Clockwise from the top left: Ovando, MT; Eastern MT - Joe Stutzman, USFWS; Peatlands; Slope Wetlands
Wetlands are areas that are saturated with water for part or all of the year. They are usually near water bodies, rivers, streams, or in low lying depressions that collect water. Montana residents are fortunate to have many different types of wetlands to enjoy. Prairie potholes, peatlands, seeps or springs, and riparian wetlands add to Montana's diverse landscape.
Wetlands have three special aspects: water, soils and plants. The presence of water changes the nature of the soil. Wetland soils are poorly drained and may look grey. The color of the soil is only one indicator and does not soley determine if an area is a wetland.
Wetland plants that thrive in wet, soggy ground are called hydrophytes (hydro=water, phytes=plants). Several common water-loving plants and trees in Montana include willow, alder, cottonwood, cattail, and water birch.
The presence of water is an obvious sign that the area may be wetland. But wetlands aren't necessarily wet all year round. During part of the year or during extended drought, the wetland might not be wet at all. To illustrate this point, please see photos below from Ducks Unlimited.
Wetlands serve many purposes. No doubt about it, wildlife thrives in healthy wetlands. Birds, fish and mammals use wetlands like we use the grocery store, nurseries, and hotels. Wetlands provide an ample supply of food and habitat for wildlife so they can feed, raise their young and find shelter. Wetlands also provide flood control, erosion control, supply water, and prevent pollution. (For more information see the Best Management Practices in the Riparian Zone page)