United States
Department of

Forest Service

Natural Resources

United States
Army Corps
of Engineers

United States
Protection Agency

United States
Department of
the Interior
Fish and Wildlife

Forested Wetlands - Front Cover
Functions, Benefits and the Use of
Best Management Practices
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Wetland Classification
Biogeochemical Cycles
Organic Soil Wetlands
Mineral Soil Wetlands
Headwater Wetlands
Streamside Wetlands
Spring Seeps
Beaver Ponds
Vernal Ponds

Wetlands Best Management Practices

Three Primary Considerations
Access Systems
Permanent Haul Roads
Road construction on soils with organic layers in excess of 16 inches in thickness
Road construction on soils with organic layers in excess of 4 feet in thickness
Road construction on soils with organic layers between 1.3 and 4 feet in thickness
Road construction on mineral soils or those with surface organic layers less than 1.3 feet in thickness
Temporary Road Construction on all soils
Skid Trails
Maintenance Areas
Logging under Frozen Conditions
Streamsides and Stream Crossings
Felling Practices
Wildlife and Fish
General Considerations
Within a 50 foot wide wildlife management zone around wetlands
Within 150 feet wide wildlife management zone around wetlands
Spring Seeps
Vernal Ponds
Legal Requirements
Where to go for Assistance


Additional copies of this publication can be obtained from U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Northeastern Area, 5 Radnor Corporate Center, P.O. Box 6775, Radnor, PA 19087-8775.

If you find this publication helpful, please write and tell us how you used it.

Front Cover: Heaths are a common bog vegetation, as suggested by "Big Heath," the local name for this black spruce bog in Maine. (Photo: Donald J. Leopold)

Back Cover: Labrador Pond, apoor fen in New York (Photos: Donald J. Leopold)
Blue Bar
Forested Wetlands
Functions, Benefits
and the Use of
Best Management Practices


David J. Welsch Northeastern Area, U.S.D.A. Forest Service

David L. Smart U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service

James N. Boyer Philadelphia District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Paul Minkin U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III

Howard C. Smith U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service

Tamara L. McCandless U.S.D.l. Fish and Wildlife Service

The following people have also contributed significantly to this publication with source materials, writing, editing, ideas and photography. Their efforts are greatly appreciated.

Scott Jackson, Dave Kittredge, Sue Campbell, Chris Welch, Alison Whitlock, Joseph Larson Department of Forestry and Wildlife Management, University of Massachusetts; Mike Phillips, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; Larry Klotz and Randy Cassell, Shippensburg University, PA; Joe Emerick, Cambria County Conservation District, PA-1 Jim Soper, Carmine Angeloni, Conrad Ohman, and Jack Jackson, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management; Eric Johnson, Northern Logger and Timber Processor Magazine; Mike Love, Blanchard Machinery Co.; John Conkey Logging Inc. -I Barbara Hoffert Graphic Design, Doug Wechsler, Vireo Project, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia; Paul Wiegman, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy-, Tony Wilkinson, Nature Conservancy; Kathy Reagan, Adirondack Conservancy-, Robert Gutowski, Ann Rhoads, Morris Arboretum, University of Pennsylvania; Donald Leopold, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York; James Finley, Pennsylvania State University; Steve Koehn, Maryland Department of Natural Resources; Bob Tjaden, Delaware Department of Agriculture; David Savielkis, Delaware Division of Water Resources-, Barbara D'Angelo, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-Region 111; Paul Nickerson, Diane Eckles, U.S.D.I. Fish and Wildlife Service-, Richard Wyman, E.N. Huyck Biological Research Station, NY; Tom Ilvari, Bob Franzen, Carl Langlois, Barry Isaacs, Bob Wengrzynek, U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service-, Gerald Tussing, Top of Ohio, Resource Conservation and Development Area, John Lanier, Vermont, Department of Fish and Wildlife-, Mary Davis, U.S.A. Corps of Engineers-, Lola Mason, Elon S. Verry, Jim Hornbeck, Ed Corbett, Steve Horsley, Gary Wade, Bill Healy, Lionel Lemery, Bill Moriarity, Nancy Salminen, Elizabeth Crane, Gordon Stuart, Mark Cleveland, Jackie Twiss, Jim Lockyear, Roxane Palone, Karen Sykes, Toni McLellan, Mike Majeski, Rich Wiest, Constance Carpenter, John Currier, Gary Peters, U.S.D.A. Forest Service.

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Wetlands are complex and fascinating ecosystems that perform a variety of functions of vital importance to the environment and to the society whose very existence depends on the quality of the environment. Wetlands regulate water flow by detaining storm flows for short periods thus reducing flood peaks. Atlantic white cedarWetlands protect lake shore and coastal areas by buffering the erosive action of waves and other storm effects. Wetlands improve water quality by retaining or transforming excess nutrients and by trapping sediment and heavy metals. Wetlands provide many wildlife habitat components such as breeding grounds, nesting sites and other critical habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species as well as the unique habitat requirements of many threat ened and endangered plants and animals. Wetlands also provide a bounty of plant and animal products such as blueberries, cranberries, timber, fiber, finfish, shellfish, waterfowl, furbearers and game animals. Although wetlands are generally beneficial, they can, at times, adversely affect water quality. Waters leaving wetlands have shown elevated coliform counts, reduced oxygen content and color values that exceed the standard for drinking water.

