Wetlands on the Rebound in the U.S.

If the world hands you lemons, make lemonade. And similarly, if Nature has given you a consistently wet section of your landscape, make a bog garden.

In recent years, there has been increased interest in protecting the world’s wetlands. Over the past couple of centuries, many thousand acres of wetland had been eradicated either for real estate development or for conversion to farmland. For example, more than 90% of New Zealand’s wetlands have been drained since European settlement.

But now, efforts are being made to preserve remaining wetlands and even create new ones. New laws have been passed in the United States to limit wetlands destruction and requiring developers to create artificial wetlands should they need to drain existing natural wetlands.

Previously, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been involved in draining parts of the Everglades. Now, a new policy is under way to restore the Everglades as a protected wetland area as a habitat for plant and animal life and as a method of natural flood control.

So what IS a wetland?

The EPA’s definition is: “those areas that 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. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.”

Unless you have a very large tract of land, it is unlikely that your landscape encompasses what the EPA considers “swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas. However, you do need to exert extreme caution if you are thinking of draining an area that might be protected by laws designed to preserve wetlands.

In this column recently, I addressed some problems sent to me by readers who had waterlogged areas. I should have made it very clear that you need to be certain you aren’t about to divert or destroy a protected wetland.

What should you do?

For a start, visit http://www.epa.gov/wetlands/ a helpful and easy-to-follow Website set up by the EPA to provide a lot of information about the preservation of wetlands and the laws and guidelines that relate to them. At the EPA site, be sure to click on the link titled “Landowners.

Secondly, it would be a good idea to check with your nearest Cooperative Extension Service. This is a program funded by the Federal Government to provide information and assistance with land-related issues. The advice is free and I’ve always found the folks there to be friendly and helpful.

To find your local Extension Service, go to http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/

Click on the map and you’ll be taken to your state and then to your county. You can call a local number and ask if your landscape would fall under wetlands regulations.

If you are still not certain, you could also call your county or city administration office and ask if there is an official map that defines wetlands in your area. If so, you can check to see if your real estate is within that area.

You can also visit “National Wetlands Inventory, a Web site hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, located at http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/ However, I find that site to be rather complex and difficult to use. You might have better luck!

You might think that, in order to have a wetland area, you would need to live in an area that receives a considerable amount of rainfall. There are wetlands in southeast Asia that average 200 inches of rainfall a year. But there are also areas in the northern U.S. that average less than 6 inches per year.

Regardless of your geographic location, if you have a consistently moist area on your landscape that you cannot (or don’t wish to) divert or drain, you can make lemonade from your lemons and create an attractive feature that will become a miniature ecosystem for plant and wildlife.

In the next Plant Man column, I’ll give you some ideas on planning and maintaining bog gardens and similar water features.

The Plant Man, , is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org

Steve Jones

Steve Jones, The Plantman, is a professional gardener and landscaper. His advice is based on the concept that our goal should be to leave the land better than the way we found it. Or at the very least, to do it no harm.

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