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Educational Modules

Wetland Biology

Introducing: Wetlands

  • What is a wetland?
  • How does one properly define a wetland?
  • When a definition has been established, how will I know if I am in one?
  • Where are the boundaries? Who decides?
  • Are the definitions regional? Personal? Federal? State regulated?
  • What parameters are used to delineate a wetland?
  • Do the parameters define the wetland definition?
  • How many different kinds are there?

What may, at first thought, seem to be a rather elementary issue quickly becomes a complicated one when people with different opinions and interpretations speak out on the issue of what actually defines a wetland.

Before interpretation of aerial photographs and satellite imagery can be conducted with confidence, the researcher must have a clear understanding of what a wetland is and how it would appear on the ground. Habitat identification from a biological perspective includes a vast array of factors that in combination result in a given habitat type. One characteristic alone is not enough.

While it is fair to say that an area that has standing water is a wetland, it is the crudest definition of such an environment. One challenging that definition might ask about the length of time the water must be there to be classified as a wetland. If it has just rained and water collects and forms puddles on the surface of an asphalt driveway should those areas be classified as wetlands and fall under the protection and jurisdiction of the federal wetlands protection act? If you think the answer to this question is an obvious NO, try to define and state how long must water be in a given area to be classified as a wetland. What other ecological and biological parameters do you think ought to be considered when forming a definition of a wetland? Are there exceptions to your rule? Ask another student to defend his or her response to the same issue and you will soon see that the issue is a complicated one. There are often more exceptions to the definitions than support for them.

One might quickly throw up their hands in frustration and give up on the whole thing. What seems to have happened nationwide is a regional synthesis and interpretation based on compromise and a set of unique characters that best reflect the environmental conditions of the area. Much work is still being conducted in the refinement of wetland definitions.If however the nation was to wait for such clarification before enacting conservation and preservation measures, we might be left with nothing that resembled a wetland when the final determination was agreed upon.

In this module, you and your classmates will explore the complexities of issues involving wetland conservation, regulation, preservation, and legislation.