of the golf course design provided by NCDOT (Figure 1). This classification, which largely follows NCNHP's Classification of the Natural Communities of North Carolina,(Shafale and Weakley 1990), is continually updated in the GIS through photo-interpretation, to represent successional changes at Tulula Creek.
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Figure 1. Vegetation

Forty-nine groundwater monitoring wells and 20 pieziometers have been installed at the site, and have been monitored weekly since 1995 (Figure 2). We have used these data to model the seasonal patterns of groundwater levels, by generating interpolations of groundwater levels using Arc/Info's GRID utility. We have also used GRID to examine correlations between well readings and topographic attributes (slope, aspect, surface flow accumulation), to identify those features most influencing local hydrology.
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Figure 2. Hydrology

Students at UNCA have been working with the Tulula GIS database to broaden their understanding of ecological processes. In one study, the potential distributions of several species, including the meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius) (Figure 3), have been determined by identifying appropriated habitat, barriers to dispersal, and connectivity corridors. These studies can be used to guide restoration activities and revegetation design, to ensure the fullest possible resource availability to wildlife within the site.
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Figure 3. Mouse Habitat

As part of a broader study of avian richness and diversity on the site, we are currently focusing on territory selection by a neotropical migrant species, the golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) (Figure 4). We have located 10 current warbler territories at Tulula Creek using field survey and Global Positioning System (GPS) to map perch sites. From these mapped territories, we are collecting information concerning warbler habitat preferences, including type and arrangement of vegetation and proximity to water sources.
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Figure 4. Warbler Study

Community Contacts
Stephanie Wilds
Blue Star Consulting

Kevin K. Moorhead
Fax: 828-251-6041

University of North Carolina
at Asheville

Asheville, NC 28804
Our work at Tulula Creek has shown that GIS is a valuable tool for both guiding restoration activities and assessing restoration impacts. We are using GIS to track changes at the site, to organize and maintain site-collected data, and to perform analyses which provide greater understanding of site-specific processes. Our students at UNCA, who have become familiar with site through field research, benefit from having access to the Tulula GIS database. Being able to tie together their real-world experiences with the more abstract and conceptual aspects of the GIS database contributes to their greater understanding of ecological processes and spatial analysis.

Literature Cited:
Schafale, M.P. and A.S. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the Natural Communities of North Carolina: third approximation. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Raleigh, NC.

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