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  • Jodi Eberhardt

What are Wetlands?

Wetlands are a vital transitional link between land and water. When you think of wetlands

you probably think of wet, swampy, marshy areas. This would be true for some,

yet other types of wetlands may be dry most of the year and support trees and shrubs.

Generally, a wetland is defined as an area that is mostly wet soil, is saturated with water

either above or just below the surface, and is covered with plants that have adapted to

wet conditions. Wetlands are classified into different types based on soils, vegetation,

and water conditions.

Wetlands have extremely valuable benefits, including:

• Water Quality Protection: Wetlands filter and absorb polluted surface water runoff

before it enters groundwater, lakes and rivers.

• Flood Control and Groundwater Recharge: Wetlands serve as holding areas for

water, slowing flood damage and soil erosion during heavy rain falls. In droughts,

wetlands maintain stream flows and recharge groundwater.

• Fish and Wildlife Habitat: Wetlands provide homes, nesting, and feeding areas for

many species of fish and wildlife.

• Public Recreation

Despite their beneficial functions, wetlands have been considered nuisances and until

only recently have been filled or drained for development or agricultural production. In

1991, the Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) was passed to stop the loss of

wetlands and protect the benefits that they provide. Today, Minnesota’s policy is no net

loss of wetlands.

To accomplish this, anyone proposing to drain, fill, or excavate a wetland must first try to

avoid disturbing the wetland; second, try to minimize any impact on the wetland; and

finally, mitigate, or replace, any lost wetland acres, functions, and values.

Who has permit authority?

Federal (Section 404 Army Corps of Engineers), state (Minnesota DNR Public Works

Program), and local authorities (Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District,

Crow Wing County, City of Pequot Lakes or City of Brainerd) regulate certain activities

that affect wetlands. Work that affects lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands may require a

permit from one or all of these agencies.

WCA applies to all Minnesota wetlands, except those listed on the Minnesota DNR’s

inventory of public waters and wetlands. WCA is administered and enforced in Crow

Wing County by the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Crow

Wing County, City of Pequot Lakes and the City of Brainerd. Because Minnesota’s rules

pertaining to wetlands are detailed and complicated, and some exemptions may apply, it

is recommended that you contact the Crow Wing SWCD since they are the clearinghouse

for wetland information in Crow Wing County. The SWCD also provides technical

assistance to all of the WCA authorities in Crow Wing County, and they can help you

determine if wetlands are on your property, what permits may be needed, and direct you

further if necessary.

The DNR’s Public Works Program will require a permit for any work done below the ordinary

high water level (OHWL) in lakes, rivers, streams or public waters wetlands. That

includes filling, excavation, shoreland protection structures, dredging, and water level


Crow Wing County still has more than 80% of its original wetlands.

Statewide, Minnesota has lost over 50% of its pre-statehood wetlands and

has about 9.285 million acres of wetlands remaining.

Let’s protect what we have left.

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