Generally, wetlands are lands where saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living in the soil and on its surface. Wetlands fall into four general categories—marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. Marshes are wetlands dominated by soft-stemmed vegetation, while swamps have mostly woody plants. Bogs are freshwater wetlands, characterized by spongy peat deposits, acidic waters, and a floor covered by a thick carpet of sphagnum moss. Fens are freshwater peat-forming wetlands covered mostly by grasses, sedges, reeds, and wildflowers.
Wetlands provide habitat for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Wetlands control floods by absorbing and slowing floodwaters. Wetlands also absorb excess nutrients, sediment, and other pollutants before they reach rivers, lakes, and other water bodies.
The federal government protects wetlands through regulations, such as Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, economic incentives and disincentives, cooperative programs, and acquisition. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters, including wetlands. Tax deductions are given for selling or donating wetlands to a qualified organization. The federal government protects wetlands by establishing national wildlife refuges.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a number of programs for wetland conservation, restoration, and monitoring. The EPA, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), establishes environmental standards for reviewing permits for discharges that affect wetlands, such as residential development, and roads. The Corps issues permits that meet environmental standards, develops policy and guidance and enforces Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
The EPA also works with states, tribes, and local governments, the private sector, and citizen organizations to monitor, protect, and restore wetlands. The EPA helps states and tribes incorporate wetland monitoring, protection, and restoration into their watershed plans. The EPA’s Five-Star Restoration Program provides grants and promotes information exchanges through community-based education and restoration projects. The EPA works with a variety of other federal agencies to protect and restore wetlands, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The EPA also partners with private interests and public organizations like the Association of State Wetland Managers, the National Association of Counties, local watershed associations, schools, and universities to advance conservation and restoration programs.