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The Importance of Wetlands

April 19, 1997 | By Hans Voss
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The term "wetland" comes up often in conflicts over property rights. What are wetlands, and why are they important? A close look reveals that wetlands provide fundamental values and services to Michigan residents, in economic as well as environmental terms.

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." Michigan contains a wide range of wetlands, classified in the broad categories of marshes, swamps, and bogs.

Why Are Wetlands Important? The functions and values of wetlands include:

Water Pollution and Sediment Control. Wetlands are living filters. They can trap and break down harmful chemicals and other pollutants, and also reduce the amount of sediment that flows into lakes, rivers, and streams.

Barrier to Waves and Erosion. Wetland plants stabilize soil with their root systems, and buffer wave action that can cause erosion. By maintaining and planting wetland vegetation in the water and on the shoreline, riparian landowners can help prevent erosion, therefore protecting the value of their property.

Flood Storage and Conveyance. Wetlands act as a sponge, temporarily storing flood waters and slowly releasing them. These functions are instrumental to saving taxpayers billions of dollars in federal flood insurance payments.

Water Supply. Wetlands often are fed by springs and seeps, and replenish lakes, rivers, and streams with high quality water.

Fish and Wildlife Habitat. Some species live their entire lives in wetlands, while others use them from time to time. Quality wetlands are vital for many species of mammals, fish, birds, and amphibians.

Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat. More than one-third of threatened or endangered animal species in the United States live in or depend on wetlands. In Michigan these species include the Bald Eagle, Osprey, Common Loon, and King Rail.

Hunting and Fishing. Nationwide, billions of dollars are spent annually on these activities. Nearly all sport fish, and most game animals, need wetlands for their survival.

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

Historic and Archeological Values. Native Americans often settled near wetlands, since they are such a good source of food. Early artifacts and well-preserved remains of prehistoric mammals have been found in wetlands.

Education and Research. Because wetlands are such varied ecosystems, they are ideal outdoor classrooms.

Recreation and Aesthetic Values. The great variety of plants and animals located in wetlands make them beautiful places for introspection and recreation. Because of this, the value of property near protected wetlands often is enhanced. G

Source: "Living With Michigan's Wetlands: A Landowner's Guide," published by the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, P.O. Box 300, Conway, MI 49722; Tel. 616-347-1181.

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