“Unique Wetlands” is a special designation for wetlands defined in the state water quality standards (15A NCAC 02B .0101 (e)(7)) as “wetlands of exceptional state or national ecological significance which require special protection to maintain existing uses. These wetlands may include wetlands that have been documented to the satisfaction of the Commission as habitat essential for the conservation of state or federally listed threatened or endangered species.” (Amended effective August 1, 1995)
A project to locate unique wetlands and develop technical and policy guidelines for this classification was conducted from 2001 to 2007. North Carolina’s Natural Heritage Program’s scientifically valid and defensible species occurrence and plant community data were used to develop guidelines for implementing the Unique Wetland water quality supplemental classification in North Carolina.
For a site to be considered for official Unique Wetland classification, it must meet certain criteria. The criteria were designed in two tiers. Sites that meet any Tier I criterion receive automatic consideration as a Unique Wetland. Sites that fail to meet any Tier I criteria must meet two or more Tier II criteria to be considered for the classification.
Southern Appalachian bog wetlands like Panthertown Valley Bog (pictured) meet the criteria to be considered Unique Wetlands
The selection criteria were used to find Unique Wetlands in North Carolina that satisfied the Environmental Management Commission’s requirements as habitat essential for the conservation of state or federally listed threatened or endangered species. At the time of the report in 2007, it was estimated that North Carolina had approximately five million acres of jurisdictional wetlands, but a small percentage (4% or 193,192 acres) met the Unique Wetland criteria. Approximately two-thirds of the acres of wetlands that met the Unique Wetland criteria are managed by three state and federal agencies: the US Department of Defense, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The remaining one-third is managed by a variety of public and private entities, such as municipal governments, land trusts, and private owners.
The wetlands that met the Unique Wetland criteria encompassed 35 natural community types, including 17 wetland types, but most of the acreage was non-riverine swamp forest and low pocosins.
Designated Unique Wetlands are considered high quality natural communities that provide essential habitat for state or federally listed threatened or endangered species. Approximately 3,800 acres of wetlands in 11 of the state’s river basins were placed under the Unique Wetland classification as a result of this project.
A wetland may be classified as a Unique Wetland under Tier I if they meet one of the criteria below. Wetlands failing to meet Tier I criteria may still qualify for Unique Wetland classification under Tier II.
- Wetlands classified as S1 or S2* natural communities by the NHP with an Element Occurrence rank of A or B.
- Wetlands that harbor federal or state endangered, threatened, or special concern species with an Elemental Occurrence rank of A or B.
- Wetlands that harbor significantly rare, disjunct, or endemic plant species (SR-D or SR-L respectively) with an Element Occurrence rank of A or B.
A wetland must meet two or more of the following criteria to be classified as a Unique Wetland under Tier II.
- Wetlands that have been classified as S3/G3* natural communities by the NHP with an Element Occurrence rank of A or B**.
- Wetlands that have been classified as viable S1 or S2* natural communities by the NHP but that are not captured under Tier I.
- Wetlands that harbor a viable occurrence of an endangered, threatened, or special concern plant or animal species but fail to meet Tier I criteria.
- Wetlands that harbor a significantly rare (SR) animal or plant not captured by Tier I.
*The criteria are based on methodology developed by the NC Natural Heritage Program for state and global rankings, as well as state and federal legal status for endangered, threatened, and rare species. State rank (S-rank) and global rank (G-rank) refer to the number of known occurrences of a plant, animal, or natural community within the state and over a global range respectively.
**The criteria also emphasize Element Occurrence Rankings (EO rank), which refer to the quality or viability of a population of animals, plants, or natural community. Site visits to potential Unique Wetlands will be conducted to confirm the basis for Unique Wetland classification.
Types of wetlands that met Unique Wetland Criteria:
Maritime swamp forests and interdunal ponds at Nags Head Woods Preserve have been classified as Unique Wetlands
The natural shoreline of Lake Waccamaw has been classified as a Unique Wetland
33 specific sites have been designated as Unique Wetlands as of 2019:
(The majority of these sites are found on public lands.)
1. Antioch Bay (cypress savanna) (Hoke County)
2. Bear Island (maritime wet grassland) (Onslow County)
3. Beech Creek Bog (southern Appalachian bog) (Watauga County)
4. Big Island Savanna (wet pine savanna) (Brunswick County)
5. Black Ankle Bog (hillside seepage bog) (Montgomery County)
6. Bluff Mountain Fen (southern Appalachian fen) (Ashe County)
7. Bower’s Bog Sandhill Seeps (sandhill seep wetlands) (Moore County)
8. Bushy Lake Bay (low pocosin) (Cumberland County)
9. Dunahoe Bay (small depression pond) (Robeson County)
10. Fly Trap Savanna (Carolina Beach State Park) (wet pine savanna) (New Hanover County)
11. Goose and Mallard Creek (Goose Creek State Park) (tidal freshwater marsh) (Beaufort County)
12. Goosepond Bay (cypress savanna wetland) (Robeson County)
13. Grass Pond (Carolina Beach State Park) (lime-sink depression) (New Hanover County)
14. Green Swamp Small Depression Pond (small depression pond) (Brunswick County)
15. Hamby’s Bay (cypress savanna) (Hoke County)
16. Hanging Rock Hillside Seepage Bog (hillside seepage bog) (Stokes County)
17. Jones Lake (bay forest, peatland Atlantic white cedar forest, natural lake shoreline) (Bladen County)
18. Lake Waccamaw shoreline (natural lake shoreline wetland) (Columbus County)
19. Lily Pond (Carolina Beach State Park) (lime-sink depression) (New Hanover County)
20. McClure’s Bog (southern Appalachian Bog) (Henderson County)
21. Military Ocean Terminal at Sunny Point vernal pools (lime-sink depressions) (New Hanover County)
22. Myrtle Head Savanna (wet pine savanna) (Brunswick County)
23. Nags Head Woods (maritime swamp forest, interdune ponds, maritime shrub swamp) (Dare County)
24. Neck Savanna (wet pine savanna) (Pender County)
25. Oak Savanna (wet pine savanna, cypress savanna) (Robeson County)
26. Old Dock Savanna (wet pine savanna) (Columbus County)
27. Phelps Lake shoreline (natural lake shoreline) (Washington County)
28. Pilot Mountain Floodplain Pool (vernal pool) (Surry County)
29. Pretty Pond Bay (cypress savanna) (Robeson County)
30. Richland Balsam Seep (hillside seep wetland) (Jackson County)
31. Salters Lake (bay forest, low pocosins, natural lake shoreline) (Bladen County)
32. Theodore Roosevelt Maritime Swamp Forest (maritime swamp forest dune-swale complex) (Carteret County)
33. Weymouth Woods Sandhill Seep (sandhill seep wetland) (Moore County)
Wetlands that have been officially classified as Unique Wetlands are scattered across North Carolina.
Impacting Unique Wetlands
The regulatory requirements for impacting wetlands classified as Unique Wetlands under 15 NCAC 02H .0506 (e) are more stringent than other wetland classifications and offer additional opportunities for wetland conservation.
- Impacts to Unique Wetlands will only be permitted for projects that meet a demonstrated public need and….
- Any fill of Unique Wetland requires written approval from the NC Division of Water Resources and…
- Mitigation for the loss of existing use will be required regardless of the area of the impact requested.
New Unique Wetland Sites
Unique Wetlands will not be designated on private lands without landowner approval, however, Unique Wetland classifications for new sites can be obtained by gathering the necessary information and making an application to the Environmental Management Commission for classification.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the Unique Wetlands classification.
This work was funded by US Environmental Protection Agency grant CD97426001