Kansas City, Mo. – A variety of wetlands large and small, seasonal and permanent, once carried water toward rivers in western Missouri. Land use changes have greatly reduced wetlands, so the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages property owners to preserve or enhance wetlands in ways that can help both wildlife and people.
Wetlands are valued by waterfowl hunters and wildlife watchers. They offer food and rest stops for migrating birds traveling between wintering grounds in the south and nesting grounds in the north. Wetland vegetation filters sediments and pollutants from water. Their slow-moving waters can also percolate downward and recharge groundwater. During heavy rains, wetlands can absorb some of the high-water flows and slow water movement, reducing downstream flooding.
Western Missouri once had extensive wetlands, such as those bordering the Marais des Cygnes River in the Osage River basin, south of Kansas City. The French name is translated as “Marsh of the Swans.” Large wetlands also bordered rivers such as the Missouri, Platte, Grand, Nodaway, and Little Osage. But ducks and geese flying south in autumn prior to the 1800s also looked down upon numerous small seasonal wetlands or semi-permanent oxbows along prairie creeks or in pin-oak flats between the prairies. Ducks hatched and raised in the prairie pothole regions of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Canada stopped at Missouri prairie wetlands during flights.
Some waterfowl and shorebirds also nested in Missouri’s wetlands during spring and summer, as did raptors such as bald eagles.
Time brought changes. Rich soils that accumulated beneath wetlands made prime land for growing crops. Those lowlands remain a valued contributor to Missouri’s agriculture economy and rural communities. Drainage ditches moved water out of lowland acres. Small streams that also flowed through wetlands in bends and created oxbows were sometimes straightened and pushed to the sides of fields. Storm water moved downstream faster. The changes eliminated wetland benefits and added to downstream flooding problems.
Natural topography, however, has left many lowland areas still flood prone or in a wetland condition. Many people who value conservation and wildlife also seek to establish or enhance wetlands on their land. MDC and conservation partners can provide advice, expertise, and often financial assistance to help landowners restore or enhance wetlands.
Biologists and soil experts from MDC, the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, and private groups such as Ducks Unlimited have borrowed from nature’s original designs to restore wetlands and improve the functions of wetlands. Often these engineered systems involve water moving through pools and channels in ways that slow flow and reduce erosion during floods. Farming and wildlife-friendly wetlands can co-exist. There are ways to enhance wetlands for enjoyment in all seasons on both production farms and recreational acreages. Often MDC and other partners can connect landowners with cost-share grants or other funds for wetland improvements.
May is American Wetlands Month. This is a good time for property owners to evaluate wetland potential or needs on their land. For help, contact your local MDC office.
To learn more about wetlands in Missouri, visit https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/habitats/wetlands.