February 1997
         United States          Region 5
         Environmental Protection  77 W. Jackson Blvd.
         Agency              Chicago, lllinois.60604
Welcome  to the


   You'll see birds, ducks, turtles, fish, muskrats, beavers, and a whole host of
other animals here. Many of these species you won't find anywhere else
because their homes need to be wet. And wetlands provide the water.
Wetlands also provide free benefits, such as flood control, to many people.
With so much going on in wetlands, it's no wonder they're so important to us.
   As you might guess, wetlands are natural areas that hold water. Generally found in low-lying areas,
wetlands can be as small as a wading pool or as large as a lake. Despite a wetland's size, the water is
usually shallow.
   Water is a necessary ingredient for wetlands but  it isn't always there. Some wetlands stay wet all
year,  while others dry out for months at a time. Wetlands on the coasts fill up and drain twice a day
because of the tides from the ocean.
   There are many different kinds of wetlands throughout North America. Marshes, swamps, bogs, and
mangroves are some of the wetlands you can find. Each wetland type provides food, shelter, and water
for plants and animals that need a watery home. You can learn more about wetlands on the next page.

   Wetlands do more than provide homes to many plants and animals. They also help people by
providing free services you may not be aware of.  In fact, the benefits wetlands give us are worth billions
of dollars every year!
   FISHERIES. Most of the fish and shellfish we eat live in wetlands when they are young.  Young fish
find a vast supply of food and protection from predators in  these watery habitats. Wetlands along the
Atlantic and Gulf coasts are especially rich in fish we eat. All told, wetlands support a multi-billion dollar
per year commercial and recreational fishing industry.

FLOOD CONTROL When rivers overflow, wetlands can help control flood waters that damage property.
They are able to hold excess water and slow water traveling through them. As a result, fewer homes
and businesses are damaged in areas where wetlands are left intact than in neighborhoods where they
have been drained and filled.
CLEAN WATER. Wetlands can be a great help in dealing with polluted water. Because water moves
slowty In wetlands, silt and sediments are able to settle out. Also, wetland plants absorb certain
nutrients and chemicals that can pollute  rivers, ponds, and lakes downstream. Dirty water  gets a good
cleaning when it flows through wetlands.
RECREATION. Wetlands provide a great opportunity for fishing, canoeing, hiking, birdwatching, or just
plain splashing around.
                                                                           Great Blue Heron Tracks


  Wetlands are probably too soggy for you to live in, but they're just right
for many animals that wouldn't live anywhere else. In fact, you can find
more animals and plants per acre in a wetland than in any other kind of
habitat. Wetlands also provide homes for many endangered species.
Endangered species are types of animals, birds, and fish that are almost all
A FLOCK OF BIRDS. When there's water in a wetland, you can be sure birds will be there too. Wading
birds, such as herons and egrets, stand very still in the shallow water, looking for fish and frogs to grab
with their long, slender bills. Hawks, osprey, and kingfishers take a more active approach, swooping
from the air to catch their fish. Other birds, such as ducks and geese, float on the water while feeding
on marsh plants and insects.
  Many of these water birds flock in great numbers to fly south for the winter and then back north in
spring. This is called migrating. They use wetlands all along their migration routes for feeding and much-
needed rests.
MANY MAMMALS. Wetlands attract mammals of all sizes, from the tiny mouse to the powerful moose.
Some species, like the muskrat and the beaver, spend more  time in the water than they do on dry
ground. Rather slow and awkward on land, these watery rodents are quick and easy swimmers that
feed on rich wetland vegetation. Perhaps the most graceful and playful mammal in the water is the river
otter. Its cousin the mink is also a wetland dweller that feeds on mice, frogs, fish, muskrats, and marsh-
dwelling birds.
  Some of the larger wetland visitors are rather shy, so you  may not often see them. They do leave
tracks, though, so  you can tell where they've been. Black bears love the berries they find in swamps
during the spring. White-tail deer eat plants and twigs along the edge of wetlands, while moose often
wade out in the water to get a meal of aquatic plants.

