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When you think of a wetland you might imagine everything from the movie "Swamp Thing" to hoards of hungry mosquitoes! The variety of images and responses differs dramatically depending on who is doing the imagining. Wetlands are areas inundated with water and dominated by plants specifically adapted for wet environments. They can range from the soggy edges of a river or lake to a forested swamp to a bog. Local, state and federal governments have become increasingly concerned with the destruction and past abuse of wetland areas in the last several decades. These wet areas have become the focus of political and environmental concerns because of the important roles they play in water quality, sediment retention, flood control and wildlife habitat.

The purpose of these chapters is to involve students in the active exploration and monitoring of these important resources. You will have an opportunity to increase your awareness and contribute to a body of data currently being gathered by the Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Center (CWC). These data are used to better understand wetlands. They will help improve the recommendations and decisions that are made regarding these fragile and valuable ecosystems. The following list of objectives will help you understand the focus of the upcoming chapters and what results you can expect from your investigations:

  • identify why an area is a wetland
  • learn what wetlands do in the environment
  • learn the importance of wetlands to humans
  • meet professional scientists and activists involved in studying and protecting wetlands
  • learn to identify plants and suitable habitat for a variety of animals
  • sample soils that occur in wetlands
  • measure the fluctuating hydrology of a wetland or stream
  • map a wetland area
  • analyze data and learn about statistical calculations
  • become familiar with wetland protection and regulation

As the issues regarding the use and abuse of our wetland ecosystems become more and more difficult, the importance of informed decisions concerning our water resources increases. This series of chapters is designed to help you better understand wetlands, and aid in the collection of data which will ultimately be used to help your community manage and maintain these unique ecosystems. By participating in this program you will be learning about a serious issue and also contributing to a data set that is used not only by the CWC, but by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well. This is more than just "another assignment", it is actual scientific research aimed at confronting real water resource issues. As you learn more, you are helping to create a more informed community able to make wise decisions about these important ecosystems.

The readings and field work are designed to promote your understanding and stimulate your own thinking. You can use these tools as a starting point and further your studies at the library or by participating in local organizations. We hope you are prepared to learn something new and exciting and to get your feet wet! We think you will find these places more intriguing than you previously thought.