The Arbor Day Foundation has awarded Ducks Unlimited a grant to plant 19,500 trees on the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana, a critical wetland habitat that directly influences water quality as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.

The $6,823 grant will allow DU in 2016 to plant 500 trees per acre on 39 acres.

The reforestation project will have a large impact on water quality and wildlife. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management designated 40 streams, creeks and other waters in the Patoka River watershed as impaired, meaning they don't meet federal water quality standards.

The Patoka River is a tributary of the Wabash River. The Wabash River watershed was identified as one of the largest contributors of nitrates to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Wabash River Watershed also sports low dissolved oxygen content, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury in fish tissue, and excess sediment. Excess nitrogen and other pollutants cause oxygen-depleted and uninhabitable dead zones in waterways.

Wetlands help clean these habitats by filtering out impurities such as nitrates from agriculture land before it enters local waterways. Reforesting the Patoka River flood plain boosts the ability of these wetlands to naturally filter out pollutants.

This reforestation project will benefit a wide range of wildlife, including the federally endangered Indiana bat and gray bat, the federally threatened copperbelly water snake, and the federally endangered rabbitsfoot freshwater mussel.

Waterfowl also benefit, as new forests provide habitat and food for mallards and other ducks.

These project sites historically were bottomland hardwood forests, but were cleared for agricultural purposes. The hardwood tree seedlings will come from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources' Vallonia Nursery and include Burr Oak, Cherrybark Oak, Pin Oak, Shellbark Hickory and Bald Cypress.

Partnering on the project is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge.