Michigan's Wetlands

Wetlands are the transitional zone between dry upland sites, such as fields and forests and the open water of our lakes, streams and rivers.  They function as nature's nursery by providing critical habitat to thousands of species of amphibians, birds, fish, insects and mammals.  They act as nature's sponge by storing water to reduce flooding and they act as nature's kidneys by filtering nutrients and sediments as the water percolates into the ground or as slowly flows through the wetland on its way to the open water of our lakes, streams and rivers.  Wetlands also provide people with a wealth of recreational opportunities including bird watching, hiking, hunting, fishing and many other outdoor pursuits.  

About Wetlands

Wetland Types

All wetlands in Michigan, regardless of their size and depth are important.  They vary greatly depending upon the soil type, water levels, how long the water is present and how the water arrived.  The following is a basic overview of wetland types.  Please visit your local Conservation District office, or click on the links available in the Resource list on the left side of this page for more information on wetlands and organizations that are involved in wetland education and assistance.


Areas with saturated soils that may be covered by many feet of slowly moving or standing water during part of the year.  Often swamps are inundated with floodwater from nearby rivers and streams. Swamps are dominated by trees adapted to saturated soil conditions including silver maple, red maple, cottonwood, or tamarack.  Shrubs often grow in swamps, with the common species of buttonbush, willow and red-osier dogwood present.  


Areas that are covered periodically by standing or slowly moving water, fed by surface and in many cases ground water.  Nutrients are plentiful which provides for abundant plant life dominated with grass-like vegetation including cattails, sedges and rushes.

Seasonal Wetlands

Also called ephemeral wetlands, these areas are typically covered in standing water from late winter through early spring.  Even though these areas dry up later in the season, seasonal wetlands provide important habitat for breeding and migrating waterfowl, amphibians and other wildlife.

Bogs and Fens

Unique, nutrient poor wetlands with an accumulation of organic matter called peat.  Often formed from old glacial depressions, bogs are more numerous in the Upper Peninsula.  Bogs are fed by rain water and are filled with acid-loving plants including sphagnum moss, blueberries and tamarack.  Special plants including the pitcher plant and sundew are found in bogs.  

Fens are typically more nutrient rich than bogs because they are fed by groundwater that has passed through mineral rich soils. Fens are peat-covered grassy wetlands which support sedges, rushes and some shrubs.

Protection and Restoration Opportunities Through Wetland Reserve Program 

Because wetlands are so important, there are many opportunities available to protect, enhance and create wetlands in Michigan.  

Preservation of wetlands that have not been altered by humans is important because of their complexity and importance in providing quality habitat for the plants and animals that make the wetland their home.   Those wetlands that have been dredged, drained, filled or otherwise altered are candidates for restoration.  In many cases, small corrections to historical man made alterations, such as blocking a ditch, removing a tile may be the only change needed to restore the wetlands.  

The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) provides landowners with an excellent opportunity to restore and protect wetlands.  WRP is a Farm Bill program available through the USDA NRCS. This working lands program which provides the opportunity to voluntarily restore, protect and enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring eligible land from agriculture.  WRP provides technical and financial assistance for the restoration of wetlands on working lands in addition to protection of the wetland through the development of a 30 year or permanent easement.  Please visit the Farm Bill page, your local Conservation District and USDA-NRCS office for further information.  

Additional opportunities are also available to help you restore and protect your wetland.  Please contact your local Conservation District to inquire about other programs and opportunities for wetland protection and restoration.