A Talk on the Wild Side.
A Talk on the Wild Side
The Prairie Pothole region is known as America's Duck Factory because so many waterfowl breed there. Photo by USFWS
In celebration of American Wetlands Month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put together our first-ever national podcast dedicated solely to wetlands and the important role these ecosystems play in our lives. It’s not just about how incredibly important wetlands are to Americans for clean water, outdoor recreation, wildlife and supporting endangered species, but about the people and history, as well as 21st century threats and innovative conservation tools.
In the podcast you’ll hear stories about:
The saltmarsh sparrow hangs on. Photo by USFWS
Service wildlife biologist Kate O'Brien at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in southern Maine and Aimee Weldon with the Service’s Atlantic Coast Joint Venture discuss an imperiled bird that spends its entire life in the coastal salt marshes of the eastern United States, incredibly important ecosystems that are themselves endangered.
To survive in salt marshes, the saltmarsh sparrow has developed remarkable strategies that have worked well for more than 10,000 years, which you’ll hear about, in addition to the impacts of rising sea levels, which have put these birds in steep decline. You’ll also hear about the incredible community of conservationists and researchers that study the sparrow, and have been working to conserve it and its salt marsh habitat for more than two decades.
A saltmarsh sparrow nest. Photo by USFWS
And while this might sound like a monumental task, Service biologists and our partners remain hopeful and committed.
Back in 1975 the National Wetlands Inventory Program was created to help conserve wetlands - a huge national concern at that time and now, with more than 50 percent of wetlands in the lower 48 lost since the 1780s. Even at that time of limited geospatial technology it was clear that maps of America’s remaining wetlands were needed to understand the role of wetlands in supporting our communities and wildlife, and how best to conserve these natural resources.
Today more than half a million users visit our Wetlands Mapper interface every year, and those users download nearly 400 maps a day. People downloading these maps include private landowners, city planners, and members of state and federal agencies, industry, conservation groups and universities. The rate of map downloads has steadily increased every year. Where there are people and wetlands, there are maps being downloaded, especially in places where critical decisions are being made about the fate of wetlands.
In this podcast, you’ll learn about how the Service is going about the time-intensive work of updating our wetlands database, in part by applying new technologies. You’ll hear from leaders in this effort, such as Bill Wilen, who over the last 40 years has been singularly focused on wetland conservation through increased awareness of and access to vital information about them.
A mallard hen in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota. Photo by Ryan Moehring/USFWS
The Prairie Pothole region is perhaps one of the most unheralded wetland ecosystems in the country. This area sits in the heart of North America - consisting of about 300,000 square miles, with two thirds in Canada and a third in the United States, with pothole wetlands in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
Sean Fields, with the Migratory Birds Joint Ventures Program and Linda Vance, senior ecologist with the Montana Natural Heritage Program in Helena, Montana will share more about this important ecosystem, including current and historical threats. She’ll talk about what’s being done to preserve agricultural and other major land uses in the region, while also protecting and restoring wetlands that support more than half of the waterfowl in North America.
To enhance that effort, the Service is working with diverse local and state partners in Montana to map its wetlands, including Vance. According to her, Montana is a little bit unique in that, of the northern states, it’s one of the few that has not lost the majority of its wetlands; we still have, we think, 60-70% of the original wetlands up in the prairie. Vance and her colleagues work to protect this remaining intact habitat, as well as restore wetlands that have been lost.
Vance also underscores the importance of this work and its outcomes: