Part 4: Southern Michigan’s hidden treasure

Abundant freshwater provides rich environment thanks to wetlands.

Table: Selected counties wetland loss presettlement to 2005 by county. Excerpted from “Status and Trends of Michigan’s Wetlands: Pre-European Settlement to 2005” DEQ July 23, 2014
Table: Selected counties wetland loss presettlement to 2005 by county. Excerpted from “Status and Trends of Michigan’s Wetlands: Pre-European Settlement to 2005” DEQ July 23, 2014

An abundance of freshwater flows out of a massive sandstone aquifer where the bedrock is exposed in a region centered in Jackson County, Michigan. Soggy ground is a common occurrence, resulting in more than twice as many wetland acres than average in southern Michigan. This article discusses the benefits of wetlands to communities.

Many or most wetlands, being incompatible with development, were drained during settlement in the 1800s. Until 1979, many were reduced by 50 percent or more. The table presents the number of wetland acres remaining per county for selected southern Michigan counties. Jackson County’s remaining wetlands, at 91,235 acres is twice as much as the average statistic in southern Michigan. This is 14,000 acres higher than the next highest county, Calhoun, Michigan. Why might the residents of Jackson celebrate this distinction? Wetlands perform ecosystem services that dramatically improve environmental quality. 

How do they work?

  • Wetlands catch and absorb rainwater and runoff.  When it rains, natural lands absorb water, reducing the likelihood of flash floods common to hardened, nonvegetated surfaces such as roads, roofs and parking lots. Water captured by wetlands filters through soils below recharging groundwater.
  • Through photosynthesis, vegetation sequesters or stores carbon and absorbs UV light providing cooling effects.
  • Wetlands also provide food and habitat for wildlife. Wildlife provide many benefits including food and habitat for fish and wildlife, recreation and other aesthetic benefits to people.
  • Wetlands help improve water quality. They can filter and process many contaminants through biologic and physical processes.  The water filtering capacity of soil is an essential benefit. With it, water treatment costs would overwhelm communities.

The adage that “youth is wasted on the young” is an apt metaphor. It is difficult to comprehend the significance of good health until it is missing. Repair is far costlier than prevention. 

All wetlands play a vital role in ensuring clean air, clean water and providing food and habitat for wildlife.  Prairie Fens also support unique species that cannot live in other environments. These special wetlands, with their unique assemblage of species contributes to Michigan’s rich natural heritage. They contribute complexity and beauty to our world and foster a sense of wonder.

Freshwater is increasingly valuable as global water crises rise. Given that wetlands are such a critical component of maintaining a healthy supply of freshwater, it is encouraging that wetland losses have slowed significantly since 1979, which marks the year that Michigan passed a wetland protection law. This series aims to expand public education and appreciation for these useful natural lands and the freshwater that they help to produce and survive by. 

This article is part of a series. Learn more about the water wonderland of southern Michigan’s spring fed region by reading Part 1: Southern Michigan’s hidden treasure

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