What are wetlands and why are they important?

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.

Most people are familiar with the cattail or lily pad wetland found in areas with standing water, but wetlands can also be shrubby fields, grassy meadows, 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, emergent marshes, wet prairies, wet meadows, shrub-scrub swamps, conifer swamps, fens, and bogs.

Wetlands are a significant factor in the health and existence 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: Wildlife habitat by providing breeding, nesting, and feeding grounds and cover for many forms of wildlife, waterfowl, including migratory waterfowl, and rare, threatened, or endangered wildlife species.Protection of subsurface water resources and provision of valuable watersheds and recharging ground water supplies is of utmost importance.

Wetland mitigation is the replacement of wetland functions through the creation or restoration of wetlands. Mitigation is required as a condition of many permits issued under state law (Part 303, Wetlands Protection, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended) and federal law (Part 404 of the Clean Water Act). The goal of wetland mitigation is to replace wetland functions which provide public benefits, such as flood storage, water quality protection, fish and wildlife habitat, and groundwater recharge.

Wetland mitigation banking can facilitate compliance with permit requirements by providing a mechanism for the establishment of new wetland areas, or “banks,” in advance of anticipated losses. Wetlands established in a mitigation bank provide “credits” which can be sold to permit applicants, or used by the bank sponsor to meet permit conditions. The HuronTownship LDFA has created such banks to entice business developments on deemed wetland areas in the Huron Township district.

Regarding mitigation ratios, the permittee must provide wetland mitigation to assure that, upon completion, there will be no net loss of wetlands.  Wetland mitigation must be of a similar ecological type as the impacted wetland wherever feasible and practical.  If the replacement wetland is of a similar ecological type as the impacted wetland, then the following ratio of acres of wetland mitigation for each acre of permitted wetland loss must be provided:

  • Restoration or creation of 2.0 acres of wetland mitigation for 1.0 acre of permitted impact on forested wetland types, coastal wetlands not included under (1), and wetlands that border upon inland lakes.
  • Restoration or creation of 5.0 acres of wetland mitigation for 1.0 acre of permitted impact on wetland types that are rare or imperiled on a statewide basis.
  • Restoration or creation of 1.5 acres of wetland mitigation for 1.0 acre of permitted impact on all other wetland types.

The MDEQ may increase the ratio if the replacement wetland is of a different ecological type than the impacted wetland.   If the MDEQ determines that an adjustment would be beneficial to the wetland resources, then the MDEQ may increase or decrease the number of acres of wetland mitigation by 20 percent.  The MDEQ must double the required ratios if an after-the-fact permit is issued. 

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