Marquette County Wetlands

Wetlands are areas where soil is inundated with water, near or above the soil’s surface, for at least part of the year. Wetland soils have distinct properties and wildlife due to their high levels of saturation. Many wetlands, like grassy meadows, are defined by a high water table creating saturated soil conditions, and may not have standing water visible.

We are losing wetlands at an alarming rate.

The U.S. loses almost 80,000 acres of wetlands per year due to historic threats such as urbanization and agriculture, as well as new threats like climate change and invasive species.

Wetlands in Marquette County face threats primarily through efforts to drain and/or fill them for residential and commercial development, mining and agricultural land. Local wetlands have also been historically used as dumping sites for industrial operations, especially around Presque Isle. The use of fertilizers and pesticides in farming often seep into wetland ecosystems, causing water pollution and harm to plants and animals. Agriculture and development practices also heavily contribute to climate change, which exacerbates threats to wetlands, as rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns affect the balance of wetland ecosystems. These issues have led to the destruction of over 46,000 acres of wetlands in Marquette County to date. Changes in water levels, increased erosion, and habitat loss are just some of the consequences of wetland loss.

Below are a few resources to learn more about wetland loss and what you can do to help:

Marquette County Conservation District - Wetland Mitigation

EPA - Coastal Wetland Information

Loss of Federal Protection for Wetlands

In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision for Sackett v EPA, stating that wetlands are only protected under the Clean Water Act if they have a “continuous surface connection” to a navigable body of water. This court decision severely limits the power of the CWA, stripping federal protection for 50% of the nation’s wetlands. 

 

When the Clean Water Act (CWA) passed in 1972, its purpose was to regulate pollution and protect wetlands. This meant that the CWA could federally protect all relevant parts of an aquatic ecosystem, such as lakes, streams, rivers, ponds and wetlands. The main goal was to make all of our nation's waters “fishable and swimmable". Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the CWA was cut short with the Court's decision in Sackett v EPA (2023). 

Photo Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain, acquired from https://phys.org/news/2023-06-nation-wetlands-lost-federal-fate.html
Photo Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain, acquired from https://phys.org/news/2023-06-nation-wetlands-lost-federal-fate.html
What We’re Facing Now:

 

This decision removed federal protection for about 50% of the nation’s wetlands which were previously protected under the WOTUS rule. These ecosystems are no longer safe from destruction and pollution, a huge loss for wetlands since they fill an extremely important role in their ecosystems. Now, protection of these wetlands will rely on state and local government action. 

More information on Sackett v EPA (2023):

Supreme Court case puts your clean water at risk 

Sackett vs. Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act, and the value of wetlands and property rights - Field Crops

Supreme Court curtails Clean Water Act - SCOTUSblog 

State Level Wetland Protections

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has made efforts to prohibit harmful acts such as dumping materials, removing soil, diverting water to other areas, removing tree stumps, constructing structures, etc., from taking place without an authorized permit. However, there are still many different threats to wetlands that go unnoticed and require action.

Michigan’s wetlands have protection under the state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, Act 451 of 1994, Part 303 Wetlands Protection Statute. 

Part 303 requires a wetland use permit from EGLE in order to drain, fill, or otherwise alter protected wetlands. This helps to lessen modern wetland destruction, but the law only applies to: wetlands connected to a Great Lake, or an inland lake or stream; wetlands not connected to one of those waters but over 5 acres in size; and wetlands not connected to one of those waters and less than 5 acres in size, but deemed essential to the preservation of the state’s natural resources. This does not cover all of our state’s wetlands.

Local Wetland Protections

Local units of government are permitted to pass a local wetland protection ordinance that provides a greater level of protection than what the state offers, though it must meet certain criteria. In Michigan, 44 municipalities have passed a wetland protection ordinance. However, not a single municipality in Marquette County, or the Upper Peninsula as a whole, has passed such an ordinance. EGLE provides resources for local governments looking to pass wetland protection ordinances here.

Types of wetlands in Marquette County

Historical wetlands make up 32% of land in Marquette County. Wetlands exist all throughout the county, and most are located on private property; there’s a good chance you have some on your property. Wetlands come in many different shapes, sizes, and styles. Types of wetlands in Marquette County include deciduous swamps, wet meadows, emergent marshes, conifer swamps, and bogs. Here are some defining features of these wetland types (information comes from the Michigan Natural Features Inventory Natural Communities List):

Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Deciduous Swamp:

 

  • Seasonally inundated (flooded) areas located primarily in depressions in glacial lakeplains, glacial tills, and outwash plains
  • Deciduous forest, dominated by black ash trees
  • Soil often consists of shallow muck over mineral soils
  • Common plant types include: Grasses and sedges, wildflowers, ferns, shrubs, and hardwood trees
Wet Meadow:

