Wetland management

A wetland manager’s activities can range from wastewater treatment to waterfowl population management.

Importance of Wetland Management

Agricultural enterprises and ever-expanding urban areas pose a constant threat to wetland ecosystems. A wetland manager obtains the skills to identify boundaries of wetlands to help prevent unnecessary degradation of these valuable ecosystems. This process is known as wetland delineation.

Wetland delineation establishes the existence and physical limits of a wetland for the purpose of federal, state and local regulations.

Before wetlands were regarded as unique and valuable ecosystems, they were frequently viewed as wastelands. They were unable to be farmed or built upon because of their inherent ability to sustain water. Once they became recognized for their natural water-cleansing abilities and critical habitat for many forms of wildlife, governing agencies took measures to encourage their general preservation.  In 1988, a federally sponsored National Wetland Policy Forum raised public awareness of wetland loss and recommended a policy known as “No Net Loss.”

In 1992, the National Research Council set a goal of gaining ten million acres of wetlands by the year 2010, through creating and restoring wetlands.

Wetland restoration is the process of returning hydrology (flooding) to areas of land by reversing drainage. Wetland creation, the process of developing a wetland where there was not one previously, is a growing area in wetland management that is expected to help counter the loss of wetlands to agriculture and urban sprawl.

Wetland Management Goals

  1. Maintain water quality
  2. Buffer stormwater
  3. Reduce erosion
  4. Control insect populations
  5. Produce and sustain wildlife populations
  6. Provide a natural system to process pollutants
  7. Maintain a diverse gene pool of native hydrophytic vegetation
  8. Provide habitat for fish spawning and other food organisms
  9. Provide aesthetic and psychological retreats for humans
  10.  Further scientific knowledge and inquiries

For more information about wetland management or if you are working on a project which requires environmental consulting, please feel free to contacts us.


Mitsch, William J., Gosselink, James G. (1993) Wetlands. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold

Ohio is aptly nicknamed the Buckeye State for the trees that are commonly found in floodplains and forests across the state.  The trees are frequently found in the western half of the state but are more scatte red in distribution throughout the eastern portion.  The Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) has several prominent features that make it distinguishable year round.  During winter and early spring, the buds are large and conical with overlapping scales, and while similar in appearance to horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) buds, they are much less shiny and sticky. (more…)

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, there are 11 species of bats (out of about 1,200 worldwide) found in Ohio. All are insectivores and the most common are the big brown and little brown bats. While bats may have a bad reputation among the general public, they are an important part of our environment and provide humans with many benefits. Unfortunately, bats face many human-caused challenges that threaten their future. Several species of bats are experiencing declining populations due to various factors, but there are opportunities to help turn around this unfortunate trend.

Why should you care about bats?

A colony of insectivorous bats can consume thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of insects over several weeks of feeding. This is beneficial to many people: from the teen at soccer practice who doesn’t want to be bitten by insects, to the local farmer who wants his crops to grow healthy and free of pest invasions. Recent research estimates that the loss of bats in North America could lead to agricultural losses estimated at more than $3.7 billion/year (crop loss & pesticide use) (Boyles et al., 2011). Bats are also important pollinators and seed dispersers. Nectar-feeding bats are critical pollinators for a wide variety of plants of great economic and ecological value. In North America, giant cacti and agave depend on bats for pollination. A few commercial products that depend on bat pollinators include: bananas, peaches, durian (a fruit), cloves, carob (a chocolate substitute) and balsa wood. Fruit-eating bats disperse seeds that help to restore forests, including rainforests that have been cleared. Because they are night foragers, they are not as wary of crossing the clear-cut areas as diurnal birds may be.

