Natural History and Development of Connecticut Wetlands

The USFWS organizes wetlands into two major classes: tidal and nontidal. These classes are further broken down into four subclasses based on relative salinity: tidal saltwater and brackish, tidal freshwater, nontidal inland freshwater and saline wetlands. Wetland systems are further characterized as marine, estuarine, riverine or riparian, lacustrine, palustrine. A full description of FWS wetland classification schemes can be found in the 1992 Connecticut Wetlands Inventory. Vernal pools, which are seasonal depressional wetlands, are also included in this umbrella classification scheme.

According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), tidal wetlands in particular are the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world, next to tropical rainforests. Tidal wetlands provide habitat, nesting, feeding, and refuge areas for shorebirds; serve as a nursery ground for larval and juvenile forms of many of the organisms of Long Island Sound and of many estuarine-dependent oceanic species; and provide significant habitat for shellfish. They also provide a number of invaluable ecosystem services for residents of the Long Island Sound region. For example, many of the commercial fisheries stock that we eat start their lives in tidal wetlands. Other services wetlands provide include improved water quality by trapping sediments, reduced turbidity, restricting the passage of toxic pollutants and heavy metals, decreasing biological oxygen demand (BOD), trapping nutrients, and buffering storm and wave energy. Tidal wetland vegetation stabilizes shorelines and buffers erosion. Tidal wetlands also provide recreational opportunities for fishing, wildlife observation and hunting; are important to commercial and recreational shell- and fin-fisheries; and are areas of scientific and educational value. And finally, they are a major source of coastal open space and offer exceptional scenic views.

Connecticut wetlands, like wetlands all over the continent, have been greatly modified by human activities, particularly since the arrival of European settlers and especially over the course of the last 200 years. Wetland drainage was especially devastating to tidal wetlands integral to the health of greater Long Island Sound ecosystems.

Today, Connecticut wetlands on public, state-owned, and private property are protected against select regulated activities (usually related to agriculture) under the 1972 Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act, which requires developers to apply for and purchase permits from a municipal wetlands commission. The regulated activities included under the act are

draining, dredging, excavation, or removal of soil, mud, sand, gravel, aggregate of any kind or rubbish from any wetland or the dumping, filling or depositing thereon of any soil, stones, sand, gravel, mud, aggregate of any kind, rubbish or similar material, either directly or otherwise, and the erection of structures, driving of pilings, or placing of obstructions, whether or not changing the tidal ebb and flow.”

An abridged version of the Act can be found here. The DEEP provides a brief history of other wetland legislation passed since the 1972 Act on its website.

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