Article Index


Section 1.  What are Wetlands and Why are They Important


Wetland losses have occurred in New York State since colonial times.  Wetlands were ditched, drained, filled, or otherwise destroyed.  A simple definition of a wetland is an area within a watershed [drainage basin of a body of water] where land and water meet.   They occur in transitional areas between deeper aquatic and drier upland plant and animal communities, and often have some of the qualities of both. Wetlands can also exist when groundwater flows near or at the soil surface, saturating the soil and the root zone of the plants that grow there. Society and scientists have created numerous definitions of wetlands, depending on how they -- both the definitions and the wetlands -- will be used. An excellent source of the history of wetland definitions may be found in the book, Wetlands: Characteristics and Boundaries [see link below].

Freshwater wetlands commonly include marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens, cover about four percent of the land area in the State, and are found within each New York town. Tidal wetlands are wetlands influenced by tides and they line much of the salt-water shore, bays, inlets, canals, and estuaries of Long Island, New York City, and Westchester County. Tidal freshwater wetlands primarily receive fresh water inflows but retain some tidal influence and are found along the upper reaches of the Hudson River, Nissequogue River, and other tidally influenced rivers. For specific regulatory definitions, visit the NYSDEC websites listed below or review the materials enclosed.

Values of Wetlands within Watersheds Wetlands are valuable components of watersheds for many reasons.  As wetland area and function decreases over a period of years or decades, the overall quality and quantity of the surface water flow within the watershed is altered and often expensive man-made utilities are required to make up for the loss of the wetland functions.  A community that incorporates growth while maintaining or improving wetlands and wetland functions can achieve lower flood peaks, fewer drought periods, more wildlife and habitat, and better surface water quality than comparable watersheds with fewer wetlands. Wetlands also provide recreational opportunities for boating, hiking and bird watching, and aesthetic value in the landscape. Tidal wetlands are valued for marine food production; wildlife habitat; flood, hurricane, and storm control; recreation; cleansing of ecosystems; absorption of silt and organic material; education and research opportunities; and aesthetic values. Areas adjacent to tidal wetlands often carry many of the same or similar valuable attributes and, in addition, provide a valuable buffer for the wetlands. 

Locating and Recognizing Wetlands Many tools are available to aid a community in locating wetland resources.  Most can be found at their County Soil and Water Conservation District or Planning office.  See Section 8 for more details on where to find these resources.

The following publications discuss in greater detail the characteristics, functions, and values of freshwater and tidal wetlands in NY.  Additional information on watersheds is located in Section 2.




Relevant Websites:

Association of State Wetland Managers
New York State Wetlands Forum, Inc.
League of Women Voters Wisconsin: Wetlands
EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds
EPA Office of Wetlands
EPA’s Wetland Fact Sheet Index
Wetlands: Characteristics and Boundaries
Ecological Communities of New York State
NYS DEC Freshwater Wetlands
NYS DEC Tidal Wetlands
NYSDEC Tidal Wetland Categories
USDA NRCS “Where the Wetlands Are”
Syracuse Blue Print Company, Inc.
               [printer of NYS Freshwater Wetland maps]
Wetland Words and What They Mean:

Wetland Hydrology                
Words Related to Soils