created by the state’s two major river systems and their tributaries. Today, about 90 percent of Missouri’s historic wetlands have been lost through filling, draining or by changing the flow of groundwater.
More than 50 years ago, MDC began developing conservation areas to recreate a small portion of the wetlands lost in the previous 150 years. Fountain Grove and Ted Shanks conservation areas (CAs) in the north, Duck Creek CA in southeastern Missouri, and Montrose and Schell-Osage CAs in the west, were the vanguard of Missouri’s wetland restoration.
Beginning in the 1940s and 1950s, wetland managers began restoring wetlands 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, such as valves, screw gates and culverts, were built so managers could manipulate water levels. Where natural flooding was lacking, pumps were installed to ensure water supplies.
Today, many of these early wetland areas are facing significant challenges. Not only are original working parts, including levees, water control structures, canals and pumps beyond their life expectancy, but extreme landscape changes including severe flooding and heavy sedimentation have had unforeseen and devastating effects on certain areas.
Initiative Improves Missouri’s Oldest Public Wetlands
Today, we know far more about the science of wetland ecology and management. MDC’s Golden Anniversary Wetland Initiative allows us to put that knowledge to work at Missouri’s oldest wetlands to benefit wildlife and the people that enjoy these areas.
“No two wetland areas were alike when we built them, and no two will be alike as we return to give them new life,” says Dick Vaught, retired MDC waterfowl research biologist.
These improvements are diverse and serve the unique needs and demands of local wildlife habitat and different water management challenges. Guiding principles of these improvements are to develop ecologically based rehabilitation concepts, to incorporate 21st century engineering and science-based approaches, to avoid “continual repair” issues, and to assemble diverse partnerships with an eye toward innovation.
The interactions between plants, animals, soils and water within wetlands are intricate and complex. “Variety is not only the spice of life, but in wetland systems, it is also the glue that binds it all together,” says Frank Nelson, project manager for the Duck Creek CA renovation. “It is the overall number of different species that allows the food webs to be connected, keeps nutrient cycles churning, and allows