Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Understanding Wetlands

What is a wetland?  It seems like a simple question.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers defines wetlands as “those areas that are inundated or saturated 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 conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.” 

Perfectly clear, right?  Hardly.

Many wetland scientists and professionals have spent years working on how to use this definition to identify wetlands in the field.  The challenge is to use the definition to identify wetlands that occur on the cold tundra in Alaska as well as the mangrove swamps in Florida—and a lot of different types in between.  It has not been easy. Some wetlands are relatively easy to identify, but others are difficult.  As our knowledge of wetlands has improved so has our ability to identify their boundaries.  In fact in the past few years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has led a national effort to refine and improve previous guidance on how to identify wetlands in the field.

A bit simpler is a pamphlet on our  webpages that addresses this topic: Common Questions:  Wetland Definition, Delineation and Mapping The pamphlet also states that there is more than one definition of a wetland. 

This detailed information is important to people engaged in running a wetlands mapping program or a wetland regulatory program or applying for a permit.  But it’s far too much detail for people who are just trying to understand something about wetlands.

There are many websites that answer the question, ‘What is a Wetland?’

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

They do a good job.  But somehow, I find there is something missing.  When I read these I wonder, ‘How can wetlands be so boring?’

Many years ago I sat at a campfire someplace in the Midwest and listened to a camp counselor read aloud—

          Doesn’t the crane whoop in celebration,
          The honker honk in celebration,
          The otter dive and slide in celebration,
          The coyote bark in celebration,
          The buffalo paw and grunt in celebration?

                                       –Terry Russell, On the Loose

Ever after I imagined joy in the actions of wildlife from the songs of birds singing down the sun to the leaps of squirrels scrambling through the trees.  I saw it in the flutter of butterflies, the flips of a seal and the flash of fish.  How else can so much of their behavior be explained?

Wetlands are more than soil and water and plants.  They are also the living, breathing poetry of wild things.  In other words—

Wandering Wetlands by Mr. Ed
Warriewood Wetland Poems
Wetland Poetry and Haiku
Wetland Poems Canada
Wetland Poetry Illinois State Museum

Not great poetry perhaps, but always from the heart.  The point is if we don’t get the poetry part, then we’ll never understand wetlands at all.

Jeanne Christie

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