While many wetland functions are unaffected by land management activities, some functions can be compromised or enhanced by land management activities. Deforestation, for instance, can reduce or eliminate the ability of a wetland to reduce flood peaks. On the other hand, retaining forest vegetation on a wetland can help retain the ability of the soil to absorb runoff water thus reducing peak flood flows. In addition, management of the forest can actually improve wildlife habitat and produce revenue to offset the cost of retaining the wetland for flood control. The key is to recognize environmental values and incorporate them into management decisions.

The purpose of this publication is to provide an understanding of .some of the environmental Junctions and societal values of wetlands and to present an array of Best Management Practices, or BMP's. Best management practices are devices and procedures to be considered and used us necessary to protect the environmental,function.s and societal values of wetlands during harvesting and other, management operations.

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The term "wetlands" includes a variety of transitional areas where land based and water based ecosystems overlap. They have long been known to us by more traditional terms such as bog, marsh, fen and swamp. And while most people use these terms interchangeably, to many who study wetlands these terms have specific meanings which richly describe the various wetland environments they represent. However, before discussing the meaning of these traditional terms, we should look first at some general definitions of wetlands.

One of the earliest of the currently important definitions, often referred to as the Circular 39 definition, was developed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of a wetland classification system for categorizing waterfowl habitat. This classification is still used to differentiate between various wetland types for wildlife habitat purposes.

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The term "wetlands "... refers to lowlands covered with shallow and sometimes temporary or intermittent waters. They are referred to by such names as marshes, swamps, bogs, wet meadows, potholes, sloughs, fens and river overflow lands. Shallow lakes and ponds, usually with emergent vegetation as a conspicuous feature, are included in the definition, but the permanent waters of streams, reservoirs, and portions of lakes too deep for emergent vegetation are not included. Neither are water areas that are so temporary as to have little or no effect on the development of moist-soil vegetation.

Wetlands of the United States, Their Extent and Their Value for
Waterfowl and Other Wildlife (Shaw and Fredine 1956)

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The Environmental Protection Agency (Federal Register 1980) and the Corps of Engineers (Federal Register 1982) agree on the following definition of wetlands which is used to legally define wetlands for the purposes of the Clean Water Act.

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The term "wetlands" means those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water 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.

Corps of Engineers Wetlands Delineation Manual (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 1987)

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The Cowardin definition is one of the most comprehensive and ecologically oriented definitions of wetlands and was developed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of a wetlands inventory and classification effort...

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Wetlands are lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water... wetlands must have one or more of the following three attributes: (1) at least periodically, the land supports predominantly hydrophytes; (2) the substrate is predominantly undrained hydric soil; and (3) the substrate is nonsoil and is saturated with water or covered by shallow water at some time during, the growing season of each year. "

Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States (Cowardin et al., 1979)

These definitions are descriptions of the physical attributes of wetlands and are used chiefly to identify wetlands for regulatory purposes, but wetlands are more than physical places where water is present and certain plants grow. Wetlands perform a variety of unique physical, chemical and biological functions which are essential to the health of the environment and valuable to society, but which are also difficult to define or identify for regulatory purposes.

Wetlands exist between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and are, therefore, influenced by both. Wetlands are lands where water is present on the soil surface or within the root zone of plants, usually within about 18 inches of the soil surface. Because of the presence of water, wetlands have soil properties which differ from upland areas. Only hydrophytes, plants that are adapted to an environment where water is present in the root zone either permanently or for extended periods of time, can survive in such soils. The type of soil, the amount of organic matter, the depth to which the water table will rise, the climate, and the season and duration of high water will determine the kinds of plants that will grow in a wetland. Therefore, wetland types are identified, in part, by the kinds of plants that grow in them and the degree of surface flooding or the degree of soil saturation due to a high water table. Any of these definitions may suffice for the purposes of protection and enhancement of wetland functions. However, for regulatory purposes, it is important to know that there are several similar definitions in common use, but the one that currently applies for the regulatory purposes of the Clean Water Act is the 1987 Corps of Engineers definition.

Buttswell and knees of baldcypress

It is easier to avoid negative impacts on wetlands if the land in question is recognized as wetland at the beginning of the planning process. Identifying wetlands when the land is inundated or flooded with water is not difficult, but wetlands are not always inundated and many wetlands are never inundated.

Sediment deposits of leaves

Therefore, it is necessary to be able to identify wetlands by other means. While identification and delineation of wetlands under the Clean Water Act is a complex process involving soils, plant communities and hydrology, there are a number of easily recognized signs that can be used as indicators that the area may be a wetland and that it thus deserves further investigation.

Buttressed roots and sediment stained trunks Watermarks on trunks of these water tupelo

Drift lines, the linear deposits of debris at the base of these silver maple trees

Wetland Characteristics

presence of water at or
near the ground surface
for a part of the year.

Hydrophytic Plants
a preponderance of plants
adapted to wet conditions

Hydric Soils
soil developed under wet

Surficial root systems indicate sturated soils.

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