Are There Wetlands on Your Property?

One of the biggest hassles I’ve encountered in my land investing business is dealing with the presence of wetlands on the properties I’ve owned. Wetlands can present some HUGE challenges for land owners, because this type of land is protected by the government (both at the state and federal level), and unless a land owner can prove that there is no other way to accomplish their intent with a wetland property, it can be very, very difficult to use or develop this type of land in any practical way.

Even though some types of wetlands are easy to identify (e.g. swamps, bogs, marshes, and the like), wetlands are not always easy to spot at first glance.

As the EPA explains,

“Although wetlands are often wet, a wetland might not be wet year-round. In fact, some of the most important wetlands are only seasonally wet. Wetlands are the link between the land and the water. They are transition zones where the flow of water, the cycling of nutrients, and the energy of the sun meet to produce a unique ecosystem characterized by hydrology, soils, and vegetation—making these areas very important features of a watershed.”

So, if wetlands can’t always be observed and identified by the untrained eye, how can a land investor know if their property is impacted by the presence of wetlands?

Unfortunately, the only way to be 100% certain about the presence of wetlands on a given property is to hire a wetland consultant and/or request a visit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, so they can perform a wetland identification and delineation on the property. Through this process, they can closely examine the land onsite and determine whether there are wetlands present and where the boundaries of the wetlands are located.

The problem is, when you need absolute certainty about the wetlands situation, it can eat up a lot of time and money while you’re waiting on these answers. Even though this is the “correct” textbook way to get the right answers, it’s not always feasible to pull this off, and it can be a deal-killing issue in some cases.

Some real estate transactions require some fairly rigid time constraints. You may not be able to afford the luxury of having absolute confidence.

Luckily, we live in the information age, and it is possible to do some “reconnaissance level” research on the wetlands situation with the properties you’re working with.

Introducing: The Wetlands Mapper

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service offers a free tool through the National Wetlands Inventory called the Wetlands Mapper. If you need to identify any obvious red flags without leaving your computer, this is a great way to get a more educated look at the land you’re evaluating. I’ll explain how it works in this video:

You can get started with the Wetlands Mapper, or you can download the KML file and view this same wetlands data on Google Earth.

Important: It’s important to recognize that the Wetlands Mapper does not offer the same level of accuracy you would get by hiring a wetlands consultant and/or having the USACE do a delineation on your property – so if you’re going to rely on this free mapping tool, be aware that there are no guarantees with this approach. However, if you’re just looking for an educated guess, this can be a good starting point.

Written by Seth Williams, founder of RETipster.com – Real World Guidance for Part-Time Real Estate Investors.

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