Wetland Types on the Upper Texas Coast

The following is a short summary of the major types of upper Texas Coastal Wetlands:

Estuarine or Tidal Fringe Wetlands: vegetated marshes and unvegetated mud and sand flats found in open saltwater of bays and the Gulf, along the bay side of barrier islands, and a few miles inland along major river systems that drain into the Gulf. Home to wading birds, shorebirds, water fowl, American alligator, fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, muskrats, nutria, rabbits, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, mink and river otters. The wetlands are threatened by land subsidence and sea level rise. They are economically important commercial and recreational fishing, hunting, and wildlife photography industries and for shoreline protection.

Prairie Pothole and Marsh Wetlands: Freshwater wetlands inundated by precipitation and runoff. Prairie potholes are small discrete depressions; marshes are larger and less well defined. One the upper coast, potholes and marshes occur in complexes with pimple mounds (small hummocks 1-2 feet tall) and intermound flats. Home to American alligator, Gulf Coast ribbon snakes, cottonmouth moccasins, red-eared sliders, southern Leopard frogs, bullfrogs, green tree frogs, wading birds, water fowl, songbirds. Pothole wetlands are an important source of wildlife and livestock drinking water, especially during drought.  Many original pothole and marsh wetlands were modified for agricultural (prior converted wetlands), but in more modern times are threatened by development pressures. Many prairie pothole wetlands are considered hydrologically isolated by the US Army Corps of Engineers current interpretation of waters of the US so receive little protection under the Clean Water Act.

Barrier Island Interior Wetlands: Nontidal freshwater wetlands found in troughs between dune ridges and on larger interior wind-eroded flats.  These wetlands are inundated by both groundwater and precipitation and runoff. They are home to frogs and toads, red-eared sliders, Gulf Coast ribbon snake, American alligator, raccoons, feral pigs, water fowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and perching birds. Draining and filling for development is the major threat for this wetland system. Barrier island interior wetlands are important recharge areas for groundwater on barrier islands.

Riverine Forested Wetlands:  Forested wetlands found in the floodplains of rivers and streams.  The wettest riverine forested wetlands, which are flooded almost all year, are known as swamps and are associated with bald cypress and water tupelo.  Further upriver where flooding occurs regularly and persists for several weeks at a time, bottomland hardwood forest wetlands dominated by oaks, green ash, red maple, and black willow are found.  Bald eagles, wading birds, water fowl, woodpeckers, frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes, alligators, bats, rabbits, beaver, squirrels, bobcats, foxes, river otters, raccoons, deer, and many fish use riverine forested wetlands as breeding and forging grounds. These wetlands are important for flood mitigation, pollution filtration, timber harvest, hunting, wildlife photography and other recreation.  They are threatened by non-sustainable logging practices and altered natural water flow patterns from dams and reservoirs.

Coastal Flatwood Wetlands:  Forested wetlands on poorly drained flats between rivers.  Unlike riverine forested wetlands, coastal flatwood wetlands are inundated primarily from local precipitation and runoff. They are often wet in the winter and early spring and are dry the rest of the year. These wetlands are often dominated by Loblolly pine though black tupelo, sweetgum, wax-myrtle, and yaupon are common.   These wetlands are home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and other woodpeckers, bald eagles, songbirds, amphibians, reptiles, bats, rabbits, squirrels, bobcats, foxes, raccoon, and deer. Coastal flatwood wetlands, like riverine forested wetlands, play an important role in flood mitigation, pollutant filtration, timber harvest, and recreation.  The largest threat to these systems is non-sustainable timber harvest.  Many of these wetlands are considered hydrologically isolated by the US Army Corps of Engineers current interpretation of waters of the US so receive little protection under the Clean Water Act.top

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