Before 1944, when a series of federally authorized projects spurred its restructuring, the Missouri River represented one of North America’s most diverse and dynamic ecosystems. Pulses of rainwater and snowmelt, carrying tons of sediment, created an ever-changing landscape of meandering channels, chutes, sloughs, islands, sandbars, and backwater wetlands and woodlands.
Today, six main-stem dams on the upper reaches of the Missouri have transformed one-third of the river into lake environments, and all of the 735 miles of river between Sioux City, Iowa, and St. Louis, Missouri, have been stabilized and channelized.
The Conservancy is working to protect what remains and to restore some of what has been lost, using a toolkit of strategies including high diversity restoration, collaboration with state and federal partners, and policy work.
The intention of the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) is to create wildlife habitat and floodplain corridors to link wetlands and non-wetlands together. This helps reduce flooding, improve water quality, and provide recreational opportunities.
The goal of the Missouri River WREP is to restore 18,800 acres. Since the start of the project in 2004 landowners have restored about 10,000 acres. This voluntary program offers both financial and technical assistance for those wishing to restore wetlands and increase wildlife habitat. (Landowners retain ownership and access to the land.)
The Conservancy provided critical private restoration dollars and technical support to this program, working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other federal, state and local entities.
Making A Good Thing Better
The Conservancy is establishing trial plots within selected WREP restorations, planting them with a high diversity mix of native wetland and prairie species once common, but not often found today. The Conservancy is also helping establish the largest high diversity restoration on private lands along the river in Nebraska. What is learned will inform conservation efforts across the lower portion of the system, with the goal of ultimately influencing restoration on the entire system. Working with landowners on management of their projects will help sustain their conservation value for decades to come.
Giving Wildlife a Seat at the Table
Director of Conservation Programs Jason Skold serves on the Missouri River Recovery and Implementation Committee (MRRIC). This group was formed to advise the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Corps of Engineers on their recovery actions. Wetlands Restoration Specialist Tyler Janke is also working to balance competing uses of the river, assisting the Missouri River Recovery Program.