AND A WHOLE HOST OF OTHERS. Wetlands provide the perfect environment for a whole host of
reptiles, amphibians and insects. There are turtles galore, from painted ones to snapping ones,  frogs on
lily pads, and salamanders near the shore. You'll find tadpoles  and toads, snails and snakes, butterflies
and dragonflies, and different types of fish.  In some southern wetlands, you can even see alligators.

ENDANGERED SPECIES. Whooping cranes, bald eagles, wood storks, peregrine falcons, and Smith's
blue butterflies all  have one thing in common. They are endangered species that live in wetlands. And
they aren't the only ones. About 35 percent of all plants and  animals listed as threatened  or endangered
in the United States either live in wetlands or rely on them in some way. These species will not survive
if their wetlands are destroyed.
                                                                             Raccoon Tracks

Threats to
   People have a history of destroying wetlands. Until recently, wetlands were drained at every opportunity because it
was believed that swamps and marshes were useless and undesirable. No one understood how important wetlands
really were. As a result, over half of our nation's wetlands have been lost. And when wetlands disappear, the wildlife
and plants that live in them disappear as well.
   Today wetlands receive some protection because it has been recognized that they provide many benefits. But there
is a long way to go before wetlands receive enough protection. Each year in North America over 700,000 acres of
wetlands are lost. Wetlands are being destroyed by:

AGRICULTURE -Many farmers drain wetlands and then plant crops on the land, even though plants tend not to grow
as well as on surrounding farm land. Agriculture is responsible for approximately 80 percent of all wetland losses.
DEVELOPMENT -Some people drain and fill in wetlands so they can build on the land. As cities and towns are
expanded and more industries are constructed, the pressure to drain wetlands will increase.

POLLUTION —Wetlands can clean up water by filtering out some kinds of pollutants found in the water. However, too
much pollution from industry, agriculture, or urban areas can kill plants and animals living in wetlands.

 A Variety of Wetlands

   You can find a variety of wetlands in North America. With all the different names—swamp, bog, marsh—you can
 easily get confused. So, how do you tell them apart? This simple guide should help.
   First of all, wetlands are divided up by the kind of water they contain. Most of them are filled  with fresh water from
 streams, lakes, snowmelt and rainfall. Wetlands along the coast are filled with salt water because  they get most of their
 water from the ocean.
   Secondly, you can tell wetland groups apart by the types of plants that grow in them and by the animals that live


 FRESHWATER MARSH: Freshwater marshes are the most common type of wetland. They are full of soft-stemmed
 plants such as grasses, cattails, and water lilies. You can find ducks, geese, raccoons, minks, muskrats, beavers, great
 blue herons, snowy egrets, bald eagles, and hawks in freshwater marshes.
 SWAMP: This wetland type is dominated by  hard-stemmed plants such as trees and shrubs. The water may be one-
 foot deep. Swamps are often found near rivers. You can find wild turkeys, hawks, ducks, geese, moose, black bears,
 white-tailed deer, owls, and bobcats in swamps.
 BOG: This kind of wetland usually has an open area containing many soft-stemmed plants. Bogs are often hidden by
 trees and bushes. Bogs are usually located in northern areas once covered by glaciers. Peat deposits that are bouncey
 to walk on have developed at the bottom of these wetlands.
   Peat consists mostly of decayed plant material. In some bogs, the peat can be over 40 feet thick. You can  find
 frogs, butterflies, warblers, sparrows,  and black bears in bogs.