The Indiana Bat

The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is a migratory tree-roosting bat that is listed as endangered at the state and federal levels. It spends winters in communal hibernacula, such as an old mine site, and migrates to forested areas in the summer, where individuals live under the bark of trees with peeling bark. These trees can be live trees with loose “peely” bark (like a Shagbark Hickory) or standing dead/dying trees of any species (called a snag) with loose bark or cavities that provide small hiding places. Males will often roost alone or in a small “bachelor colony.” Male Indiana bats have been observed roosting in trees as small as 3 inches dbh (diameter at breast height) (USFWS, 2013). Females, however, roost in maternity colonies that can number in the hundreds. Because of the high numbers, the maternity colonies require a larger tree (typically >9” dbh) that receives sun exposure for at least half of the day (USFWS, 2007). Maternity colonies will use multiple trees in an area and the proportion of bats using a specific tree determines if it is a primary or alternate roost tree. The colony will usually use 10–20 different trees each year, but only 1–3 of these are primary roosts. Proximity to water, such as streams or wetlands, is another important factor these bats will look for when selecting a roost site.

The population decline for this species is related to several main causes: white-nose syndrome (WNS), wind turbines, and summer habitat loss/fragmentation. WNS is caused by a whitish fungus (Geomyces destructans) that appears on the bats muzzle, hence the name. It spreads rapidly in communal hibernacula where individuals live in very close proximity. It is believed that humans brought the disease over from Europe and spread it around the country during caving activities. Stress from the fungus causes the bats to come out of hibernation too early. They do not have enough fat reserves and due to the time of year there is not a substantial food source.  Wind turbines pose a different threat. With the push for sustainable energy, large wind farms are being built. While these developments provide many benefits, the wind turbines can harm bats. The force of the spinning blades creates a change in pressure that ruptures capillaries along the edges of their lungs (Baerwald et al., 2008). Researchers are looking into this phenomenon and some believe that bats may be somehow attracted to the turbines. Solutions are being sought to reduce the potential for bat mortality around these installations. A third factor, summer habitat loss and fragmentation, removes or disconnects bats from areas they would use.  The removal of trees with sloughing bark or snags effectively reduces the amount of habitat available to bats within their summer range, creating greater competition for the available resources.  Tree removal and forest fragmentation also removes corridors that bats use while foraging. Indiana bats have been shown to exhibit site fidelity, returning to the same forested areas year after year, so removing forested areas and corridors can create an issue.  Not much is known yet as to how Indiana bats react to the loss of habitat in areas where they have exhibited site fidelity. Additional sources of population decline can be linked to pesticide use and cave alterations.

How can you help?

  1. Think before cutting. Bats may be living in your dead/dying trees or any live trees with peeling bark. Just because you think it no longer looks nice doesn’t mean it isn’t important. If it poses a safety issue or you really must remove it then try to cut it during the winter when bats are at their hibernacula.
  2. Install a bat box. Bat boxes provide bats with somewhere to live. This is especially helpful if you must cut trees down or remove bats that may have gotten into your house.
  3. Remove bats from your house safely. When bats get in your house it is often by mistake. Shutting off the lights and opening your doors and windows may help guide the bat outdoors. If bats are living in your attic the best way is to exclude them so they cannot regain entry. For more information visit Bat Conservation International’s site on Bat Removal.
  4. Volunteer! MAD Scientist & Associates recently volunteered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to complete acoustic surveys.  The data collected from this project will be helpful to develop an understanding of the range and preferred habitats types for bat species in Ohio.
  5. If you need to conduct a bat habitat evaluation as part of a project, please call MAD Scientists & Associates  and we can help you understand the regulations, survey your site, and assist you every step along the way.


Literature Reviewed:

Baerwald. E.F., G.H. D’Amours, B.J. Klug, R.M.R. Barclay. 26 August 2008. Barotrauma is a significant cause of bat fatalities at wind turbines. Current Biology.

J.G. Boyles, P. Cryan, G. McCracken and T. Kunz. 1 April 2011.  Economic importance of bats

in agriculture. Science.

USFWS Ecological Services. January 2007. Indiana Bat – Summer Life History Information for Michigan.

USFWS Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region. April 2007. Indiana Bat Draft Recovery Plan First Revision.

