Wetlands: More Than Just for Ducks

Insights from DU CEO Dale Hall

Ducks Unlimited has worked across the continent for 81 years with the vision to have "wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow, and forever." Our vision statement is clear in our focus on the resource. But too often the first few words of the vision are blown past and waterfowl are in the spotlight. None of us who hunts will ever argue against having waterfowl front and center in our conservation work. But as we continue to try to educate the public about all the benefits our habitat work does for them, we need to spend more time talking about those first two words.

We guarantee our donors and supporters that a minimum of 80 percent of the funds they provide to us will go on the ground or in conservation education. While many of us love to hunt, our mission is wetlands and grassland habitat conservation, and the education of the public as to why our work is important to them. Let's explore some facts about the functional values of wetlands to water quality, fish and wildlife, and people.

Wetlands are often referred to as nature's "kidneys" due to their ability to remove toxic chemicals and other pollutants from the water. They can remove excess nitrogen and phosphorous, cause sediment to drop out of the water column and nourish the land and return the water to the adjacent water bodies clean and healthy for all life forms. In wetlands, water is slowed down by the plants, which allows nutrients brought in by the sediment and decomposing leaf and plant material to feed an entire food chain. Each wetland is a microecosystem with as many as 800 species that benefit from its production! What begins as a cooking pot for aquatic food ends with eagles and hawks finding food in the form of our ducks, reptiles, other birds, and fish.

In addition to the water quality and fish and wildlife values, wetlands also recharge aquifers through areas known as "outcroppings," or pathways from the surface to the underground water systems. About half of all the water that comes through our home faucets originated in groundwater due to its high quality and dependable source. The other half benefits from the purification described above as the water is returned to the rivers. 
Oh yes, then there is the function they provide to protect people.

Wetlands are also known as nature's "sponges," storing the water during floods and slowly releasing it into permanent water bodies, thus reducing the damages of flooding that can occur when heavy snowmelt and spring rains send deluges into rivers, communities, and homes. Holding these waters in storage for even a short period of time can mean the difference between a "manageable" high water event and a damaging flood to homes and property.

Along our coastlines, wetlands are the buffers that hold back storm surges and slow the winds of hurricanes. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, for every 2.7 miles a hurricane travels across emergent marsh, the storm surge is reduced by an average of one foot. For those whose homes are in harm's way, one foot can make the difference between safety and disaster. I have often said "it is the wetlands that protect the levees, and the levees that protect the people." In a hurricane, that is the difference.

As we talk to prospective supporters about our mission, be proud that hunters have always been there to support conservation and tell the whole story of what Ducks Unlimited's work does for water, wildlife, and people!

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