The Value of Wetlands

Wetlands Often Misunderstood

With the beginning of spring and summer, more people are spending more time outside and as a result some people may be subjected to more bites from mosquitos, gnats and other biting insects.  Some individuals equate the presence of standing water as just a breeding ground for biting insects.  A patch of land that develops pools of water after a rain storm would not be considered a “wetland,” even though the land is wet. 

Wetlands Characteristics

Wetlands have unique characteristics that generally distinguishes them from other water bodies and landforms based on their water level, soil and vegetation.  Standing water could be a wetland.  Before you drain a wetland or spray areas to kill insects, consider the following:  

  1. Wetlands play a number of roles in the environment, principally water purification, flood control and shoreline stability.  
  2. Wetland systems are directly linked to groundwater and a crucial regulator of both quantity and quality of groundwater.
  3. Wetlands are also considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, serving as home to a wide range of plant and animal life.  

Economic Worth of Wetlands

According to the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and Ramsar Convention, “The economic worth of the ecosystem services provided to society by intact, naturally functioning wetlands is frequently much greater than the perceived benefits of converting them to ‘more valuable’ intensive land use – particularly as the profits from unsustainable use often go to relatively few individuals or corporations, rather than being shared by society as a whole.”

Wetlands Defined

So what is a wetland?  A wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.   The United States Code (16 U.S.C., Section 3801(a)(18)) defines the term as land that,

  1. has a predominance of hydric soils,
  2. is inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support a prevalence of hydrophytic vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions and
  3. under normal circumstances supports a prevalence of such vegetation.