USFWS Midwest Endangered Species Program. April 2013. Revised Range-wide Indiana Bat Summer Survey Guidelines.

Amur honeysuckle | Credits: plants.usda.gov

Nothing makes us as MAD as invasive species, and one of the most prolific species that we try to control is Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii).  This large deciduous shrub, also known as bush honeysuckle, was originally brought to the United States from Asia for use as an ornamental because of its fragrant white flowers and vibrant red fruit.  The bush quickly escaped cultivation due to high seed production and the fact the fruit is readily eaten and then dispersed by birds.  This method of seed dispersal makes it difficult to eradicate the bush, as birds are prone to “replant” the area.  Regular inspections and the removal or treatment of any new growth go a long way toward keeping a site free of invasive species.

The most common place to find honeysuckle is in the understory of woodlands, but honeysuckle is adaptable to a wide range of habitats and can be found just about anywhere.  Its numerous branches and plentiful leaves are able to shade out native bushes and wildflowers.  Amur honeysuckle is particularly efficient at out-competing native vegetation because it “greens up” earlier in the spring than most native plants and loses its leaves late in the fall.  This provides honeysuckle a significant advantage for obtaining sunlight, to the detriment of our native plant communities.

Weed Wrench

Weed Wrench

We regularly remove Amur honeysuckle as part of wetland restoration and habitat enhancement projects.  The best way to control this invasive species is by pulling the plant and removing the root system.  If a cut stump remains in the ground untreated, it will resprout and expand if allowed to mature.  The most useful tool we have in our arsenal for bush honeysuckle removal is the Weed Wrench.  This tool clamps to the base of the bush (or any woody plant you want to remove) and the long handle provides leverage to remove the entire plant from the ground.  If the bush is too large for the Weed Wrench, the other option for removal is to cut the bush at the base of the trunk and apply a systemic herbicide to the stump to prevent re-growth.  Amur honeysuckle is a hardy and adaptive plant, but with regular maintenance, it is possible to reduce its coverage and restore native habitat.  Once removed, native woody shrubs should be planted to replace the honeysuckle and restore the understory community.  Suggested replacement shrubs include: dogwoods (Cornus spp.), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium), and service berries (Amelanchier spp.).  If you want to be involved with one of our invasive species removal and habitat enhancement events, be sure to register as a volunteer.  We’ll be posting events on our news page and Facebook soon!

Also note that we have a tool loan program, if you’d like to borrow one or several of our weed wrenches for your own invasive species control efforts.  We’re happy to support your conservation projects, big and small!

Green infrastructure is becoming more widely used to manage stormwater runoff, providing a natural means of limiting or eliminating combined sewer overflows and improving overall water quality.  Constructed wetlands and systems that mimic wetlands (for example bioswales, bioretention areas, and rain gardens) provide a cost-effective and environmentally conscious option that can result in an efficient and aesthetically pleasing wetland.  Additionally, constructed wetlands can provide valuable habitat for wildlife, including many amphibians, songbirds, and small mammals.  Constructed wetlands are classified according to their designed water flow; three common wetland designs are horizontal subsurface flow (HF), vertical flow (VF), or free surface wetlands (FSW).

Regardless of the type of treatment wetland used, each utilizes a process known as the root zone method (RZM) for removing bacteria, and excess nutrients, that negatively affect water quality.  The RZM can be summarized as follows: Influent (incoming) water passes horizontally or vertically through the soil and percolates the wetland bed.  The roots of wetland plants provide a pathway for the water to flow, and as the wastewater and solids move through the system they are treated by microbes that are contained near the plants’ roots.  The leaves of the plants absorb oxygen and transport it to the roots through their stems, which are hollow, and act as a bio-pump.  In the soil, or filter layer below the roots, anaerobic digestion treats the influent wastewater as well.  The type of substrate and plants included in the wetland design will vary depending on what the wetland has been designed to control.  Depending on the specific use of a treatment wetland, it may be necessary to pre-treat wastewater and remove large solids to prevent clogging of the substrate, which will reduce the effectiveness of the system.

In horizontal subsurface flow wetlands, water passes through emergent plants, and the RZM removes bacteria and excess nutrients at very high rates in a well functioning system.  After construction is complete, HF wetlands do not require significant maintenance, and many can function several years without maintenance.  Vertical flow wetlands utilize the RZM with a planted filter bed to treat wastewater as it flows through the system.  Typically the top layer is planted gravel above a layer of sand.  The deepest portion of the system is another layer of gravel that contains drainage pipes to collect and transport the filtered water as it percolates through the system.  VF wetlands are designed to be most effective when wastewater is applied in discrete intervals at a rate of 4-12 doses per day, and the wastewater is allowed to slowly percolate through the unsaturated layers of soil and sand.  Intermittent dosing is necessary to allow adequate oxygen transfer, which is necessary for aerobic degradation by the resident microbes.

Free surface wetlands are the most natural-looking treatment wetland option.  In these systems, water flows above ground and plants are rooted in the soil layer at the base of the wetland.  Typical design includes a basin lined with an impermeable layer, such as clay.  The substrate consists of rocks, gravel, and soil.  The basin is usually planted with native plants, and floating wetland islands can be used to supplement the plant coverage and increase system efficiency.  FSW wetlands are usually flooded with wastewater to a depth of 3-18 inches above ground level.  As the water slowly flows through the wetland and percolates into the soil, excess nutrients are taken up by the plants and potentially harmful bacteria may be trapped and degraded by microbial communities in biofilms on and near the plant roots.

Each type of treatment wetland has advantages and drawbacks that need to be carefully considered before developing blueprints and planning construction.  MAD Scientist & Associates has a proven track record with wetland design and construction, so if you are considering a constructed wetland for treatment or mitigation, we can help from the initial planning stages through construction and monitoring to make sure your wetland is a success.


Diagrams for Horizontal Flow and Vertical Flow Wetlands credited to:

Morel, A.; Diener, S. (2006): Greywater Management in Low and Middle-Income Countries, Review of different treatment systems for households or neighbourhoods.    Duebendorf: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science (EAWAG), Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (SANDEC). [Accessed: 19.02.2013].


Diagram for Free Surface Wetland credited to:

Tilley, E.; Luethi, C.; Morel, A.; Zurbruegg, C.; Schertenleib, R. (2008):Compendium of Sanitation Systems and Technologies. Duebendorf and Geneva: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG). [Accessed: 18.02.2013].

What comes to mind when you hear the term “wetlands?”  Since they are such diverse ecosystems it is often difficult to settle on a definition, but their importance is more apparent.  To explain some benefits of wetlands, here are some thoughts from the staff at MAD about the benefits (or “ecosystem services”) that wetlands provide.

Jenny:                                                                                                                                         “Wetlands are unique ecosystems that encompass the area where water meets land.  They support plant and animal communities that can rival the diversity found in rainforests.  Native wildlife rely on wetlands for year-round refuge, and migratory birds use them as a rest stop and fueling station.  In addition to providing great wildlife habitat, wetlands filter contaminants from runoff, buffer flooding events, and are a great place for outdoor education.”

Brent:                                                                                                                                          Wetlands improve the quality of surface water through numerous means.  Wetland plants aid in the uptake of excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus that are found in runoff from agricultural fields and lawns.  This can help to reduce the occurrence and severity of harmful algal blooms.  Sediments found in runoff are able to settle out in wetlands, which helps clarify the water.”

When I think of wetland services, two aspects that immediately come to mind are important habitat and functions that protect the basis of all life — water.  Numerous species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds rely on wetland habitat for breeding, foraging, and cover, in addition to using them for stopover during migration, as Jenny mentions.  Many threatened and endangered species, such as the blue-spotted salamander and black-crowned night heron require wetlands during their life cycle for activities ranging from breeding to hibernation.

