Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / Benzie County Wetlands:

Benzie County Wetlands:

A Resource Worth Protecting

July 1, 1997 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Whether you enjoy a sunset boat ride on Crystal Lake, watch songbirds at the feeder, stalk trout on the Betsie River, or are employed by a restaurant or retail shop, you directly benefit from Benzie County’s wetlands. These vital water-soaked parcels, disregarded for so long, are in fact the principal natural systems that purify the County’s lakes, streams, and groundwater, provide wildlife habitat, nurture sport fisheries, and reduce flooding.

Yet, in spite of their proven value to Benzie County’s environment and economy, our wetlands are in trouble. The Michigan Land Use Institute estimates that 3 acres of wetlands in Benzie County are lost each year to commercial and housing development. Much of the development is in violation of state and federal wetland protection laws.

Moreover, the County has not been prosecuting violators. Between 1993 and 1996, the state Department of Environmental Quality reported nine violations to Benzie County for prosecution. None of the cases was taken to trial.

The Michigan Land Use Institute launched the Benzie Wetland Protection Project to begin addressing this problem. This report, prepared with the assistance and close oversight of specialists who have worked in the field for years, provides Benzie residents with an introduction to wetlands and how to safeguard them.

In preparing the report one central lesson became evident: advances in scientific understanding and government regulations are only part of a complete program for wetland conservation. Protecting these irreplaceable resources also requires the active support of landowners and citizens.

The Michigan Land Use Institute is eager to help you learn more. Call on us. If we don’t have the information you need, we’ll help you find it. Every one of us, from the trained biologist to the average citizen, has a stake in protecting vital wetland resources.





This report was compiled and published by the staff of the Michigan Land Use Institute. We wish to thank all of the individuals, groups, and government agencies that helped us bring together the data, organize our thesis, and review the final product.

We are particularly indebted to Wilfred Cwikiel of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Conway, Michigan, a nationally recognized wetland expert and advocate. Wil is the author of two widely-acclaimed books, Michigan Wetlands, Yours to Protect and Living With Michigan’s Wetlands: A Landowner’s Guide, which served as the basis for our research and presentation.

We also extend special thanks to:

Greg LaCross, an ecologist who teaches at Northwestern Michigan College, for helping with the field identification of Benzie County wetlands;

The staff at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, for their assistance in describing Benzie County’s wetland preserves;

Matt Johnstone, a Land and Water Management Analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality, who oversees Benzie County and contributed insight and expertise to our research; and

Gwen Frostic, Benzie County’s noted wildlife artist and poet, who donated the lovely nature prints displayed on the cover and throughout the report.

Our thanks also go to Thomas Carr, and Rolf and Kathy Stadheim, Michigan Land Use Institute members whose generous financial support helped make this report possible.



What Are Wetlands?


Wetlands are unique and varied ecosystems. They share the common aspect of being too wet to be considered upland and too dry to be considered "deep water." Standing water is not always visible in a wetland, and most of Benzie County’s remaining wetlands are forested.

Vegetation and soil are the key factors of determining wetlands, which are directly related to the amount of water present. If water exists in the ground for a long enough time during the growing season, plants that grow there will be specially adapted to survive in wet conditions and the soil will take on wetland characteristics.

Michigan contains a wide range of wetlands, classified in the broad categories of marshes, swamps, and bogs. Wetlands are filters, sponges, shelters, pantries, nurseries, time capsules, classrooms, and areas for recreation and inspiration.



Why Are Wetlands Important?


Wetlands are North America’s most productive habitat. They also serve vital ecological functions, which now are recognized as having significant economic value. These include:

Controlling sediment and cleansing water. Wetlands are living filters. They trap and break down harmful pollutants, and reduce the amount of sediment that flows into lakes, rivers, and streams. The loss of wetlands diminishes this cleansing capability, which affects water quality throughout a watershed.

Serving as a barrier to waves and erosion. Wetland plants stabilize soil with their root systems, and buffer waves that cause erosion. By maintaining and planting wetland vegetation in water and on the shoreline, riparian landowners can help prevent erosion and protect the value of their property.

Flood prevention. Wetlands act as a sponge, absorbing and dispersing water. If wetlands are filled, this storage capacity is lost. Flooding in parts of northern Michigan and elsewhere in the country has worsened as a result of wetland loss.

Protecting fresh water. Wetlands often are fed by springs and seeps that eventually replenish lakes, rivers, and streams with high quality water.

