HARRISBURG, Pa.— Feb. 1, 2023 — The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Ducks Unlimited (DU) have partnered to improve 1,600 acres of wetland habitats on 61 state game lands across Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Wetland Habitat Initiative (PWHI) is a $6 million investment that aims to replace water control structures and improve existing spillways and levees over the next three years at sites in 31 counties throughout each of the Game Commission’s six regions.
“This is the largest conservation initiative Ducks Unlimited has ever been involved with in Pennsylvania, and we are excited to work with the Game Commission to improve wetland habitat statewide,” said DU Regional Biologist Jim Feaga.
Due to dilapidated infrastructure, the management of wetlands on state game lands has been an ongoing challenge. For decades, outdated pipes, boards, and damaged dikes have limited site managers’ ability to maintain wetland impoundments properly. But the PWHI – courtesy of funding from USFWS Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program and the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, which uses excise taxes from gun and ammunition sales – will inject new life into Pennsylvania’s wetlands, improving wildlife habitat, water quality, and flood control.
“The effort seeks to restore habitats to benefit several species of waterfowl, shorebirds, secretive marsh birds, waterbirds and other wetland-dependent wildlife,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “In an effort to ensure all managed wetlands are functioning as intended, the agency committed $6 million in federal Pittman-Robertson funds to begin updating infrastructure over the next three years. The enhancements will include repairing dikes and berms, replacing boards and more.”
The ability to manipulate water levels is paramount in creating healthy wetlands and duck habitat. Timely spring drawdowns allow natural vegetation to grow, so that when water is added in the fall, migrating waterfowl and other water-bird species can feast on the seeds and tubers of native plants, such as smartweed, sago pondweed, and coontail, plus the invertebrates that inhabit these food sources and associated mudflats. Plants like cattails also offer a place for birds to refuge, rest, and protect themselves from wind and rain during inclement weather.
To replenish the state’s wetlands, new water control structures will be put in place. Dikes and spillways will be repaired, as will the boards that regulate wetland water levels. This means water can be managed more efficiently on game lands.
This infrastructure work—and ability to draw water down so vegetation can grow—will also filter the water by removing sediments, excess nutrients, and pollutants, resulting in increased quality. When wetlands are devoid of aquatic plants, the water cannot be cleaned naturally. And when a wetland is barren, sediment at the bottom will stir, keeping the water unfiltered and dirty. Establishing healthy wetlands helps control flooding as well. Trees, roots, and vegetation slow the flow of water into the floodplain, acting as a sponge, and keeping water levels lower during flooding. Wetlands also combat erosion and sedimentation, critical to the overall health of the environment, particularly bird populations.
"The Game Commission has contracted with Ducks Unlimited to provide expert technical guidance and assist with various aspects of the project, including site evaluations, surveys, project designs, and implementation,” Burhans said. “We are looking forward to working with DU to complete these important updates for waterfowl and waterfowl hunters.”
To learn more about the Pennsylvania Wildlife Habitat Initiative, and the effort that makes it possible, visit the PWHI page at www.pgc.pa.gov.