As well as the water purification values that Brent describes, almost all wetlands provide flood protection by slowing the velocity of excess runoff from the spring thaw and storm events.  Wetlands do not prevent flooding, but peak flood heights are reduced by the temporary storage of water in wetlands, which act like a sponge, holding water in shallow pools and in the saturated soils.   Aquifers and groundwater are replenished and stream base flows are maintained by this stored water that seeps into the ground.  Wetlands connected to groundwater systems or aquifers are important areas for groundwater exchange.  Since water flows slowly through the wetlands, it allows time for the water to seep into the ground and enter aquifers.  Without wetlands, naturally clean drinking water sources would be difficult to find.

As efficient as wetlands are at providing these functions, they do have their limits.  Wetlands are not indestructible; in fact these diverse ecosystems are quite fragile.  A degraded wetland cannot meet its potential for flood control, groundwater recharge, or fish and wildlife habitat.  If we expect wetlands to continue performing their critical ecological functions, then we have to do our part to identify, protect, and restore them, and educate our communities on their profound importance to our shared environment.

-Luke Soposki-                                                                                                                         Environmental Scientist and Wildlife Specialist                                                                         MAD Scientist & Associates

By Tom Landwehr, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; John Jaschke, executive director, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

When Minnesota pheasant hunters go afield starting Saturday, they will head to prairie country, where tall native grasses provide food and shelter for this fast-flying and fine-tasting bird.

Unfortunately, Minnesota’s prairie country isn’t what it once was.

Long ago, Minnesota had about 18 million acres of native prairie. Today, that number is closer to 235,000 acres. Much wild was lost as society found ways to tame the land in the name of a noble pursuit – growing food for America and the global community beyond our borders.

While no one can turn back the hands of time. We can look to new ways to build a strong agriculture and prairie conservation partnership in the future. Forging a better future for prairie conservation and crop production is the right thing to do to help slow flooding, clean the state’s waters, shelter wildlife, provide for recreation and support our strong agricultural community.

Fortunately, there is a new tool to do this. It’s called The Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan. It was finalized this past summer and identifies common goals among conservation organizations for the next 25 years. It will serve as a road map for protecting, restoring and enhancing prairies for the state’s primary conservation organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DNR, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, the Minnesota Prairie Chicken Society, The Conservation Fund, Audubon Minnesota, Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited.

The DNR, BWSR and other partners look to work with landowners, agricultural interests and others to protect and enhance Minnesota’s prairie legacy.

The plan proposes to achieve conservation goals by:

  • Permanent protection of grasslands via easements and acquisition of critical lands from willing sellers.
  • Restoration activities including buffer strips, native plant seeding, wetland restoration and water level management.
  • Enhancement of prairies and grasslands through prescribed fire, conservation grazing and invasive species control.

Minnesota is at a crossroads. We have already lost 99 percent of our original native prairie and 90 percent of our prairie wetlands. In the next five years, nearly 800,000 additional acres of restored grassland is at risk due to expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, and the current congressional stalemate on the next Federal Farm Bill prevents processing any new enrollments after Sept. 30, 2012. This leaves agricultural producers unable to predictably forecast and plan key aspects of their business.

It is Minnesota’s good fortune to have a funding option in the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, which can be used to ”protect, enhance and restore” the critical parts of the prairie landscape. Additionally, we need to seek opportunities to incorporate conservation into “working lands” – like grazing lands — so conversation can contribute directly to local economies and agricultural lands.

Now is the time to act, before the crisis is upon us. Our fish and our wildlife, including game and non-game species, depend upon native prairie, grasslands and associated wetlands for survival. We don’t want to look back one day and ask ourselves what we should have done to preserve the state’s grassland heritage.

Rather, let us act now for a future where we can visit the Prairie Region and be proud to have saved our grassland legacy – and the economic and conservation benefits it supports – for many future generations.

The Minnesota Prairie Plan is available online.