The Wetland Book pp 1469-1482 | Cite as

Wetland Delineation: Overview

  • Ralph W. Tiner
Reference work entry


While wetlands had been drained for agricultural purposes in many regions for hundreds of years or longer, once wetlands became appreciated for the environmental services they naturally provide society (e.g., floodwater storage, water quality renovation, bank and shoreline stabilization, and provision of essential habitat for fish, aquatic invertebrates, and other animals dependent on wetlands), people became concerned about wetland losses. Filling and the combination of dredging and filling were particularly destructive to wetland functions and altered the picturesque view that many wetlands offered, especially wetlands along coasts and large water bodies. Public concern sparked efforts to protect wetlands through three chief means: (1) acquisition of wetlands for the establishment of wildlife refuges, management areas, or nature preserves; (2) purchase of easements on private property to set aside wetlands for conservation purposes; and (3) passage of laws to directly or indirectly protect wetlands. For these purposes, it became important to identify wetlands on the broader landscape and to be able to delineate their boundaries on the ground. Such efforts often involved the production of wetland maps and required development of field-based procedures to delineate wetlands on the ground. The former is usually done for natural resource planning and land acquisition for conservation, while the latter are prepared to identify limits of “regulated” wetlands when designing construction in or near them. Before any of these activities can commence, wetlands need to be defined in such a way that they can be mapped through remote sensing techniques and by ground surveys. This contribution provides an introduction to wetland delineation with a focus on US practices. Wetland Indicators offers a comprehensive examination of the topic including the rationale behind many of the properties used for delineation.


Wetland delineation Wetland mapping Wetland detection Wetland identification Wetland classification Wetland indicators Hydrophytic vegetation Hydric soils Wetland hydrology 


  1. Association of State Wetland Managers. Wetlands one-stop mapping. NWI+ web mapper; 2014. Available at:
  2. Carter V, McGuinness J, Anderson RR. Mapping northern Atlantic coastal marshlands, using ERTS-1 imagery. In: Remote sensing of earth resources. Proceedings of the Second Conference on Earth Resources Observation and Information Analysis System (Tullahoma, TN, USA; 1973 Mar 26–28); 1974. Volume 2. (A74-25386 10-13). p. 1012–20.Google Scholar
  3. Cowardin LM, Carter V, Golet FC, LaRoe ET. Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 1979. FWS/OBS-79/31. Available at:
  4. Environmental Laboratory. Corps of engineers wetlands delineation manual. Wetlands research program technical report Y-87-1. Vicksburg: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Waterways Experiment Station; 1987. Available at: Scholar
  5. ESRI, Inc. ESRI ArcGIS explorer; 2014. Available at:
  6. Federal Interagency Committee for Wetland Delineation. Federal manual for identifying and delineating jurisdictional wetlands. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA Soil Conservation Service; 1989. Available at: Scholar
  7. FGDC Wetlands Subcommittee. Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States. FGDC-STD-004-3013. Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey, Federal Geographic Data Committee.
  8. Lichvar RW, Butterwick M, Melvin N C, Kirchner W N. The National Wetland Plant List: 2014 update of wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2014; 41: 1–42. 2153 733X. Available at:
  9. National Research Council. Wetlands: characteristics and boundaries. Washington, DC: Committee on Characterization of Wetlands. National Academy Press; 1995.Google Scholar
  10. Ramsar Convention Bureau. Information sheet on Ramsar wetlands. Gland: Ramsar Convention Bureau; 1998.Google Scholar
  11. Reed Jr PJ. National list of plant species that occur in wetlands: 1988 national summary. Biological report 88(24). Washington, DC: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 1988.Google Scholar
  12. Sheehy Skeffington M, Moran J, O Connor Á, Regan E, Coxon CE, Scott NE, Gormally M. Turloughs: Ireland’s unique wetland habitat. Biol Conserv. 2006;133:265–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Tiner RW. The concept of a hydrophyte for wetland identification. BioScience. 1991;41:236–7. Available at: Scholar
  14. Tiner RW. The primary indicators method – a practical approach to wetland recogniztion and delineation in the United States. Wetlands. 1993. Available at: 13:50–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Tiner RW. Wetland indicators: a guide to wetland formation, identification, formation, delineation, classification, and mapping. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Tiner RW, Lang MW, Klemas VV. Remote sensing of wetlands. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Regional supplement to the corps of engineers wetland delineation manual: northcentral and northeast region (version 2.0). Wetlands regulatory assistance program. ERDC/EL TR-12-1; 2012. Available at:
  18. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Regional supplements to the corps of engineers wetland delineation manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; 2014. Available at: Scholar
  19. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wetlands mapper; 2014. Available at:
  20. Vasilas LM, Hurt GW, Noble CV, editors. Field indicators of hydric soils in the United States. Version 7.0. L.M. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with the National Technical Committee for Hydric Soils; 2010. Available at:
  21. Vepraskas ML, Craft CB, editors. Wetland soils: genesis, hydrology, landscapes, and classification, 2nd edition. Boca Raton: CRC Press; 2015.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (retired)HadleyUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Wetlands and Environmental Education and Research, Inc. (IWEER)LeverettUSA

Personalised recommendations