- What is a wetland?
Swamps, marshes, bogs, fens, sloughs, and bottomlands are all examples of wetlands, but a single, comprehensive definition that accurately characterizes all wetlands does not exist. Instead, wetlands are identified by their vegetation, hydrology, and their soil characteristics.
- Vegetation - The US Fish and Wildlife Service maintains lists of plants that usually occur in wetlands, such as moss, willows, cattails, and lily pads. Plants that grow in wetlands exhibit certain physical qualities, such as shallow root systems, swollen trunks, or roots found growing from the plant stem or trunk above the soil surface. If these plants are present, it is an indicator that the area is a wetland.
- Hydrology - Hydrologic features that indicate wetlands include:
- Standing or flowing water observed on the area during the growing season
- Soil that is waterlogged during the growing season
- Water marks present on trees or other erect objects, which show that water periodically covers the area to the depth shown on the objects
- Presence of drift lines (small piles of debris oriented in the direction of water movement through an area), which often occur along contours and represent the approximate extent of flooding in an area
- Thin layers of sediments deposited on leaves or other objects
- Soil - Soils that indicate wetland areas have characteristics that show they developed in conditions where the presence of water has limited soil oxygen for long periods of the growing season. These characteristics include:
- Soil consisting predominantly of decomposed plant material (peats or mucks)
- Soil having a thick layer of decomposing plant material on the surface
- Soil having a bluish gray or gray color below the surface, or the major color of the soil at this depth is dark (brownish black or black) and dull
- Soil having the odor of rotten eggs
- Soil that is sandy and has a layer of decomposing plant material at the soil surface
- Soil that is sandy and has dark stains or dark streaks of organic material in the upper layer below the soil surface.
- Do all wetlands have standing water?
No. Under the Clean Water Act, wetlands are defined as areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.
- Why are wetlands protected?
Wetlands provide many benefits, including:
- purifying the water we drink
- reducing flooding
- protecting shorelines from erosion
- providing critical fish and wildlife habitat
- providing recreational activities such as fishing, hunting, photography, and wildlife watching