What's Up With Wetlands?

By Roxey Lay, Membership and Communications Coordinator

EPA map displaying coastal wetlands and how far inland they extend (click to enlarge).

Swamps, marshes, bogs, and fens; all ecosystems defined by various sub-types and characteristics with one thing in common: they are all wetlands. World Wetlands Day was February 2, marking the date the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in 1971 and raising awareness of wetlands and their vital role to our planet. Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to adopt wetland protection laws during the 1960s; however, since the Colonial Period, roughly one-third of the state’s wetlands have been destroyed[1]. According to the EPA, “wetlands in coastal watersheds are experiencing disproportionate losses compared to wetlands in the rest of the country, making them particularly important areas for protection”[2]. Wildlands’ work to protect undeveloped land throughout the region includes the protection of wetlands. In fact, nearly all of the properties in Wildlands’ portfolio contain some type of wetland and provide habitat for many different species throughout the region; some of which are rare or endangered, such as the eastern box turtle and northern red-bellied cooter.

Drone view of Raven Brook in Middleborough.

Recently, I spoke with Brad Holmes, manager of Environmental Consulting & Restoration, LLC (ECR) to learn about what wetlands are and how they impact Southeastern Massachusetts. Located in Plymouth, ECR specializes in wetland consulting, permitting and restoration, and Brad, a professional wetland scientist (PWS), has worked with Wildlands at Great River Preserve and most recently, on the ecological restoration project along the shore of Halfway Pond. Read on to learn about wetlands and their significance to our region:

What is a wetland?

A wetland is an area where groundwater is located at or near the surface and where the vegetative community is dominated by plants adapted to live in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands often border on creeks, rivers, streams, ponds, lakes etc., but may also be isolated. Wetlands are [determined] by assessing three specific site conditions that include vegetation, soil, and hydrology. By definition, a wetland must include 2 of 3 conditions: a dominance of wetland vegetation, hydric soils, and/or hydrological conditions.

What is a wetland scientist?

A Professional Wetland Scientist is an individual that has been certified by the Society of Wetland Scientists based on academic and work experience in wetland science. As a PWS we work to assess and manage wetland resource areas throughout Massachusetts. Our work includes field delineation of wetlands based on specific environmental conditions (i.e. vegetation, soils & hydrology) as well as designing and permitting projects through the applicable local, state and federal regulatory authorities.

In addition to your work as a PWS, you are certified by the MA Arborists Association as an arborist, how does this influence your approach to your work?

As an MA Certified Arborist, I approach projects with a special consideration towards the care of trees, specifically when designing wetland restoration or wetland replication projects. 

North River in Marshfield.

What are the benefits of wetlands?

Wetlands provide benefits to landowners and the public, [including] protection of public and private water supply, protection of groundwater supply, flood control, storm damage prevention, prevention of pollution, protection of fisheries and protection of wildlife habitat.

Why is important to protect them?

Wetlands act as a first line of defense for floodwater from storms. They also act as a filter to pollutants in our water supply. They [also] provide a specific habitat that many wildlife and fish need to survive.

Do wetlands have any significance to Southeastern Massachusetts?

There are many extensive wetland systems within Southeastern Massachusetts. For instance, the North River system in Scituate, Marshfield, Norwell, and Pembroke. Also consider the Taunton River system, the extensive freshwater ponds and the 250+ miles of coastline in Massachusetts.

It is important for property owners and the general public to be aware of the wetlands in their community and where they can seek guidance in protecting the wetland resource areas.

What is the current state of wetlands in this region? Are they threatened? If so, what can people do to help?

Wetlands in Massachusetts are protected by the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and associated Wetland Regulations. [These] spell out specific performance standards for work within or nearby (buffer zone) wetland resource areas. It is important for property owners and the general public to be aware of the wetlands in their community and where they can seek guidance in protecting the wetland resource areas. Many towns in Massachusetts have a local Conservation Commission that works to protect the resource areas in their community.

What do you think the future of wetlands is?

Wetlands will be protected. The next task is protecting more land buffering wetlands, which is the current struggle.

Wetlands at Striar Conservancy, Halifax

Want to learn more about wetlands and whether there are any near your home? Talk to your local Conservation Commission, go to the State’s website on wetlands, or, if there is a Wildlands property near you, ask us what type of wetland is on the property and how you can help in maintaining its integrity for the benefit of your town and the animals that rely on its habitat. I’d like to thank Brad for taking the time to answer my questions and providing some great insight on the importance of wetlands and their impact on our region.