Providing habitat for fish and wildlife. Some species live their entire lives in wetlands. Others use them from time to time. Wetlands serve as critical habitat, providing shelter, food, and space for countless fish, birds, amphibians, and mammals. More than one third of the threatened and endangered animals in the United States live in or depend on wetlands.

Hunting and Fishing. Sport fish and most game animals need wetlands for their survival. For example, in northern Michigan white-tail deer depend on cedar swamps for winter food and cover. Wetlands provide essential spawning grounds for fish. Loss of shoreline wetlands can directly contribute to the decline of fish populations.

Food and Fiber Production. Wetlands provide a variety of natural products, such as cranberries and wild rice. With proper care, small scale cultivation and harvesting can occur without degrading the wetlands.

Historic, Archaeological, and Scientific Research. The breakdown of organic material is notably slowed in wetlands. This preserves early artifacts and the remains of prehistoric animals and plants, and reveals the earth’s climatic and environmental past.

Education and Recreation. Because wetlands are such varied ecosystems, they are ideal outdoor classrooms. The great variety of plants and animals located in wetlands and their often secluded locations make them beautiful places for introspection and recreation.



Benzie County’s Wetlands, Richly Diverse


Anyone who has tramped through Benzie County’s forests or spent time along the banks of its many rivers and lakes knows that the County is blessed with a variety of healthy wetland systems. The map on pages 8 and 9, which is based on current available data, will give you an idea of the general locations of the more prominent wetlands; however, it may not illustrate all regulated wetlands in the County.

Here are some descriptions of the diversity found among Benzie County’s 34,000 acres of wetlands:



Betsie River and Betsie Lake Wetlands


The Betsie River flows westerly across the entire width of Benzie County, draining into the Betsie Lake and Lake Michigan.

• The headwaters of the Betsie near Interlochen include Grass Lake, which was created in 1951 when the Department of Natural Resources built a dam to flood the area to enhance waterfowl habitat. Grass Lake now supports a 1,100-acre emergent swamp dominated by sedge and cattails. The wetland provides nesting and migration resting sites for ducks, swans, osprey, herons, and other birds.

• Around Thompsonville the Betsie River wetland system is dominated by red maple, ash, and red elm. The soil in this type of wetland, known as a northern hardwood swamp, can be saturated in the spring from rain and snowmelt but sometimes dries up over the summer months. During dry seasons these areas can resemble an upland forests, which make it important that these wetlands are carefully inventoried on a site-specific basis.

• The wetland systems along the middle section of the Betsie River consist predominantly of mixed hardwood and conifer wetlands. Damage to stream banks, which causes soil erosion, began during the timber boom a century ago and continues now from road construction and residential development. Wetlands along this part of the Betsie help to stabilize the banks and provide excellent habitat for small mammals like pine marten, mink, and muskrat.

• The lower section of the Betsie River near Elberta and Betsie Lake is characterized by shrub wetlands that progress into a large emergent marsh. A significant portion of this section is designated as a state game area, where a number of species are found.



Crystal Lake Wetlands


Crystal Lake, Benzie County’s largest and best-known lake, has an unusually small watershed - only 22 square miles. Thus, Crystal Lake is particularly susceptible to pollutants and runoff.

The majority of the Crystal Lake watershed is east of Beulah, where branches of Cold Creek converge and form the primary inlet to the lake. During the last century, this area has been significantly altered by agriculture, road construction, residential and commercial development, and septic systems. Conservation of the remaining wetlands in the watershed is critical to the protection of the water quality of Crystal Lake.

Recognizing the importance of wetlands on the lake’s east end, the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy acquired a former vegetable farm in 1991. Now known as the Trapp Farm Nature Preserve, the 115-acre natural area includes valuable wetlands that protect Cold Creek and Crystal Lake. The public can enjoy the hiking trails there by entering the preserve from Narrow Gauge Road, about 1/4-mile east of US-31 in Beulah.



Dune and Swale Wetlands in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore


Freshwater dune and swale wetland types, a globally rare and unique resource, are found exclusively along Great Lakes shorelines. These wetlands are interspersed between sand dunes that were formed thousands of years ago when runoff from receding glaciers filled low-lying areas with fresh water.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore boasts a 2,600-acre dune and swale complex near Platte Bay. An aerial view shows a series of arcs fanning out over two miles, generally following the contours of the existing shoreline.

