Wetland Functions and Values: Wildlife Habitat

Wetlands exhibit very high rates of plant productivity - the conversion of energy from the sun into plant materials. Recent studies suggest that some wetland types such as coastal marshes and inland freshwater marshes are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. This high productivity often supports a varied and complex food web both within and outside of the wetland.

Wetlands provide essential habitat and food for numerous wildlife species. In addition to serving as a food source, the dense vegetation found in most wetlands provides places for wildlife to build homes and to hide from predators. Wetlands also provide important nesting habitat for migratory birds and waterfowl. For many species, like the Canada goose, wood duck, great blue heron, muskrat, beaver, snapping turtle, and bullfrog, wetlands are primary habitats - the only places they can live. For others, such as black bear, moose, deer, wood frogs, and marsh hawks, wetlands are not primary habitat but are important for a part of their life cycle or during certain times of the year. According to the Vermont Wetland Rules, in determining whether a wetland is significant for Wildlife and Migratory Bird Habitat the Secretary of ANR or Vermont Water Resources Panel shall, at a minimum, consider the extent to which the wetland meets the following criteria:

Birds

collage of Ducks, Birds Nest, Blue Heron

For Migratory Bird Habitat the Wetland:

  1. Supports or provides the habitat to support one or more breeding pairs of waterfowl or one or more broods of waterfowl.
  2. Supports or provides the resting, feeding, staging or roosting habitat to support waterfowl migration.
  3. Supports a nest site, provides a buffer for a nest site, or is used as feeding habitat for wading birds, including: Great blue heron, black-crowned night-heron, snowy egret, cattle egret, or green heron.
  4. Supports or has the habitat to support one or more breeding pairs of any migratory bird that requires wetland habitat for breeding, nesting, rearing of young, feeding, staging, roosting, or migration, including: Virginia rail, common snipe, marsh wren, American bittern, northern water thrush, northern harrier, spruce grouse, Cerulean warbler, and common loon.

 Mammals

mammal collage - Moose, Beaver Dam, Mink

For Mammal Habitat the Wetland:

  1. Supports winter habitat for white-tailed deer, based on an assessment of winter use. Typical indicators include browsing, bark stripping, worn trails, pellet piles, and softwood tree cover.
  2. Provides important feeding habitat for black bear, bobcat, or moose, based on an assessment of use.
  3. Supports or has the habitat to support muskrats, otter, or mink.
  4. Supports an active beaver dam, one or more beaver lodges, or evidence of an adult population of beaver which have used the site in two or more consecutive years.

Amphibians and Reptiles

Collage of Spotted Salamander, Snake, Frog

For Amphibian and Reptile Habitat the wetland:

  1. Supports or provides habitat to support the reproduction of uncommon Vermont amphibian species including: Jefferson salamander, blue-spotted salamander, spotted salamander, which are associated with vernal pools for breeding habitat; the Northern dusky salamander and the spring salamander, which are associated with headwater seeps, springs and streams; the four-toed salamander; Fowler’s toad, Western chorus frog, and other amphibians found in Vermont of similar significance.
  2. Supports or provides the habitat to support significant breeding populations of Vermont amphibian species including the species listed in subsection (c)(1); and pickerel frog, northern leopard frog, mink frog, and others found in Vermont of similar significance.
  3. Provides habitat that supports or has the habitat to support uncommon Vermont reptile species, including: Wood turtle, Northern map turtle, Eastern musk turtle, Stinkpot turtle, Spotted turtle, Spiny softshell turtle, Eastern ribbon snake, Northern watersnake, and others found in Vermont of similar significance.
  4. Supports or provides the habitat to support significant populations of Vermont reptile species, including the species listed in subsection (d)(1), Smooth green snake, DeKay’s brown snake, and other more common wetland-associated species.

Learn about the life cycle of vernal pool species, when and where species like the wood frog and spotted salamander migrate, and how to monitor populations in your area with the North Branch Nature Center Amphibian Monitoring Program Training Videos. The Vermont Vernal Pools Group provides Vermonters updates on migration and breeding locations and times. This can be a useful tool for consultants and landowners. Please post your observations to: vtvpmp@googlegroups.com.

Other wetland characteristics indicative of Wildlife and Migratory Bird Habitat:

(1) Meets four or more of the following conditions indicative of wildlife habitat diversity:

 (a) Three or more wetland vegetation classes (1/2 acre or greater in size) are present including: open water contiguous to but not necessarily part of the wetland, deep marsh, shallow marsh, shrub swamp, forested swamp, fen, or bog;
 (b) The dominant wetland vegetation class is one of the following types: deep marsh,
 shallow marsh, shrub swamp, or forested swamp;
 (c) The wetland is located contiguous to a lake, pond, river, or stream;
 (d) Fifty percent or more of the surrounding habitat types are any combination of one or more of the following types: forest, agricultural land, old field, or open land;
 (e) Emergent or woody vegetation occupies 26 to 75 percent of the wetland area and open water occupies the remainder of the wetland area;
 (f) The wetland falls into one of the following:

 1. Hydrologically connected to other wetlands of different dominant vegetation classes or open water bodies within 1 mile; or
 2. Hydrologically connected to other wetlands of the same dominant vegetation class within 1/2 mile; or
 3. Within 1/4 mile of other wetlands of different dominant vegetation classes or within 1/4 mile of open water bodies; but not hydrologically connected.

 (2) Is owned by the state or federal government in fee or through easement and managed for purposes of wildlife and habitat conservation as evidenced by a management plan filed and approved by the Secretary or other appropriate governing official;
 (3) Contains evidence that it is used by wetland-dependent wildlife species.

Links of Interest

  • Best Management Practices for Resolving Human-Beaver Conflicts in Vermont
  • NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. A voluntary program for people who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat primarily on private land. Through WHIP USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service provides both technical assistance and up to 75 percent cost-share assistance to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat. Look for information on Vermont under Index to State Programs and Information, and under the Success Story on the Connecticut River.
  • Learn about the life cycle of vernal pool species, when and where species like the wood frog and spotted salamander migrate, and how to monitor populations in your area with the North Branch Nature Center Amphibian Monitoring Program Training Videos
  • The Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. The Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas Project collects and disseminates data needed to make informed recommendations regarding the state status, state rank, and conservation of Vermont’s reptiles and amphibians with the help of volunteers, collaborations with conservation organizations, and staff members.
  • Wetlands as Bird Habitat: a USGS technical paper that discusses the factors of wetlands that influences birds, the importance of wetlands to birds, the effects of wetlands on waterfowl populations, and the effects of wetland degradation on bird populations.

WSMD - Wetlands Home

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