Declining water quality in Chesapeake Bay was directly tied to land use practices in its vast watershed, which is home to 17 million people and encompasses more than 64,000 square miles in portions of six states. This region also supports 35 percent of the wintering waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway
. Research revealed that half of the streams and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed lacked vegetated buffers. In addition, 2.5 million acres of wetlands had been drained, exacerbating flooding and soil erosion and increasing levels of harmful nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, in the bay.
During the early 1990s, Ducks Unlimited joined a coalition to help restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. DU and its agency and foundation partners began working with farmers and other landowners to restore drained wetlands and reestablish vegetated buffers on rivers and streams, providing vital habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife while also reducing sediment and nutrient levels entering Chesapeake Bay. While much work remains to be done, DU and its partners have already made measurable progress in improving water quality in the bay, and SAV beds are once again increasing in size.
DU is also actively working to improve watershed health in many other regions vital to continental waterfowl populations, including the Great Lakes, Mississippi Alluvial Valley, Gulf Coast, and Central Valley of California
. Even in the Prairie Pothole Region
, the effects of wetland and grassland conversion have far-reaching consequences. The loss of approximately 13 million of the region's original 20 million prairie potholes has exacerbated downstream flooding and degraded water quality in the upper Mississippi and Red river watersheds. This is further evidence that DU's focus on protecting prairie potholes and other wetlands is important not only to the health of waterfowl populations, but also to the overall health of the nation's watersheds.
Fowl Fact: CLEANING UP During the past five years, DU and its partners have completed more than 6,000 projects, which have restored nearly 82,000 acres of wetlands and associated uplands in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Dr. Scott Yaich is director of conservation operations at DU national headquarters in Memphis.