Swales are dominated by open marsh, with grasses, sedge, and ferns. The Benzie County dune and swale wetlands sustain at least one bald eagle nest, and support four plant species that are on the state and federal "threatened" lists.

The public can explore the Park’s dune and swale wetlands via Boekeloo Road, Peterson Road, and the Platte Plains hiking trail off M-22.



Platte River and Platte Lakes Wetlands


Wetlands are a chief reason for the clear water and excellent fish habitat of the upper Platte River. Mixed conifer and hardwood wetlands found along the length of the river and its tributaries protect the river from runoff and erosion.

As the Platte River approaches Big and Little Platte lakes the wetlands progress to a vast tamarack and cedar swamp. This type of wetland typically contains very wet, mucky, organic soils. Standing dead trees, known as snags, provide important habitat for small animals, insects, and birds such as bald eagles and owls.

Much of the Platte tamarack and cedar swamp is state-owned, and is reachable from Deadstream Road.



Herring Lakes Wetlands


In southwest Benzie County, there are 2,500 acres of beautiful wetlands surrounding Upper Herring Lake that are vital to maintaining the water quality of both Upper and Lower Herring lakes.

Ÿ On the east side of Upper Herring Lake lies a mixed conifer and hardwood wetland that is so healthy that it supports a thriving bobcat population, according to local residents. Small streams flow out of the wetland and feed the lake. Agriculture and residential development have caused some losses, but much of this large, privately-owned wetland is still intact.

  • On the west side of Upper Herring Lake is the 123-acre Upper Herring Lake Preserve, which is owned and managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. It includes upland meadows, willow-dogwood swamp, and willow-poplar swamp. Walking trails are maintained throughout the preserve, and can be reached from M-22 just south of Matzinger Resort Road.



Small Wetlands Are Also Important


Smaller, less recognized wetlands offer many of the same benefits as larger wetlands. They provide vital flood control; collect water and release it slowly into the ground to replenish aquifers; and provide important localized habitat for wildlife. The fact that many small wetlands are not always regulated by wetland laws does not diminish their importance.



State and Local Trends in Wetland Loss


Since Michigan was settled in the late 1700s more than 5.6 million acres of wetlands have disappeared. Fifty percent of the state’s inland wetlands have been lost, and 70% of the coastal wetlands have been destroyed. This massive change to the landscape has caused increased flooding, water pollution, and diminished wildlife.

A significant amount of wetlands continue to disappear in Michigan, much of it allowed under state and federal law. Permitted fills for commercial and industrial development, housing, roads, agriculture, and logging claim an estimated 500 acres of wetlands statewide each year.

There are also losses from unpermitted wetland filling. It is difficult to determine the amount of wetland acreage that is ruined this way — according to one conservative estimate, the loss in Michigan is roughly 500 acres annually.

The Michigan Land Use Institute estimates that Benzie County’s portion of this overall wetlands loss is at least 3 acres per year. This figure was derived from the following information:

Ÿ Department of Environmental Quality records indicate an average of half an acre per year is lost in Benzie County due to permitted fills.

Ÿ DEQ records between 1991 and 1996 document that on average 1.25 acres per year are lost as a result of wetland fills that occur in violation of the state wetland protection laws.

Ÿ The Michigan Land Use Institute estimates that the DEQ documents only half of the illegal wetland fills. Thus, some 1.25 acres of wetlands are lost each year as a result of undocumented illegal fills.

In addition to the loss of wetlands, seemingly subtle changes to the land in a watershed can affect the quality of wetlands. The construction of roads, parking lots, and buildings reduces the area that allows water to percolate into the soil, thus increasing runoff to wetlands. Roads built through wetlands can disrupt the hydrology of a wetland and cause flooding. And drains and ditches built for agriculture and other development can dry out wetlands.



Illegal Filling of Benzie County Wetlands


As in other Michigan counties, wetlands are being filled illegally in Benzie County. The scale of the problem, though, is difficult to measure. Public recognition and policing has been low, and in some cases there is a general disregard for the law.

Between 1987 and 1996 the Department of Environmental Quality formally documented 93 separate violations in Benzie County. A review of available DEQ files indicates that at least 20 acres of wetlands were filled illegally during this time. This official record represents only a fraction of unpermitted wetland loss in the County.

