DU, Caterpillar Foundation improve landscape

Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri.

Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Missouri.

For more than five years, Ducks Unlimited and the Caterpillar Foundation have moved dirt and raised the bar on partnership-driven conservation to improve water quality, duck habitat and the quality of life for area residents.

The Foundation has contributed $2.1 million toward DU’s mission of wetlands and waterfowl conservation, focusing projects on changing how people live.

The partnership will restore or enhance nearly 9,000 acres of wetlands and uplands in DU’s Big Rivers Initiative (BRI) and Living Lakes Initiative (LLI) areas. Caterpillar Foundation’s most recent pledge in late 2019 was for $750,000.

“The powerful Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio Rivers and their floodplains cut through the eastern half of North America, carrying life-giving water for ducks and people,” said Mark Flaspohler, DU’s director of conservation for the BRI. “However, human development has erased nearly 70 percent of these critical wetlands. Caterpillar Foundation’s commitment to stand by DU gives us the resources to make big differences for residents and continental waterfowl.”

In addition to waterfowl migration, nesting and wintering habitat, wetlands reduce the effects of downstream flooding. The lack of wetlands in the Living Lakes and Big Rivers areas create a risk for residents that the Foundation and DU want to shrink. Since 2000, the National Weather Service lists six major flooding instances along the Mississippi River, an average of one every three years.

The conservation work through the partnership will mitigate the impacts of flooding and storm events, and ultimately, improving the living conditions for people in the Upper Mississippi River floodplain. The 9,000 conserved acres will reduce flood damage costs by an estimated $1.5 million.

The Caterpillar Foundation-DU partnership has supported numerous large projects including:

  • Enhancement of the 2,600-acre Dixon Waterfowl Refuge in Illinois.
  • Enhancement of the 300-acre Big Spring Marsh at Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area in Ohio.
  • Enhancement of 260 acres at Timms Lake, Minnesota.
  • Restoration of 780 acres of wetlands and grasslands and enhancement of 1,110 acres of shallow wetlands at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri.

“More than 90 percent of the prairie potholes in the LLI have been lost to drainage and conversion and more than 99 percent of its prairies have been plowed under or paved over,” said Jon Schneider, DU’s director of conservation for the LLI. “Caterpillar Foundation’s support of this conservation effort helps more than ducks. Wetlands benefit local residents by providing more recreational areas, improving water quality and boosting the economy.”