Frequently Asked Questions
Click on the question to find your answer.
  1. What is a wetland?
  2. Are all wetlands wet?
  3. Why are wetlands important?
  4. Are all wetlands regulated by the government?
  5. What can I do in a wetland that does not require a permit?
  6. How long does it take to get a permit?
  7. What are the criteria the DEQ uses to determine whether to issue a permit?
  8. Can I move a wetland if it is located where I want to build?
  9. Can I cut trees in a wetland?
  10. Can I dig out a pond in a stream or a wetland on my site?
  11. Can I landscape a wetland?
  12. Can I clean out my stream?
  13. Can I sand my beach?
1. What is a wetland?
Michigan's wetland statute, Part 303, Wetlands Protection, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended, defines a wetland as "land characterized by the presence of water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances does support, wetland vegetation or aquatic life, and is commonly referred to as a bog, swamp, or marsh." The definition applies to public and private lands regardless of zoning or ownership.

Most people are familiar with the cattail or lily pad wetlands found in areas with standing water, but wetlands can also be grassy meadows, shrubby fields, or mature forests. Many wetland areas have only a high ground water table and standing water may not be visible. Types of wetlands include deciduous swamps, wet meadows, emergent marshes, conifer swamps, wet prairies, shrub-scrub swamps, fens, and bogs.



2. Are all wetlands wet?
Wetlands are transitional areas where land and water meet. Land does not have to be wet all of the time in order to be defined as a wetland. In some cases, it will not be immediately obvious that a wetland exists. The presence of water will, however, cause a number of physical, chemical and biological characteristics to develop. These characteristics can be used to identify and locate wetlands.


3. Why are wetlands important?
Wetlands are a significant factor in the health and existence of other natural resources of the state, such as inland lakes, ground water, fisheries, wildlife, and the Great Lakes . Michigan 's wetland statute recognizes the following benefits provided by wetlands:
  • Flood and storm control by the hydrologic absorption and storage capacity of wetlands.
  • Wildlife habitat by providing breeding, nesting, and feeding grounds and cover for many forms of wildlife, waterfowl, including migratory waterfowl, and rare, threatened, or endangered wildlife species.
  • Protection of subsurface water resources and provision of valuable watersheds and recharging ground water supplies.
  • Pollution treatment by serving as a biological and chemical oxidation basin.
  • Erosion control by serving as a sedimentation area and filtering basin, absorbing silt and organic matter.
  • Sources of nutrients in water food cycles and nursery grounds and sanctuaries for fish.


4. Are all wetlands regulated by the government?
No. The DEQ requires a permit for activities in wetlands that are greater than 5 acres, connected to an inland lake, stream, or one of the Great Lakes, or within 500 feet of an inland lake or 1000 feet of the Great Lakes . Therefore, some isolated or non-contiguous wetlands are not regulated. If wetlands are identified on a site, we will determine if they are regulated by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and/or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

In addition, a wetland is not regulated by the DEQ that was incidentally created as result of mineral or sand mining (if the area was not wetland previous to the mining or adjacent to a waterbody of 1 acre or more in size). The DEQ also does not regulate a wetland created in the bottom of a retention or detention pond operated in compliance with the requirements of state or federal water pollution control regulations.

In Michigan , the Corps only regulates those wetlands adjacent to the Great Lakes or other designated navigable waterways. So, as an example, if you have a property with wetland on Lake Michigan , you will have to get permits from both the DEQ and the Corps to impact the wetland.


5. What can I do in a wetland that does not require a permit?
Basically, any activity that disturbs the wetland soil is regulated. Exempt activities include cutting vegetation.


6. How long does it take to get a permit?
The DEQ has a legal timeframe that they follow (see below). However, they have several methods of extending that time, including a 20% extension (granted by the permittee), requesting that the applicant withdraw the application (starting the timeframe over), and stopping the clock during the administrative review.

Please note that in cases where both the DEQ and Corps have jurisdiction, the Corps does not have a timeframe and usually does not start reviewing a permit application until the DEQ issues their permit.

We recommend that you take these timeframes into account when planning your projects.

The minimum time it takes to obtaining a permit after submitting an application to the DEQ (in days).

  Inland Lakes and Streams Wetlands
Administrative Review  30  30
Processing period  60  90
Added time w/ public hearing  60  60
Total w/o Public Hearing  90  120
Total w/ Public Hearing  150  180













7. What are the criteria the DEQ uses to determine whether to issue a permit?
Basically the DEQ looks at whether you have “feasible and prudent activities”. If there is a reasonable course of action that you can take that would not require impacting a wetland, the DEQ will deny your permit. Please realize that your idea of a reasonable course of action and the DEQ’s may differ drastically.

For example, if you have wetland along your lakefront, and upland in the back, the DEQ may deny a permit to build your home in the upland. We have been successful in fighting these denials in the past, however you may want to keep this in mind if you are looking for lakefront property.

8. Can I move a wetland if it is located where I want to build?
This is called wetland mitigation, and while the DEQ does allow mitigation under certain circumstances, it is only after the applicant has shown that there is no other alternative to impacting the wetland. In addition, mitigation is extremely costly and time consuming, and should not be considered as a quick fix to a wetland problem.

9. Can I cut trees in a wetland?
You do not need a permit to cut vegetation in wetlands as long as the soil surface is not disturbed. Disturbance includes rutting from tractor tires, removing stumps, and leaving brush and sawdust piles in the wetland.

You are allowed to grind down the stumps to just below ground level and fill the hole with a small amount of sand to bring the hole back to grade without a permit.


10. Can I dig out a pond in a stream or wetland on my site?
The DEQ does require a permit to dig a pond in a regulated wetland. They generally will not allow a pond where it will impact the temperature, sediment load, flow or other ecological properties of nearby streams. They also do not want berms left around the pond.
11. Can I landscape a wetland?
You do need a permit to landscape a wetland, and if the landscaping creates a more functional wetland, the DEQ is likely to permit the activity.

You can place grass seed on the wetland, but cannot put down sod without a permit.

12. Can I clean out my stream?
You need a permit to make any changes to a streambed, banks or flow.

13. Can I sand my beach?
The DEQ does not require a permit for “reasonable sanding of beaches” as long as the beach is not wetland. Reasonable is usually defined as less than 6 inches.

The Corps does require a permit for beachsanding on those beaches in Michigan where they have jurisdiction.