Marshes are composed of both seasonal and emergent wetlands. They are often found meandering throughout the state in conjunction with river floodplains, at upper ends of lakes and reservoirs, and in sloughs or other lowland areas. Seasonal wetlands often called "moist-soil wetlands" are shallow marsh areas that dry and reflood annually. This moist soil environment is well suited to seed producing plants like smartweeds, millets, and annual grasses. Over 150 species of birds use this habitat and it is especially attractive to migrating ducks and geese. Emergent wetlands are flooded through much of the growing season and contain vegetation that emerges above the water surface. These plants include perennial vegetation like cattails, rushes, and sedges. They also provide feeding, brood rearing, and resting habitat for a variety of birds as well as a wide range of other wildlife. Managed in conjuntion with each other these two wetland types provide diverse habitat for many species of wildlife.
Marshes also provide a wide range of benefits to people as well as wildlife. As our rivers rise above and beyond their banks, adjacent lowlands become flooded. The occurrence of high water is followed by a slow release of floodwater, leaving behind rich alluvial soil. This rich nutrient influx provides, for example, the base for future plant production along with rich mixes of macro-invertebrate bugs; both favorite foods with different nutritional importance to both waterfowl and hundreds of other species of wildlife. Wetlands act as filters to keep our rivers clean and return purified water back to aquifers. When floodways are expanded by restoration of wetlands, these wetlands also help reduce the severity of downriver floods by storing and slowly releasing floodwaters back into the rivers.
Marshes, like other wetland types, have been severely altered and/or destroyed by humans throughout our history. Many of the original wetlands that once existed are now gone. These wetlands were extensive and only a fraction now remains.
Because wetlands are critical to the survival of so many species of wildlife, Ducks Unlimited has concentrated much of its resources in Missouri. The Mississippi Alluvial Valley and the Upper Mississippi River Initiatives are two major programs underway that address wetland habitat loss, decline, and the importance of this habitat type for waterfowl. Thus, many of the Ducks Unlimited projects exist along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers major tributaries.
Ducks Unlimited has coordinated its efforts in Missouri mainly through the "MARSH" program, which has been DU's flagship program to restore state habitat. DU also works in Missouri through an initiative called "RIVER CARE". This program is an aggressive plan to create a habitat corridor for migrating and wintering waterfowl in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Through these programs Ducks Unlimited has approached wetland conservation in Missouri on four fronts:
- Working hand in hand with state and federal partners to impact the most important land and to get the most from every conservation dollar. DU has been able to leverage your donation 4:1 for every dollar contributed. Ducks Unlimited's most valued partner on public land, in Missouri, has been the Missouri Department of Conservation.
- Protecting what is left. Through conservation easements and other tools, DU is protecting important wildlife habitat forever.
- Restoring historic habitat by restoring wetlands that have been drained, enhancing wetlands that have been degraded, replanting hardwood forests, and habitat management assistance.
- Working with farmers and landowners to make their land more attractive to wildlife, DU works with both the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Natural Resource Conservation Agency to accomplish habitat work on private lands.