Wetlands, also known as marshes, sloughs, potholes, and ponds, dominate much of the landscape in the Refuge. They are important in many ways and vary greatly by size and type.
Temporary and seasonal wetlands tend to be smaller and are shallower and thaw quickly in the spring. They support myriads of aquatic insects, snails and other invertebrates that are a rich source of protein for waterfowl returning to the area to nest. They typically hold water for only a few days to a few weeks and are most vulnerable to drainage.
Deeper, more permanent wetlands tend to be larger and thaw later in the spring. These provide habitat for hens with broods later in summer as well as molting areas for flightless birds. It is the combination of small, shallow wetlands and large, deeper wetlands that is so attractive to waterfowl.
The most obvious beneficiary of wetlands is wildlife. Wetlands are absolutely essential to waterfowl production, providing not only food and shelter, but also nesting sites. Wetlands also provide food and shelter year-round for many resident wildlife species as well as provide important habitat for migrating birds.
However, the benefits of wetlands are not exclusive to wildlife. Wetlands act as "nature's sponges and filters" by attenuating flood waters, reducing erosion, removing sediments and pollutants, and recharging groundwater. Wetlands also support countless recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, bird watching, and photography. They also provide valuable livestock water and produce an abundance of forage.
Many areas of the refuge still support high densities of wetlands. The rocky, hilly, and less fertile areas of the Missouri Coteau have prevented many acres from being cultivated, thereby saving wetlands from drainage. Areas in the more fertile and less hilly/rocky Drift Prairie to the east are more conducive to tillage agriculture and, therefore, a higher percentage of wetlands have been drained. North Dakota and the Prairie Pothole Region have lost more than 50% of their wetlands due to drainage and development.
District staff work with a variety of programs and tools to preserve, protect, and restore wetlands. Private landowners, conservation organizations, as well as other governmental agencies are valuable partners in striving for a common goal: a healthy ecosystem in which wetlands play a crucial role in maintaining environmental integrity.
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