Benzie County’s judicial system has played a role in undermining the DEQ’s ability to prosecute violators. When the DEQ issues a citation, landowners generally are given an opportunity to gain permits after the fact, or repair the damage. If the landowner does not cooperate, the DEQ has the authority to notify county prosecutors and request further legal action. It is then up to the county prosecutor to take legal action against the violator.

Between 1993 and 1996, the DEQ informed the former Benzie County prosecutor that nine people had not complied with state and federal wetland regulations. None of these violations, however, was prosecuted.

No wetlands violations have yet been brought by the DEQ to the current Benzie County prosecutor, but he has voiced support for upholding and enforcing wetland laws.



Policy changes and judicial rulings threaten Michigan’s wetland protection program


Responding to evidence that Michigan’s regulators are failing to enforce wetlands protection laws, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has undertaken a comprehensive review of the Department of Environmental Quality’s wetland program.

The EPA review was prompted in part by a report published by the Lone Tree Council and the Michigan Environmental Council, two of the state’s most active citizens’ groups. The study, based on interviews with state regulators and internal records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, concludes that the DEQ is failing to meet its federal obligations to prevent wetland destruction.

The report also documents what the authors called "political abuse of the wetland permit program." Permit decisions made by two administrative law judges appointed by DEQ Director Russell Harding were biased toward development, say the authors. The judges consistently supported development in wetlands, often for surprising reasons. In one case, a judge ruled in favor of a developer because the DEQ staff failed to inventory "the specific number and types of insects, songbirds, frogs, fish and other wildlife populations that would be affected by the fill."

The study’s other key findings are that:

Ÿ The state has no accounting system for the thousands of permits issued for wetland losses under one acre.

Ÿ The DEQ’s senior officials routinely recommended wetland destruction and ignored the professional decisions of its own field staff, and the staff of the Wildlife and Fisheries divisions of the Department of Natural Resources.

Ÿ Budget cuts in enforcement programs have undermined wetland protection.

Ÿ As a result of intervention by legislators who were friendly to industry, a DEQ District Supervisor was removed from his job for enforcing wetlands laws and replaced by an employee with no experience in wetland regulations.


For a copy of the report, Assault on Michigan’s Wetlands, contact the Michigan Environmental Council, 115 West Allegan, Suite 10-B, Lansing, MI 48933; Tel. 517-487-9539; e-mail, mienvcouncil@igc.apc.org.



Wetlands Are Economic Assets


In few regions of Michigan does the recreation and tourism industry play a more central role in the cultural and economic fabric of a community than in Benzie County.

According to an economic analysis of Benzie County by Michigan State University, 625 people are employed in recreation and tourism-related businesses, which ranks Benzie County eighth among the 83 Michigan counties for the percentage of tourism-based jobs. Moreover, Benzie County’s tourism and recreation industry, growing at a rate of 2% a year, is among the strongest in the state.

The foundation of this flourishing sector of Benzie County’s economy is its breathtaking beauty. The 12,000 summer guests and the 1.25 million visitors to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore choose to come here each year because of the abundance of unsurpassed natural resources, especially the clean and clear waters.

The health and diversity of Benzie County’s wetlands is a primary reason that rivers and lakes support thriving sport fisheries, that the woods are full of deer and other game animals, and that families find abundant opportunities for swimming and boating. The loss of Benzie’s wetlands will inevitably lead to a deterioration in natural habitat and water quality. And that will cause a substantial weakening of Benzie County’s economy.



Oakland County Case Could Undermine Wetland Protection


The Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a crucial Oakland County wetlands case that public interest groups hope will re-affirm the state’s authority to enforce environmental laws.

The Institute was among dozens of organizations that appealed to the Supreme Court to take up the case, known as K&K Construction vs. Department of Natural Resources. The case stems from a DNR decision nine years ago to prohibit the filling of wetlands on an 81-acre parcel in Waterford Township for a new restaurant, parking lot, and sports complex.

The owners and developers of the property asserted that in turning down the permit, the state had markedly devalued their property. They argued that by enforcing the wetland law, and restricting how their land could be developed, the DNR had seized, or "taken," their property. Under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, they argued, the government must pay "just compensation."

In 1992, the Court of Claims in Lansing issued a surprising decision, ruling in favor of the developers and awarding them $5.2 million. In June 1996, a three-judge Appellate panel affirmed the lower court ruling.