 

  • Open, groundwater-influenced areas usually bordering streams, but also along ponds, lakes, and above beaver dams
  • Typically has 100% vegetative cover
  • Forms most commonly in acidic, organic soils 
  • Common plants include: sedges and grasses
Photo by Michael A. Kost
Photo by Michael A. Kost
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Emergent Marsh

 

  • Shallow standing water along the shores of lakes and streams
  • Common plants include: water plantains, sedges, spike-rushes, pond lilies, pickerel weed, arrowheads, bulrushes, and cattails
  • Forms in both mineral and organic soils
Rich Conifer Swamp:

 

  • Standing water is typically visible
  • Groundwater-influenced, mineral-heavy, forested wetland, occurring in outwash channels and plains, glacial lakeplains, and depressions
  • Dominated by northern white cedar and also referred to as cedar swamps
  • Organic soils, can range from alkaline to neutral, to acidic near the soil surface
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Poor Conifer Swamp:

 

  • Precipitation-influenced forested wetland
  • Occur in glacial depressions, and are often found along the edges of lakes and meandering streams
  • Dominated by coniferous trees (mainly black spruce), sphagnum mosses, and small shrubs
  • Soils are composed mainly of peat (partially decomposed organic matter) due to constant inundation causing anaerobic conditions
Northern Shrub Thicket:

 

  • Tall shrub-dominated wetland often occurring on the edges of lakes, beaver floodings, and streams
  • Soils are saturated, nutrient rich, and often medium acidic, but can range from alkaline to acidic
  • Vegetation is heavily dominated by tag alder, but also includes other tree species, grasses, ferns, and wildflowers
  • Common wildlife include beavers, birds, and deer
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Photo by Joshua G. Cohen
Bog

 

  • Nutrient-poor peatland occurring in glacial depressions, and can either fill the entire basin or exist as a floating mat on the edge of a lake
  • Vegetation is dominated by sphagnum mosses and small shrubs, with stunted coniferous trees
  • Soil is very acidic and anaerobic due to its saturated and stagnant nature

Wetland Functions

Protecting Water Quality

 

Wetlands remove pollutants from surface- and groundwater through:

  • Sediment trapping: small swales or ponds are positioned between the input and the main wetland to promote coarse particle settling before water is distributed across the wetland
  • Nutrient removal: when water flows through a wetland, it absorbs, transforms, sequesters, and removes the nutrients and chemicals 
      • “Wetlands are so effective at removing excess nutrients from water that many municipalities have built wetlands specifically for treating effluent from secondary sewage treatment plants. Natural wetlands are not suited for this purpose and for each wetland there is a limit to how much can be added before the natural plant and chemical processes are overloaded and break down.” (Wetland Functions and Values: Surface and Groundwater Protection)
  • Chemical detoxification: toxic chemicals are converted into less harmful chemical forms by biological processes or by exposure to sunlight for extended periods

 

Providing Critical Habitat

 

Wetlands are home to many organisms like fish, birds, invertebrates, amphibians, and many mammals. Many of these organisms use wetlands as spawning or nesting sites. Wetlands can also serve as a food source for some organisms. Wetlands are primary habitats for many species, but even for those who do not use them as a habitat, wetlands still play a vital role in many species' lifecycles. 

“About 43% of the nation's endangered and threatened species rely directly or indirectly on wetlands for survival.”  (Wetland Functions and Values: Water Storage for Flood Water and Storm Runoff)

Mitigating Erosion and Flooding Impacts

 

Like a sponge, wetlands are able to store water and slowly release it when necessary. The slow release of water helps reduce erosion downstream. Wetlands are able to hold and store floodwater, protecting surrounding habitats. Some of this water is soaked into the ground when it is in the wetland. “Wetlands that provide for the temporary storage of floodwater or stormwater runoff to the extent that they make an important contribution to: reducing risks to public safety, reducing damage to public or private property, reducing downstream erosion or enhancing the stability of habitat for aquatic life, are significant wetlands.” (Wetland Functions and Values: Water Storage for Flood Water and Storm Runoff)

References

Burling, J. (2022, June 14). What is the Clean Water Act?. Pacific Legal Foundation. https://pacificlegal.org/what-is-the-clean-water-act/?gad_source=1&gclid=Cj0KCQiAmNeqBhD4ARIsADsYfTdFNeCOI8vO-HgJ7KQWl2ZyS24brRSVpHtoLCgZjwvkSuwXjB_p5IQaAhDvEALw_wcB  

Supreme Court of the United States. (2023, May 25). https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/22pdf/21-454_4g15.pdf  

What is a wetland? | US EPA. United States Environmental Protection Agency . (n.d.). https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/what-wetland