May is American Wetland Month, a time devoted to recognizing the importance of wetlands to the nation’s ecological, economic, and social health and to educate Americans about the value of wetlands as a natural resource. Wetlands are sometimes referred to as the kidneys of the water system for their ability to filter pollutants that otherwise would pollute surface waters, support groundwater recharge, reduce flooding, and provide critical habitat for plants, fish and wildlife.
Most people are familiar with marshes full of cattails or lily pads found in areas with standing water, but wetlands can also be grassy meadows, shrubby fields, or mature forests. Many wetland areas have only a high ground water table and standing water may not be visible. Types of wetlands include deciduous swamps, wet meadows, emergent marshes, conifer swamps, wet prairies, shrub-scrub swamps, fens, and bogs.
Michigan's wetlands law recognizes the important benefits provided by wetlands and their vital role in recreation, tourism, and the economy. Thirty-five years ago, Michigan was the first state, and remains one of only two states, to have received authorization from the federal government to administer the federal wetland program. Because of this approval, wetlands, lakes, and streams permits issued by EGLE under state law also provide federal approval.
Because Michigan is the only state entirely within the drainage basin of the Great Lakes, the state’s wetlands are especially vital to the health and vitality of the lakes.
Michigan's wetland statute defines a wetland as "land characterized by the presence of water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances does support, wetland vegetation or aquatic life, and is commonly referred to as a bog, swamp, or marsh." The definition applies to public and private lands regardless of zoning or ownership.
Wetlands are a significant factor in the health of other natural resources of the state, such as inland lakes, ground water, fisheries, wildlife, and the Great Lakes. Michigan's wetland statute recognizes the following benefits provided by wetlands:
According to the Status and Trends of Michigan’s Wetlands report (2014), over 50% of Michigan's original wetlands have been drained or filled, thereby making the protection of remaining wetlands that much more important. However, since passage of Michigan’s wetland protection law in 1979, the rate of loss has declined dramatically and there are efforts underway by many groups across the state to protect remaining wetlands and restore lost wetlands.