Ducks Unlimited and several partners are helping rewind the clock in northwest Pennsylvania by restoring health and public access to a critical wetland area upended by human development in the 1970s.

The partnership acquired 130 acres of retired agriculture land in Mercer County that will be added to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC)'s adjacent 1,438-acre State Game Lands 151. This site is open to the public and offers hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, biking and bird watching. Combining on the effort is DU, the PGC, Waterfowl USA, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act

"This project will provide ample recreational opportunities and hopefully increase the number of hunters and outdoors enthusiasts in northwest Pennsylvania," said Jim Feaga, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist in Pennsylvania.

The site was altered in the 1970s for aquaculture farming. Wetlands were diked, deepened and managed for baitfish. The operation ceased in the 1990s and the property was left degraded ever since.

The property's backstory is commonplace across the state. Pennsylvania has lost nearly 60 percent of its historical wetlands to agriculture, land development, highway construction, dams and peat mining. As a result, water flowing from the landscape often overwhelms remaining wetlands. The result are unnatural, deeper bodies of water more susceptible to invasive species.

The next step is to restore the land to 124 acres of functional wetlands and six acres of upland habitat. The property will remain in PGC's ownership and protected in perpetuity.

"Restoring these wetlands will remove infrastructure left behind from the farming operation," Feaga said. "We'll install new water-control structures that will give the PGC the means to re-create natural wetland conditions and establish a balanced environment for plants, ducks and other wildlife."

The property is in DU's Great Lakes/Northwest Pennsylvania International Conservation Priority Area, within 30 miles of Pymatuning Reservoir and 60 miles of Lake Erie, both major stopover areas for millions of migratory birds. The restored habitat will provide habitat for migrant songbirds, foraging opportunities for birds and roosting opportunities for bats.

The restored habitat provides other benefits for wildlife and people including improved water quality, educational opportunities and increased recreational opportunities.