Missouri had an estimated 4.84 million acres of wetlands during the 1780s, a time generally referred to as the “pre-settlement” period. Though this only represented 10 percent of the state at that time, less than 2 percent are in existence today.
Wetlands in Missouri were considered problematic wastelands and unproductive pieces of ground until the early 1900s. Approximately 2.5 million acres of bottomland forest in the Bootheel region of the state were cut or removed to accommodate competing land uses. Swamps, sloughs and other backwaters were drained, dredged and filled to build a more agriculturally productive state.
During the mid-1900s, wetlands became known as more than just wasteland. People discovered that wetlands offer recreational opportunities, critical wildlife habitat, improvements to water quality, temporary storage of floodwaters, and resources for education and research. Attitudes were beginning to change.
Wetlands are now recognized as important in our daily lives. In fact, 2006 was the first year in two decades that the United States had a net gain of wetlands instead of a loss, according to the most recent National Resource Inventory conducted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Since the early 1990s, private landowners in Missouri have restored almost 130,000 acres of wetlands. A collection of restoration programs known as the Missouri Agricultural Wetland Initiatives (MAWI) has supported their volunteer efforts through financial and technical assistance.
Thanks to a partnership between federal, state and non-governmental agencies, MAWI is able to assist landowners in meeting their own resource needs while increasing habitat for many species of resident and migratory wetland wildlife. MAWI partners include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Department of Conservation, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the American Land Conservancy.
The time is right for landowners to get professional assistance in restoring, enhancing or creating wetlands on their property. Here are some options to consider.
The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP): Administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), WRP is often referred to as the “premiere wetland restoration program” in the country. This voluntary program consists of two main efforts, one with a conservation easement and one without.
Conservation easements are either perpetual or for a 30-year period. There is a one-time easement payment based on a geographic cap, an appraised value, or a landowner bid, whichever is the lowest. Cost share for the restoration is up to 100