Wetlands

January 18 , 2005

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Sample Wetland Definitions!

Lands where saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living in the soil and on its surface.

Lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water.

Areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstance do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.

Ecosystems having shallow water standing above the soil surface or having a soil saturated with water for periods of time that are sufficient to produce characteristic soils or vegetation. Areas that, whether or not they are covered by surface water, have at least periodically water-logged soil.

In general terms,...soil or substrate that is at least periodically saturated with or covered by water. The water creates severe physiological problems for all plants and animals except those that are adapted for life in water or in saturated soil.

What Is a Wetland?

Scientists, politicians, environmentalists, ranchers, farmers, and developers have all been debating the definition of a wetland for more than five decades. In fact there are over 50 official definitions for Wetlands! With variety like this, it's no wonder that wetlands can be confusing and controversial!

Although more than 50 official definitions of wetlands exist, two used by the U.S. Government define wetlands according to federal law. These two definitions agree that a wetland contains specific:

  1. Hydrology (amount and period of time that water is present).
  2. Hydrophytic vegetation (plants adapted to wet soil).
  3. Hydric soils (soils low or absent in oxygen due to their saturation in water).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) says an area need have
only one of these conditions
to be considered a wetland!

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) says an area must have all three conditions before it is considered a wetland!

The Corps administers the wetlands provisions of the federal Clean Water Act , so its definition is the one most used by the federal, state, and local governments.

OFFICIAL DEFINITION
The definition, as published in the 1987 Corps of Engineers Wetlands Delineation Manual, says:

Wetlands are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.

Think about the kinds of places that this definition may include.

Consider the Palouse Country of eastern Washington and western Idaho. Its rolling terrain resulted, in part, from the catastrophic floods as ice dams rose and released millions of gallons of water during the retreat of glaciers.

You'll find potholes here — little dips and pockets in the land where water collects. You'll also find riverside wetlands along the Columbia, the Snake and their tributaries. And as you ascend the mountains that border the Palouse, you'll find wetlands scattered through the forests.

Identifying Wetlands
Your senses can help identify wetlands. Check the soil: Is it damp to the touch? Does it glisten with liquid? Can you literally squeeze the water out? Do you see plants, such as sedges or cattails, that are adapted for living in wet soil? Do you hear frogs or see salamanders?

Bristlys EdgeBut what if that pothole or pond has already dried up for the season. How might you identify it as a wetland? Observe the area carefully. Is the surface cracked, as when mud dries? Or is it damp beneath the surface? Look for signs of higher water such as water marks on the shrubs, trees, or rocks; grasses and twigs collected at the base of other plants; leaves coated with a thin layer of sediment. If the area shows these signs it is probably a wetland.

Learn More About What a a Wetland is...

Identifying Wetlands |
Marking Wetlands |

What Lives in Wetlands
|

Why Do We Need Wetlands?
|

Types of Wetlands |

Common Names of Wetlands |

Five Subsystems of Wetlands |

What is a Wetland? | Where are all the Wetlands? |
Inland Wetlands | Wetlands for the Future | People and Wetlands |
Classroom Activities | Wetland Facts | Wetland Links |

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