Golden Anniversary Wetland Initiative
You may think that wetlands are everywhere—after all, they’re scattered throughout our state. Yet more than 87 percent of Missouri’s historic wetlands have been lost through filling, draining or by changing the flow of groundwater.
By the beginning of the 1900s, man had severely reduced Missouri’s wetlands. Improper forest clearing, drainage projects, stream channelization and levee systems that prevented flooding interrupted natural wetland processes. Severe floods filled wetlands with sediment and erosion created deepwater areas.
Why is wetland conservation so important? Wetlands filter pollutants and improve water quality, and they support a diverse population of fish, wildlife and plants with high economic and social value. Many threatened and endangered species are also dependent on wetlands.
During the last half-century, wetland restoration has focused on increasing habitats, restoring floodplains and managing for a greater diversity of species.
Today, the value of these areas is more apparent because they provide recreation for millions of people through hunting, fishing, boating and wildlife viewing.
Although the Department now manages more than 112,000 acres of diverse wetland habitats throughout the state, the wetland management program had its modest beginnings some 50 years ago. The time has come for us to pause and reflect on our past accomplishments, and to use what we’ve learned to plan the future of our wetlands. We call this special review our Golden Anniversary Wetland Initiative.
Important From the Start
We wouldn’t have the wetlands we do today if not for the foresight of early conservationists.
In Missouri, the first attempt at wetland conservation began around 1939, when a handful of biologists served as extension agents for the newly formed Department of Conservation.
These agents brought landowners and sportsmen together in a habitat improvement program on private lands called the Cooperative Wildlife Management Program. Establishing wildlife/waterfowl refuges was the Department’s only wildlife program in those days.
In 1947, wetland managers began restoring wetlands the only way they knew how, through engineering. Low areas that were formerly wetlands were excavated so they would hold more water. Levees were built, not to keep water out, but to hold water in. Water control structures (valves, screw gates, culverts, etc.) were built so managers could manipulate water levels. Where natural flooding was lacking, pumps were installed to ensure water supplies. These wetland areas, developed by the Department of Conservation, had a dual purpose that included providing waterfowl hunting opportunities.
Missouri’s Oldest Wetland Areas
Fountain Grove Conservation Area in Linn and Livingston counties was the first wetland/waterfowl area developed.