"Wetlands" probably conjures images of swampy terrain filled with snakes and bugs, but the term really applies to the soil type. I've got what's called "dry wetland," which sounds like an oxymoron but simply means it's seasonally saturated for a brief period, but that there isn't necessarily any standing water. There's a ditch right along my property line that usually has at least a little water in it year round, but that's it.
Wetlands are aggressively conserved in New Jersey ostensibly as a means to protect certain threatened wildlife. The Department of Environmental Protection is frighteningly powerful—more powerful than the state police—and the agency principally wields this power with businesses: they'll either completely block any development, or overlook their own rules for whatever reason, and not surprisingly it's usually down to money. (As an example, look at the gas pipeline planned not far from me, which passes through several wetlands and other protected areas.)
Because I have wetlands on my property, I had to have it surveyed, and the survey had to be approved by the DEP, a process that's long (two months—which was amazingly fast, as ordinarily it can take up to a year) and costly ($4,600). One cannot disturb the soil or plants, much less build anything, within 50 feet of wetlands, and if endangered species are present, the setback is 150 feet—which would have brought the line right up to the middle of my deck. Fortunately there were no endangered species in the area.
Note that, just to complicate matters further, wetlands are evaluated based on contiguous areas; in other words, any wetland to which mine might be geographically connected—no matter how long or convoluted the connection—is considered to be all part of one. So, if a rare turtle was found 20 miles from me in a connected area, it would affect the rules applied to "my" wetlands. Also note that it doesn't matter how the wetland formed; if it's a result of a manmade ditch dug 50 years ago, it's still protected.
Here's a look at the wetlands on my property, which cover an area of about an acre. It's a place I rarely venture into because it's choked with sticker bushes, but nevertheless has its own unique beauty.
1. Looking down from above at the far end of the Long Ravine:
2. Looking up from below:
3. Property line ditch:
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