By Jill Pritchard
MO Dept. of Conservation
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages the public to learn about Missouri’s wonderful wetlands during American Wetlands Month in May. Wetlands play a critical role in every ecosystem by improving water quality, providing habitat for plants and animals, and reducing flooding by absorbing excess rain.
“May is a great time to experience Missouri’s rivers, streams and wetlands,” said MDC Wetland Ecologist Frank Nelson. “Water is flowing, temperatures are warming, and plants are bursting with a myriad of green hues.”
Wetlands are a transition zone between land and aquatic environments, and they protect the quality of both. Once abundant, wetlands now make up less than 1 million acres, or roughly 2-percent, of Missouri’s landscape.
“We have nine different wetland natural communities in Missouri,” said Nelson. “They include marshes, shrub swamps, bottomland prairies, bottomland forests, swamps, sinkhole ponds, oxbow lakes, sloughs,riparian areas and groundwater seeps.”
Missouri’s wetlands provide numerous ecological benefits, such as erosion control, water quality improvement, pollution filtration, and even supporting fertile farm land. They are also the primary habitat of hundreds of plant and animals that are considered rare or endangered in Missouri.
Wetland areas also provide the public recreation and tourism opportunities, such as wildlife watching, fishing, boating, hunting and hiking.
According to Nelson, wetland conservation activities in Missouri are crucial to protect habitats, maintain those that have been restored, and take advantage of opportunities to enhance and improve upon the efforts of previous conservationists. Extensive partner collaboration has led to the newly created Missouri Wetland Planning Initiative, which provides strategic vision to manage existing wetlands and engage a variety of partners to plan and incorporate wetland conservation and management into lands that include local agriculture, businesses, and communities.
“We’ve been assessing the current conditions of Missouri’s wetlands over the last several years,” explained Nelson. “We’ve looked at the function wetlands and other bottomland habitats provide. We’ve also been looking at a range of wetland species and their habitat requirements throughout the year. Our goal is to determine what we’re doing well and what we can improve upon.”
Nelson added that the Wetland Planning Initiative also assesses the social landscape.
“Do people value our rivers and wetlands?” he said, “What activities do they enjoy at wetlands? What are major obstacles or opportunities we’re facing? We’ve used several different surveys to various groups of people, including waterfowl hunters, birders, and the general public. The Initiative will help us lay out our vision and goals for wetland conservation for the next 25 years.”
To learn more about Missouri’s wetlands, visit https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/habitats/wetlands.