January 18 , 2005

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What is a Wetland?

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Wetlands for the Future

People and Wetlands

Classroom Activities:



Idaho Fish and Game Logo

Idaho Fish & Game Project Wild Logo


The student will be able to:

  1. Describe a wetland.
  2. Identify plants and animals of a wetland.
  3. Identify human occupations that can shrink wetlands.
  4. Describe the effects of a shrinking wetland on its plants and animals.


Students simulate a wetland that is shrinking.


  • 4 orange cones or boundary markers set up in 50'x50' (approx) square

  • 1 soft dodge ball for primary; 2 or more, soft dodge balls for intermediate

  • 3 armbands or bandannas

  • stick-on labels

  • 1 stopwatch

  • 1 whistle


SUBJECTS Communications
Earth Science, Government,
Social Studies

application, comparison, discussion, inference, interpretation, observation


GROUP SIZE at least 12 students

indoor or outdoor play area

I. Awareness and Appreciation of Wildlife
II. Human Values and Wildlife
III. Wildlife and Ecological Systems
IV. Wildlife Conservation
V. Cultural and Social Interaction with Wildlife
VI. Wildlife Issues and Trends: Alternatives and Consequences
VII. Wildlife, Ecological Systems, and Responsible Human Actions


KEY TEXT Chapters Two, Three, Four, and Five


The United States has lost more than half of its wetlands, and the loss continues today. These habitats depend on a complex and sensitive balance of hydrology. When that balance is upset, wetlands suffer.

One of the chief ways to upset this balance is through reducing the size of wetlands.

Direct means of reduction include the following:

Farmers and ranchers drain or fill wetlands to convert the land to croplands or pasture; urban development drains or fills wetlands to create land for buildings, roads, and other construction; industrial logging compacts the soil with machinery or alters the vegetation; mining compacts soil, alters vegetation, digs up or fills wetlands.

Wetlands also shrink through indirect means. For example, a logging operation may construct a road uphill from an inland wetland. The road doesn't directly impact the wetland, but it blocks water from flowing into the wetland, and thus the wetland eventually shrinks. Irrigation can destroy area wetlands by withdrawing ground water that wetlands may depend on.

Often times, people who impact wetlands don't realize the effects of their actions. But many people and programs exist to help landowners, developers, and others find out if wetlands exist on their property and how to protect these habitats. Federal, state, and local laws require that wetlands be identified and protected, or that damage to them be mitigated somehow. The public can assist in this effort by knowing the laws and regulations, and paying attention to what is happening in their communities.


1. Discuss wetlands and their value with the students.

2. With the class, make a list of plants and animals that live in wetlands. Then make a list of pollutants that occur in wetlands. Post these lists where students can see them.

3. Tell the class that they will have to divide into two teams with equal numbers of students. The teams have the following roles:

Wetland Team-

  • 1 wildlife agency employee
  • 1 biologist
  • 1 informed citizen
  • Each remaining student chooses a plant or animal from the list.

Developer Team -

  • 1 person in agriculture
  • 1 urban developer
  • 1 logger
  • 1 miner
  • Each remaining student chooses a polluting factor from the list.

4. Ask all the students to label themselves or otherwise visually identify themselves. The three "human" members of the Wetland Team are the only students who can wear armbands. The rest can mark themselves with stick-on labels, etc.

5. Have the students set up the playing area, and mark an area where students who are out of the activity will gather.

6. Give the students these instructions:

A. The Developer Team members stand outside the perimeter of the playing area. They will try to hit members of the Wetland Team with the ball.

B. The plant and animal members of the Wetland Team have to dodge the ball. If they are hit, they are out.

C. The "human" members of the Wetland Team defend the plants and animals by trying to catch the ball. If they catch the ball, the Developer who threw the ball is out.

7. Begin the activity. When a few members of the Wetland Team are out, stop the activity and adjust the boundaries. Have the Developer Team take a step forward; this sets the new boundaries. Do as many rounds as you need to show the shrinking wetlands.

8. End the activity with enough time left to discuss the results.

A. Review the numbers of each team that were out in the first part of the activity, and then with each successive reduction in wetlands area. Discuss what this may mean for a real wetland.

B. Discuss where each of the "out" members would go if this were a real wetland. Where would a bird go? An orchid? A salamander? Where would a logger go to make a living? A miner?

C. Could the occupations represented by the Developer Team be continued next to a wetland without destroying the wetland? How?

Have the students write a description of this activity, complete with explanations and discussion.

1. You can make this a competitive activity by timing how long it takes to get each team member out. Compare the times for the two teams. Discuss how the times change as the wetland shrinks. Discuss how this simulates true wetlands situations.

2. Choose a local wetland and find out if it is shrinking and if so, why.


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