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Designed for Wildlife

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

One hundred years ago, fall flocks of ducks and geese poured down the great south-flowing funnel of the Mississippi River, resting and feeding in an unending chain of wetlands that speckled the river bottoms. That was in the days when oxbows and sloughs in the flood plains of most rivers were kept brimming by yearly floods, and when a sprawling permanent wetland near the juncture of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers was known simply as the "Great Swamp."

Missouri once had about 5 million acres of wetlands, half of them in the Bootheel. Now much of those wetlands are gone, and only about 60,000 acres remain in southeast Missouri. The hardwood swamps of the Bootheel were cut for timber and then drained for farming.

The United States as a whole has lost half its wetlands, and the pressure for converting wetlands continues today. Oil drillers, subdivision builders, agribusiness farm operators and resort developers all want to expand into wetlands. And though there are regulations in place to protect wetlands, the United States continues to lose thousands of acres of wetlands each year.

Still, millions of ducks and geese travel the Mississippi flyway each fall and spring, and each acre of wetland, be it new or old, permanent or temporary, is valuable. Waterfowl crowd into the Missouri wetlands that remain, some on public land like the Conservation Department's Otter Slough Conservation Area, and some on private lands owned by family farmers or hunting clubs.

The seasonal ebb and flow of waterfowl is an important part of nature. Ducks and geese are handsome birds, and thousands of people travel to refuges to see them. Others enjoy the rich tradition of waterfowl hunting. But hunter or not, rural resident or city dweller, most of us enjoy seeing fall flights of ducks as a sign of the season. Who doesn't feel a tingle at the sight and sound of flocks of snow geese flying north on that first warm day in late winter?

Some 75 percent of the wetlands remaining in the United States are held by private landowners. There will never be enough money for the Conservation Department, or any other agency or non-governmental organization, to restore all of the lost wetland acres in the Bootheel by buying them outright.

Some private landowners, though, are voluntarily creating new temporary wetlands in Missouri. These flooded sites don't have the cachet of permanent wetlands, but they provide high protein food for wintering

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