Land Use Planning Information>Do I Have a Wetland on My Property?

Do I Have a Wetland on My Property?

Click here to view full size picture The following information is from Living With Michigan's Wetlands: A Landowner's Guide, copyright 1996, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Do I Have a Wetland?
Types of Wetlands
Wetland Determination
Who Determines Wetlands?
Where are Wetlands Usually Found?
Environmental Indicators

Do I Have a Wetland?

The answers to this question and the obvious follow-up question ("If I do, then where are the wetland boundaries?"), have significant implications on property values, wildlife management activities, restoration and enhancement potential, and regulatory review. Knowing the basics about wetland delineation will help you understand and analyze the work of consultants and regulatory agency staff regarding wetland delineation. Furthermore, this information will allow you to be a careful and educated consumer when selecting a wetland consultant. It is important to know that wetland identification and delineation is a complicated process that requires substantial technical knowledge beyond what this information provides.
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Types of Wetlands

Over the thousands of years that people have been living with wetlands, many terms have been developed to describe them. Here are those that are common in the Midwest.

Aquatic Bed: Areas of shallow permanent water dominated by plants that grow on or below the surface of the water.

Bog: A peat-accumulating wetland that has no significant inflow or outflow of water and supports acidophilic vegetation, particularly sphagnum.

Bottomland: Lowlands (usually forested) along streams and rivers that are periodically flooded.

Fen: A peat-accumulating wetland that receives some water from surrounding mineral soils and usually supports grasslike vegetation.

Interdunal Swale Wetland: A wetland dominated by grasslike vegetation that occurs in the low areas between sand dunes or beach ridges along the Great Lakes shoreline.

Marsh: A frequently or continually inundated wetland characterized by grasslike and other emergent vegetation adapted to saturated soil conditions.

Muskeg: Large expanses of peatlands.

Peatland: A generic terms for any peat-accumulating wetland.

Poor Fen: A peat-accumulating wetland that is transitional between a true bog and a true fen.

Pothole: A shallow pond dominated by grasslike vegetation.

Slough: A swamp or shallow lake system.

Swamp: A wetland dominated by tress or shrubs.

Wet Meadow: Grassland with saturated soil near the surface but without standing water for most of the year.

Wet Prairies: Intermediate between a marsh and a wet meadow.
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Wetland Determination

Wetland determination (sometimes called identification) is simply the determination of whether an area is a wetland. Wetland delineation is the actual determination and establishment of wetland boundaries. For landowners who want to protect the natural resources on their property, just knowing that a wetland exists may be enough information for a hands-off form of stewardship. However, if you want to "do something" in or adjacent to your wetland that might impact the wetland's function (or is a regulated activity), then knowing the wetland boundaries is essential.

Who Determines Wetlands?

On the state level, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is responsible for determining wetland boundaries pursuant to Michigan's Wetland Protection statute. On the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) all play a role is delineating wetlands in the administration of Federal law that addresses wetlands.

Currently, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality delineates wetlands according to The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wetland Determination Draft Manual for Field Testing. The purpose of this manual is to formalize the process used to delineate wetlands as they are defined by state law:

"Wetland" means land characterized by the presence of water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances does support, wetland vegetation or aquatic life, and is commonly referred to as a bog, swamp, or marsh. [Section 30301(d), Part 303, Wetland Protection Act 451 of 1994]
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Where are Wetlands Usually Found?

Wetlands are typically found in depressions, the lowest portion of the landscape, or adjacent to lakes, rivers, or streams. Landscape position, climate, and soil type all influence wetland formation. You can expect to find wetlands in the following places:

  • In low areas with a high water table.

  • On slopes where groundwater breaks out as springs or seeps.

  • Near rivers, streams, lakes, and the Great Lakes.

  • In flat areas where clayey soils or bedrock close to the surface form an impervious layer that creates a "perched" water table.

  • In abandoned ditches or stream channels.

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Environmental Indicators

There are two primary indicators of wetlands: 1) the predominance of plants adapted for living in saturated conditions (hydrophytic, or wetland, vegetation); and 2) the presence of water at or near the land surface throughout the year or for some portion of the year (wetland hydrology), which is commonly indicated by the presence of distinctive soils that develop under saturated conditions (hydric soils).

Hydrophytic Vegetation
Water-loving, or wetland, vegetation is plant life that is adapted to grow in areas where the frequency and duration of inundation or saturation is sufficient to exert a controlling influence over the plant species present. For the wetland plant criteria to be met in determining that an area is a wetland, a predominance of wetland vegetation must be present-not just the occurence of a single wetland plant.

Wetland Hydrology
Wetland hydrology refers to the specific hydrologic conditions that are required to form and maintain wetlands. Saturation at or near the surface, or inundation, for approximately 14 days or more during Michigan’s growing season typically creates the necessary conditions in the soil to form and maintain wetlands. Wetland hydrology, hydric soils, and hydrophytic vegetation are all linked. Hydrophytic vegetation and hydric soils result from wetland hydrology; and conversely, the presence of hydrophytic vegetation and hydric soils indicate wetland hydrology.

Hydric Soils
Hydric soils have physical and chemical indicators of repeated and prolonged saturation at or near the soil surface. These indicators are a direct result of the lack of oxygen in the upper part of the soil caused by the presence of water in the spaces between soil particles. In Michigan and most of the temperate regions of the United States, hydric soils are flooded, ponded, or saturated for about 14 or more days during the growing season.

These indicators are routinely used by consultants and agency staff, it is important to note that there are several situations in which wetlands will not show direct evidence of these indicators. These areas include wetlands that have been disturbed, newly created wetlands, interdunal swale wetlands, and wetlands on sloping glacial till. In addition, there are some cases in which wetlands can become dominated by facultative upland species.
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