Following severe flooding in 2019 which delayed construction, one of the oldest publicly managed wetland areas in Missouri will receive a major upgrade as Ducks Unlimited helps the Missouri Department of Conservation give new life to a vital Mississippi Flyway stopover.

Ducks Unlimited is leading a $4.5 million NAWCA project with 13 other conservation partners to help support enhancement and restoration efforts on Schell-Osage Conservation Area, an 8,600-acre property on the west-central side of Missouri along the banks of the Osage River.

Numerous organizations are involved in planning the 4,000-acre enhancement.

Since the early 1960s Schell-Osage has been managed for migratory birds and has attracted waterfowl hunters, anglers, birders and other outdoor enthusiasts. Aging infrastructure and changing climate conditions mean the wetland complex needs an upgrade.

Ducks Unlimited and partners will enhance 3,935 acres through several improvements. Replacing levees, updating water-control structures and widening boat channels means healthier habitat for wildlife. The project will improve floodplain function, offer more effective water management and reduce damage from the frequent flooding that occurs along the Osage River.

Project funding is supported by a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant with $3.5 million in match dollars from the 13 partners. Ducks Unlimited uses support from donors and corporate partners such as Caterpillar, which is a major supporter of DU's Big Rivers Initiative.

More than 277 bird species, including migratory birds, waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds visit Schell-Osage. In addition to shorebird congregations, the area is a major stopover for ducks during spring and fall migration. Wood ducks and Canada geese are abundant during the nesting and brood rearing period. During mild winters, waterfowl overwinter on the area, which hosts more than 100,000 ducks during some years, along with Canada Geese.

Many folks have fond memories of Schell-Osage, said Mark Flaspohler, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs for Missouri and DUs Big Rivers Initiative. The area is a well-known birding hotspot, as evidence by the large number of waterfowlers and by the enthusiastic support of multiple Audubon chapters.