A key component of the case is the fact that the DNR’s restrictions only applied to one third of the property, leaving the other two-thirds unrestricted for development. Legal experts say the Appellate Court ignored the fundamental principles of wetland and property rights law, which requires a full evaluation of feasible and prudent alternatives and a review of other potential uses of the property.

Amicus briefs in support of the appeal were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, national environmental organizations and many state public interest groups.

In his motion to appeal the case, Attorney General Frank Kelley argued that state law has been clear since 1979, and that protecting wetlands is a legitimate exercise of the state’s constitutional authority to protect natural resources.

Failing to overturn the lower court ruling, Mr. Kelley wrote, would be "essentially an open invitation to land speculators to purchase otherwise undevelopable wetlands, apply for permits to fill them, and then secure compensation for ‘takings’ resulting from enforcement of the Wetlands Protection Act."



Laws That Protect Wetlands


The federal Clean Water Act, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is the nation’s primary law for safeguarding wetlands.

Michigan is one of just two states — the other is New Jersey — that assumed the responsibility to administer the federal wetland protection program in inland waters of the state. The EPA agreed to this procedure because Michigan had in place several laws that accomplished the same goals as section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The backbone of these laws was the 1979 Goemaere-Anderson Wetland Protection Act, now known as Part 303 of Public Act 451. It establishes a policy to prevent wetland loss and requires permits for most activities in wetlands. The state law is enforced by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

In the Great Lakes coastal areas, including some connecting waterways and major tributaries, wetland activities are regulated by both the state and the federal government. In these instances applicants must obtain a permit from the Corps of Engineers and the Michigan DEQ. The two agencies have developed a joint application form to eliminate permit duplication.

While the DEQ oversees the vast majority of Michigan’s wetland applications, the EPA has the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the state is complying with the federal Clean Water Act. In some of the more prominent wetland cases, the EPA actively participates in the permit process. When there is disagreement, the federal government asserts its primary jurisdiction, and has the final authority.



Regulated Activities


The Department of Environmental Quality regulates all wetlands that are "contiguous" to a lake, stream, or pond, as well as the larger isolated wetlands, and wetlands determined to be "essential to the preservation of the natural resources of the state." Under state law, contiguous means the wetland is:

Ÿ In the proximity of a water body, or

Ÿ Hydrologically connected, that is, it protects groundwater that eventually flows into a lake or stream.

In Benzie County, where there is an abundance of fresh water, most of the wetlands are contiguous.



Unregulated Activities


Not every human activity on a wetland is regulated, however. When the state and federal laws were established in the 1970s, some industries successfully lobbied for exemptions. For example, some forms of farming, ranching, and logging activities, and oil and gas development, are exempt from wetland laws.



State Permitting Process


State law requires landowners to acquire a permit for any of the following
actions in a regulated wetland:

Ÿ Depositing or placing fill material.

Ÿ Dredging or removing soil or minerals.

Ÿ Constructing, operating, or maintaining any use or development.

Ÿ Draining surface water.

To receive a permit to alter a wetland, an applicant must satisfy the following requirements:

Ÿ The proposed wetland activity is in the public interest - that is, the DEQ must weigh the benefit to the applicant versus the potential loss to the public;

Ÿ The resulting disruption of the wetland will not create an unacceptable impact to aquatic resources; and

Ÿ There are no feasible and prudent alternatives, and the project will be done in a manner which is least disruptive to the wetland.



Options for Strengthening Wetland Protection



Voluntary Initiatives


Wetland protection laws are designed to ensure that damage by human activities is minimized. Voluntary initiatives are a positive way for citizens and landowners to contribute to the health and quality of Benzie County’s wetlands.

Consider taking the following steps:

Ÿ Establish a vegetative buffer or greenbelt of native plants around wetlands.

Ÿ Modernize and maintain septic systems to ensure that seepage will not pollute wetlands and groundwater.

Ÿ Build fences around wetlands to prevent damage from pets and livestock.

Ÿ Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides to eliminate the chance that nutrients and chemicals will contaminate wetlands. If such products must be applied, use organic or least-toxic alternatives.

Ÿ Prevent wetland disturbance when planning property divisions.

Ÿ Tell your neighbors about the value of wetlands, and encourage them to support wetland protection.

Guidebooks, government programs, and private consultants can assist landowners in identifying wetlands and developing effective protection plans. The Michigan Land Use Institute has a list of such resources, available free upon request.



Legal Protections


Landowners who wish to voluntarily establish permanent protections for their wetlands may consider donating them to a government agency or to a land conservation organization, with the condition that they be protected.