Saltwater Wetlands

SALTWATER MARSH: Saltwater marshes are found on coastlines, tucked in the inner  reaches of coves and bays
where they are protected from the full force of the surf. Grasses adapted to salt water  grow in these marshes. You can
find blue crabs, fiddler crabs, clapper rails, great blue herons, raccoon, snails, and ducks in saltwater marshes.
MANGROVE SWAMP: This saltwater swamp is similar to freshwater swamps containing woody plants. Saltwater
swamps are usually dominated by a tropical tree called the mangrove. Because mangroves cannot live in the cold, you
can only see these swamps along the coasts of southern Florida and at a few places on the Louisiana and Texas
coasts. You can find brown pelicans, blue crabs, American crocodiles, sea horses, and salt marsh snails in mangrove


Great.Blue Herons are wading birds often
fOuhd in wetland areas. They have long, thin
necks, legs, and toes, and use their dagger-
shaped beaks to catch and eat fish,
amphibians, smaller birds, and even small

Frogs.are tailless amphibians that comprise
: rppre jhg(h;?3;pOQ;diff0r(?rit Species throughout
the world. Frogs have long "legs that are
                               , frogs save
farmers millions of dollars each year.

 Dragonflies are long, needle-shaped insects
 with two huge eyes. Dragonflies fly very
 quickly along the shores of lakes and streams,
 and can often be found in wetlands. Most
 dragonflies hunt for insects only in bright

 Raccoons are grayish mammals with bushy
 tails, flat feet, and broad faces that make them
 look like they're wearing masks.  Raccoons like
 to live in wetland areas, where they often build
 dens in hollow trees. Raccoons eat fruits, nuts,
 frogs, reptiles, and small mammals.

 Cattails comprise 15 different species of
 strong reeds that grow in wetland areas.
 Typically, cattails are 8-foot tall and are topped
 by hundreds of tiny, velvety brown flowers that
 are as soft and furry as the tail of a kitten.

"Arrowhead" is a common name given to a
group of plants that have arrow-shaped leaves.
The most common arrowhead found in the
United States is called a Duck Potato because
it is such a good source of food for wetland

Red-winged blackbirds are found through out
the northern United States and Canada. They
fly south in the winter, but spend most of the
year in northern swamps and marshes, where
they build nests out of rough grass and  reeds.
Red-winged blackbirds are noted for their loud,
piercing calls.'

Crayfish are crustaceans who live in fresh
water. Most crayfish live in lakes, ponds, and
streams, but some live in  wetlands in burrows
they make out of mud. Crayfish usually come
out at night, when they look for vegetation to

 Northern Pike are fish that live in cool water
and are usually green with white spots along
their sides. Northern Pike can weigh more
than 20 pounds and have been said to live up
to 75 years. Because they fight so well,
fishermen like the sport of catching them.

 Sedges are herbs that look like grass and grow
 in wetlands in .clumps along the banks of
 streams and ponds. Some of the more than
 700 species of sedges have sharp edges and
 also can be found in the arctic or on

Willow trees grow in wetlands near the banks
of streams, where their twigs root in the mud.
Fossils show us that willow trees have existed
for a long, long time. More than  100 species of
willow trees can be found in North America.

Turtles are reptiles that have shells on their
backs, webbed claws, and long necks that
allow them to move their heads  in and out of
their shells. Turtles have quick, tight jaws
which they use to catch and eat fish, frogs,
insects, and just about anything  else that
comes near them. In wetlands, turtles like to
live in the mud.

Hard stem reeds are coarse grasses that grow
to 12-foot tall and have long, broad roots. In
wetlands, they thrive along river banks and
help thicken  the soil.

Muskrats are water rodents and are, in fact,
members of the rat family. They have flat tails
to help them swim. Muskrats live along small
streams in wetlands and like to  make
complicated burrows with underwater
entrances. Muskrats eat wetland vegetation.

Water lilies boast more than 2,000 species.
They grow in moist areas  and grow to 4-foot
tall. They can bloom over  and over again.
Water lilies are very pretty.

           Get to know a wetland and experience the thrill of hundreds of ducks taking to the wing.
         Listen to thousands of frogs serenading on a summer's evening. Discover the delicate
         beauty and dazzling colors of wetland flowers. Visit a wetland near you.
           You can help protect our nations wetlands by simply learning and caring about them.
           You can take an active role in identifying activities threatening wetlands
         by contacting:
Printed on Recycled Paper/Printed witn&oy-Based Ink
                                                                         . GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1997-546-089