A blue-winged teal, great blue heron, and other waterfowl wade in the Mertensmeyer wetland.
Photo by MDC Staff, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.
Wetlands mean different things to different people. Some envision dark, murky swamps, while others think of them as places to enjoy an early morning duck hunt or an afternoon of wildlife watching. A wetland is land that contains adequate soil moisture to support certain types of water-tolerant vegetation. Wetlands vary in type from permanently flooded sloughs to areas that only have saturated soil during part of the year.
Wetlands function as biological filters that remove sediments and pollutants from surface waters. They also act as natural sponges, reducing flood severity by slowly releasing excess water back into the stream or groundwater table. Wetlands are biologically productive, with a greater diversity of plants and animals than is found in drier habitats.
Historically, natural wetlands dominated the floodplains and river deltas in Missouri. During the past few decades, many were converted to agricultural land. However, many of these fields continue to be too wet to farm, even after they were cleared and drained. These wet fields are the best sites for restoring or developing wetlands on private property. It is important to preserve our few remaining natural wetlands, restore degraded wetlands if feasible, and develop new wetlands wherever possible.
Bottomland forests are an important wetland habitat type. The management plan for a bottomland forest should protect the health of the trees; therefore, no flooding should occur during the growing season.