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Ducks Unlimited

Since 2020, Ducks Unlimited (DU) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) have been working together, restoring native wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of Iowa, to improve water quality which benefits wildlife and state residents. Iowa has undertaken an aggressive initiative to reduce 45% of the nitrogen that enters its waterways through the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. To accomplish this goal, the state hopes to construct thousands of wetlands that act as filters for nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. 

Due to the success of the partnership, 10 wetlands have been restored thus far in the PPR. The two organizations recently agreed to a five-year contract that includes $7.1 million in funding. The focus of this project is on wetland habitat but will also include the implementation of saturated buffers, bioreactors (wood chip pits that filter water from tile runoff), multi-purpose oxbows and other soil health practices. 

“We need boots on the ground to help enroll more farmers in this easement program that is so critical to saving wetlands and improving surface water quality in Iowa,” said DU Regional Biologist Mike Shannon. “These easements include a suite of options shaped around farming practices. We want to build buffers and create wetlands that make sense for the landowner.” 

A majority of the IDALS grant is dedicated to adding staff and planning. In the next five years, DU’s conservation specialists, Geographic Information Systems team, and engineers will identify 500 potential wetland locations, contact 400 prospective landowners, and assist in the installation of 60 new wetlands. DU will also help design 10 oxbows, 25 bioreactors, and a number of saturated buffers. 

“Not every landowner is automatically receptive to a cold call from someone they don’t know about building a wetland on their property,” Shannon said. “Oftentimes you can get a foot in the door by saying ‘let’s build some grass waterways or plant cover crops’ because those are much less intrusive on their farm. Then once you gain their trust, it can lead to larger projects like a wetland.”  

Iowa has lost 90% of its historical wetlands. The state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy targets public and private lands, but since almost 98% of Iowa is privately held, working with landowners is a critical component of reaching that 45% nitrogen reduction.  

“Water quality wetlands not only do an excellent job of filtering water before it reaches our rivers, lakes, and streams, but these beautiful additions to our landscape also provide excellent habitat for wildlife,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “We are proud to continue our partnership with Ducks Unlimited because it has already produced impactful results. Our new agreement means we can accelerate the construction of even more wetlands as well as additional conservation practices that improve water quality and soil health in Iowa.”