FORT STEWART, Ga. - To celebrate American Wetlands Month, Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield's Environmental Division presents a series of informative articles about wetlands -- important and fascinating ecosystems that dominate the southeast Georgia landscape. This is the first of four articles.

Wetlands are familiar to local residents, though they may more commonly be referred to simply as "swamps." There are many kinds of wetlands, each with their own characteristics, and they are some of the world's most diverse and productive land. They play many roles. They help filter water, ensuring a clean supply; they serve as habitat for many kinds of wildlife; they receive and store water during storm and flood periods; and they store and transmit water eventually used by people.

Wetlands are most simply defined as areas where land and water meet, and are characterized by high water tables and frequent flooding, causing the formation of soils rich in organic matter, and colonization by life forms which prefer moist environments.

In southeast Georgia, wetlands are common because of the generally flat terrain and its low elevation, which keeps it close to sea level. Inland portions of the State support branching freshwater wetlands, generally populated by trees and shrubs. Near the sea, vast stretches of coastal marshlands can be seen. The tidal flow of saltwater inland from the sea generally limits plants in these wetlands to a small number of species of grasses and rushes.

In the past, wetlands were often seen as unpleasant places, breeding disease and biting insects. Although not ideal for development due to their low elevations and tendency to flood, they were often filled in or drained for building. However, as their role in the ecology came to be recognized, legislation was passed to protect them.

Later, measures were taken to restore wetlands, sometimes on a grand scale. As a result, wetland loss has been slowing in the US, but some wetlands may never be restored, and further conservation depends in part on education of the public of the importance of wetlands.

In that interest, in 1991 the Environmental Protection Agency named May as American Wetlands Month, a time to learn more about wetlands and take action to protect and restore them. Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield's Environmental Division is doing its part.

Besides its usual job of conserving, monitoring, and restoring the Installation's wetlands, over the next three weeks the Division will report on different aspects of wetlands. So, keep watching throughout the month of May to learn more about wetlands, one of Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Firfield's most familiar and interesting natural resources!