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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Wetlands & Grassland Habitat

The benefits of two key waterfowl habitat types
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Wetland Benefits

Wetlands are critical waterfowl habitat

Every species of duck, goose and swan in North America depends on wetland habitat throughout their life cycle.

DU's programs reach from the arctic tundra of Alaska to the tropical wetlands of Mexico and South America. We are restoring native grasslands in the Great Plains, restoring bottomland hardwood forests in the lower Mississippi River Valley, protecting and enhancing the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and protecting and improving wetland habitats in the Central Valley of California and the Coastal Prairies of Texas, just to name a few.

What is Ducks Unlimited doing to enhance, restore and protect waterfowl habitat?

Wetlands are used for recreation

More than 14 million people hunt in the United States. Collectively, they generate more than $50 billion annually in economic activity and more than 60 million people watch migratory birds as a hobby. The Florida Keys wetland area alone generates at least $800 million in annual income from tourism. The aesthetic value of wetlands as ideal places for recreation is beyond dollar value.

Freshwater recreational fishing is entirely dependent on wetlands. In the United States, it has been estimated that half of the seawater catch is associated with wetlands. Recreational fishing can generate considerable income: more than 35 million people take part in recreational fishing in the United States, spending more than 37 billion each year on their hobby.

Ducks Unlimited's habitat projects enhance outdoor recreation in numerous ways. Read more about the conservation work in our Priority Areas.

Wetlands improve flood storage

Wetlands associated with rivers and lakes capture and retain water, reducing the duration and severity of floods. Inland wetlands intercept surface flow and slow it down, reducing the potential for floods and minimizing drought.

A recent study estimated that one acre of wetland can store over 1.5 million gallons of flood water. The bottomland hardwood wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater but now only have capacity for 12 days storage because most have been filled or drained. The impact of the loss of flood water storage along the Mississippi was evident when floods in 1993 caused $12 billion - $16 billion in damages, and yearly damages are estimated at $3.5 billion. Coastal wetlands in Louisiana have been valued at over $1,900 per acre for their storm protection functions alone!

What is Ducks Unlimited doing to increase flood storage?

Many of Ducks Unlimited's habitat projects have the benefit of increasing flood storage. Read more about DU's conservation priorities near you!

Wetlands help with groundwater recharge

Many wetlands help recharge underground aquifers that store 97 percent of the worlds unfrozen fresh water. Many Americans rely on groundwater for their drinking water, and recharge is important for ensuring a sustainable supply.

Groundwater resources are in heavy demand for uses beyond potable water. Currently 17 percent of the world's crop land is irrigated, sometimes leading to over pumping of groundwater. This makes the groundwater recharge ability of wetlands especially valuable. A 550,000 acre swamp in Florida has been valued at $25 million per year for its role in storing water and recharging the aquifer.

DU's efforts to restore, enhance and protect wetlands are helping to ensure that these ecosystems retain their capacity to recharge groundwater supplies.

Wetlands improve water quality

Plants and soils in wetlands play a significant role in purifying water, removing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, and in some cases, removing toxic chemicals. Some wetland plants have been found to accumulate heavy metals in their tissues at 100,000 times the concentration in the surrounding water.

A couple of examples reveal the tremendous value of wetlands as water purifiers:

  • New York City recently avoided spending $3.8 billion on new wastewater treatment plants (with $700 million annual operating costs) by investing 1.5 billion in conserving land around the reservoirs in upstate New York as well as instituting other water quality protective measures.
  • A Florida cypress swamp can remove 98 percent of all nitrogen and 97 percent of all phosphorus entering the wetland from wastewater before it enters the groundwater supply.
  • Hypoxia Action Plan calls for wetland restoration as the most cost effective means if dealing with the hypoxia issue in the Gulf of Mexico. The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico reached record size this year, 8,006 square miles, the size of Massachusetts. The oxygen-depleted waters in this area are harmful for bottom dwelling fish, crustaceans and other sea creatures.

Wetlands are fish habitat

Most commercial and game fish breed and raise their young in coastal marshes and estuaries. The majority of marine fish, 66 percent, rely on coastal wetlands at some stage in their life cycle. This equates to a significant food resource because one billion people worldwide eat fish as their primary source of protein.

The economic impact of wetland loss and degradation can be great given the recreation and consumptive value of fisheries. In Maine alone, commercial fishing is a $270 million a year industry, and employs 25,000 people. Wetland dependent species in the Louisiana fishery were valued at $264 million in 1989. In 1996, expenditures for recreational fishing were valued at nearly $38 billion.

What is Ducks Unlimited doing to enhance fish habitat?

Read about the wetland conservation work in DU's Priority Areas that benefits fisheries as well as waterfowl.

Wetlands increase biodiversity

Although freshwater wetlands cover only 1 percent of the Earth's surface, they hold more than 40 percent of the world's species and 12 percent of all animal species. Of the more than 900 bird species that breed in North America, about 138 species in the conterminous United States depend on wetlands.

The diversity of creatures found in wetlands arises because of the uniqueness of wetland habitats. The plants, water and soils of wetlands provide homes to species of all sorts including mammals, birds, plants, fish, crustaceans and mollusks. Insects, invertebrates, bacteria, algae and decaying plants create a "wetland soup," a rich foundation for food chains that leads to incredible variety and abundance of larger creatures.

What is Ducks Unlimited doing to increase biodiversity?

Ducks Unlimited's habitat projects have the benefit of increasing biodiversity. Select a conservation region to learn more about DU's activities near you!

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