Landowners also can choose to attach deed restrictions or conservation easements to property that prohibit development of wetlands.

Ÿ Deed restrictions limit subsequent owners of the land from certain stated actions.

Ÿ Conservation easements are legal agreements that allow a landowner to retain private ownership while donating certain rights to a government agency or to a land conservation organization. Such easements sometimes can provide tax benefits.

The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy is a local resource for Benzie County residents interested in conservation easements. For the address and telephone number, see pages 11-12.



The Role of State Government


Many of the wetland fills occurring in Michigan are permitted by the Department of Environmental Quality. Or, they are the result of activities like ranching, oil and gas development, and agriculture, which are exempt from the wetland protection laws.

In addition, in recent years there has been a marked decline in the commitment of top DEQ officials to protect wetlands. State administrative law judges routinely accommodate developers by granting permits to fill wetlands.

By writing letters and making phone calls, concerned citizens will demonstrate to regulators and elected officials that there is a local support for wetland protection. For the addresses and phone numbers, see pages 11-12.

Citizens can also comment on specific wetland fill applications. When doing so it is important for citizens to collect the pertinent details, and submit constructive comments to decision-makers. The Michigan Land Use Institute currently receives a list of pending wetland permit applications, and can assist citizens in drafting their comments.



The Role of Local Government


The Michigan wetland law allows townships, villages and counties to develop local regulations to help stop the loss of wetlands.

There are many benefits to local involvement in wetland protection. Local programs can fill in areas not covered by state and federal laws, such as regulating small wetlands and exempt activities. Local oversight also can provide landowners and developers with quicker response to questions, and shorter delays for site inspections and permit reviews.

Options for local governments include:

Ÿ Integrating wetland maps and principles of wetland protection with local land use plans to encourage well-coordinated future development patterns.

Ÿ Incorporating wetland protection measures in the local site plan review process to ensure that development proposals occur in a way that prevents the destruction of wetlands.

Ÿ Adopting ordinances that require landowners to secure a wetland permit before receiving other local permits. This simple step places a review of wetlands at the beginning of the development process. It helps to avoid expensive delays, and ensures that landowners are fully aware of the development restrictions before a significant investment has been made.

Ÿ Adopting stand-alone ordinances that assume full authority to enact and enforce local wetland regulations. These programs typically contain standards that are more restrictive than state and federal wetland laws.

Such programs require the strong support of citizens, so that adequate funding can be allocated and local officials have the community support needed to enforce the ordinance. Many communities across Michigan already have successfully implemented local wetland programs that enjoy broad public support.



Do I Have A Wetland On My Property?


Many property owners are confused about the technical definitions of wetlands. This is understandable given the variety of wetlands in Michigan and the fact that many wetland types look different than our traditional conception of a wetland (which is typically a cattail marsh). Below are a few questions that you can ask yourself about your land. A YES answer to any of the questions may indicate that you have a wetland on your property.






Is the ground soggy underfoot in the spring?



Are there depressions where water pools on the ground surface during the spring?



Do you avoid the area with heavy equipment for fear of getting stuck?



Would you need to ditch the site to dry it out?



Is the site in a depression that has a different vegetation community than the higher ground around it?



Are there groundwater seeps or springs present?



Are fallen leaves black or very darkly stained and contain sediment deposits on their surfaces?



Dig a hole. Is the soil gray, or contain bright mottles (red or orange) against a gray background?



If farmed, is there crop stress due to excessive water?



Does the National Wetland Inventory map, U.S.G.S. topographical map, or locally produced wetland inventory map show a wetland on your property?



Does the NRCS Soil Survey for your county show the soil on your property to by hydric, poorly, or very poorly drained?


Reporting a Wetland Violation


The Department of Environmental Quality does not have enough staff members to monitor all of Michigan’s wetlands. In many instances, citizens play an important role in reporting violations.

If you suspect a violation, first find out as much as possible about the wetland activity before making a report. If you have reason to believe that there is a violation of wetlands law, contact the Department of Environmental Quality. Follow the phone call with a letter to make sure you have a written record of the report. If you wish, you can make your complaint anonymously. The contact for Benzie County is:


Matt Johnstone

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality

Land and Water Management Division

120 West Chapin Street

Cadillac, MI 49601

616-775-3960, ext. 6362



For Further Action


As part of the Benzie Wetland Protection Project, the Michigan Land Use Institute will sponsor public meetings, educational workshops, and field trips. Stay tuned to the local media for dates and times.

