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California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) v6.1

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California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup

Latest documentation


Designed for use in

California, USA



Assessment purpose

Management effectiveness, Prioritisation, Processes and components

Assessment criteria

Physical and chemical, Flora

Method type

Field, desktop


Short-medium-long term – Landscape Assessment (Level 1) uses remote sensing data and field surveys to inventory the wetlands of a region.

Rapid Assessment (Level 2) uses field diagnostics and existing data to assess conditions at wetland sites.

Intensive Site Assessment (Level 3) provides the field data necessary to validate the CRAM, characterizes reference condition, and tests hypotheses about the causes of wetland conditions as observed through Levels 1 and 2


Landscape/Catchment, Region, Site/habitat

Wetland system

Estuarine, Lacustrine, Other, Palustrine, Riverine

Description and method logic

Method purpose

Provide rapid, scientifically defensible, standardised assessments of the status and trends in the condition of wetlands and the performance of related policies, programs and projects throughout California.

The CRAM: designed to assess wetland condition while inferring management decisions, including action prioritisation and protection strategy.


The California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) for wetlands v6.1 was released in 2013. This technique is a rapid assessment methodology designed to assess the condition of, and stresses to, wetlands and riparian areas in California. This technique was designed to be applied at various scales and wetland types.

Since 2013 a number of other reports have been developed including the CRAM slope wetland, CRAM depressional, and CRAM Vermal Pool validation reports.

Method logic

CRAM is composed of both a classification and an assessment component. The assessment component of CRAM largely evaluates land use, vegetation and physical parameters. The entire process consists of:

1. Background research on the management of the wetland
2. Wetland classification using CRAM typology
3. Verification of timing aspects of field assessment (seasonality, etc.)
4. Estimation of the assessment area boundaries
5. Conduct office assessment of stressors and on-site conditions of the assessment area
6. Conduct field assessment of stressors and on-site conditions of the assessment area
7. Complete CRAM assessment scores and quality assurance/control procedures
8. Upload the results into a state wide database.

Metrics and submetrics are categorised into attribute criteria. These are buffer and landscape context, hydrology, physical structure and biotic structure. Each submetric is measured using individual field books and assigned a letter score (A, B, C or D). Letter scores for each metric are converted to unweighted integer scores and summed together to calculate attribute scores. For the buffer and landscape context and biotic structure attributes, score calculation involves additional steps. Each attribute score is then divided by its maximum possible score; the average percentage score for these attributes is then calculated to give the final assessment area index score.

CRAM was developed primarily as a rapid assessment tool to provide information about the condition of a wetland and the stressors that affect that wetland. CRAM is mainly intended for  ambient monitoring and assessment that can be performed on different scales, ranging from an individual wetland, to a watershed, or a larger region.

Criteria groupings of the method

The assessment criteria for CRAM are based on measures of wetland condition, and measures of pressure to wetland condition.

Data required

The data required for assessment is largely qualitative, with the exception of measuring buffer and landscape attributes. Stage one of the assessment requires background information for each assessment area, which may include aerial imagery, GIS data and the results of prior monitoring metrics.

Resources required

Expertise required

GIS, CRAM field training and database manipulation

Materials required

CRAM data sheets, GIS, measuring equipment, access to wetland background information, maps and data for each individual wetland, as well as access to a central database for submission of assessment index scores.

Method outputs


The CRAM produces individual attribute scores as well as an assessment area index score.


  • Wetland conservation decision support
  • Wetland monitoring
  • Regional health assessment
  • Risk assessment
  • Spatial trend analysis.

Criteria by category

    Physical and chemical

    • Buffer and landscape context
      • % wetland within buffer
      • Aquatic area abundance or stream corridor continuity
      • Average buffer width
      • Buffer condition
    • Hydrology
      • Hydrologic connectivity
      • Hydroperiod of channel stability
      • Water source


    • Structure (biotic)
      • % invasion
      • Endemic species richness
      • Horizontal interspersion
      • Number of co-dominant species
      • Number of plant layers
      • Vertical biotic structure
    • Structure (physical)
      • Structural patch richness
      • Topographic complexity


Recommended user

Potential users of the CRAM (or of the information generated by its use) include field staff and managers from local, state, and federal agencies, council and flood control districts.

Others who might be interested in using CRAM or the outputs from CRAM include researchers and staff from science-based non-governmental organisations, and environmental and advocacy groups. Consulting firms, educators, academic researchers, and reporters for written and broadcast media, along with the general public, will also find results from the CRAM to be useful to their interests in wetland science and management. This technique is recommended for government agencies involved in regional wetland monitoring. Land managers and NRM practitioners may find this methodology useful as it is a broadly applicable rapid assessment of wetland condition.


  • Rapid assessment
  • Ease of measuring metrics
  • Assesses pressures
  • Provisions for high resolution proofing within a three-tiered framework
  • Can be used for ongoing monitoring
  • Can be applied to regional assessment and monitoring
  • Is widely applied (in California) and has a wealth of supporting information.


  • Largely qualitative
  • Wetland background check requires additional resources
  • Does not measure physicochemical or habitat parameters.

Case studies



  1. San Francisco Estuary Institute (2018), California Rapid Assessment Method. [online], San Francisco Estuary Institute. Available at: [Accessed 21 August 2018].

Last updated: 7 February 2019

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2019) California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) v6.1, WetlandInfo website, accessed 1 February 2023. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science