In addition, citizens can call on the Institute to find out more about wetlands, how to take initiatives to protect them, and how to handle suspected violations.


Michigan Land Use Institute


845 Michigan Avenue

P.O. Box 228

Benzonia, MI 49616


email: mlui@traverse.com


The Benzie County Planning Department has an easy-to-use, full-color, touch-screen computer, available free to the public, called the Community Land Information System.

It shows the location of county wetlands, and allows citizens to combine wetland data with other land use issues.

To find out more about the Community Land Information System, and about local land use planning, contact:


David Neiger


Planning Director

Benzie County Planning Department

Government Center, Room 404

P.O. Box 398

Beulah, MI 49617



The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers, free of charge, a wide assortment of wetlands-related publications such as educational materials, technical guides, and regulatory manuals.

To receive a publications list, contact:


EPA Wetland Information Hotline



email: wetlands-hotline@epamail.epa.gov


To learn more about establishing a conservation easement on your property, and for information on the Upper Herring Lake Preserve and the Trapp Farm Nature Preserve, contact:


Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy


624 Third Street

Traverse City, MI 49684



To insist that the state uphold its legal obligation to protect wetlands, and to make the case for stronger wetland laws, contact the director of the DEQ, the Governor’s Office, and your elected officials.


Russell Harding



Department of Environmental Quality

P.O. Box 30473

Lansing, MI 48909-7973



Governor John Engler


State Capitol

P.O. Box 30013

Lansing, MI 48909



Your State Representative


The Honorable (Full Name)

(for Benzie County, it’s Bill Bobier)

State Capitol

P.O. Box 30014

Lansing, MI 48909-7514

Switchboard Telephone: 517-373-1837


Your State Senator


The Honorable (Full Name)

(for Benzie County, it’s George McManus)

State Capitol

P.O. Box 30036

Lansing, MI 48909-7536

Switchboard Telephone: 517-373-1837


Your U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative


The Honorable (Full Name)

(for Benzie County, the Senators are Carl Levin and Spencer Abraham; the Representative is Bart Stupak)

U.S. Senate OR U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. 20515

Congressional Switchboard Telephone: 202-224-3121


Concerned citizens also can play a valuable role by commenting on specific applications to alter wetlands. For $25 a year you can receive a bi-weekly notice of all wetland applications in the state by writing to the address below. Or, ask to see the copies available in the Michigan Land Use Institute library.


DEQ Land and Water Management Division


P.O. Box 30204

Lansing, MI 48909




BeVier, Thomas. "Michigan Nets Big Bucks." The Detroit News, April 3, 1996: 1D and 4D.


Cwikiel, Wilfred. Living With Michigan’s Wetlands: A Landowner’s Guide. Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, 1996.


Cwikiel, Wilfred. Michigan Wetlands: Yours to Protect. Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, 1992.


Herbowicz, Theresa and Donald F. Holecek. Tourism. Special Report 76, Michigan State University, January 1995.


Miller, Terry. Assault on Michigan’s Wetlands: How Michigan’s Wetland Protection Agency is Sacrificing the Resource. Lone Tree Council, February 1997.


Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and United States Environmental Protection Agency. Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Wetland Trends in Michigan Since 1800: A Preliminary Assessment. By Patrick J. Comer. June 1996.


Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Land and Water Management Division. Michigan Natural Features Inventory. A Survey of Great Lakes Marshes in the Northern Half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and Throughout Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. By Dennis A. Albert, Gary Reese, Michael R. Penskar, Leni A. Wilsmann, and Stuart J. Ouwinga. November 1989.


Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Land and Water Management Division. Michigan Natural Features Inventory. A Survey of Wooded Dune and Swale Complexes in Michigan. By Dennis Albert and Patrick Comer. May 1993.


Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Land and Water Management Division. Michigan Wetlands: A Guide for Property Owners and Home Builders, 1997.


Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Office of Planning Services. Natural River Report: Betsie River, August 10, 1973.


Scroppo, Dave. "The Grass Lake Chorus." Traverse: Northern Michigan’s Magazine. February 1995.


Spotts, Daniel M., ed. Travel and Tourism in Michigan: A Statistical Profile. Michigan State University, 1991.


United States Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Water and Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds. Wetlands Fact Sheets. February 1995.



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