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Wetlands of the United States
Their Extent and Their Value To Waterfowl and Other Wildlife

Undisturbed marshes, swamps, and overflow lands have many inherent values and a variety of uses. This article is confined to the use of these natural wetlands by wildlife. Millions of Americans rely on wild animals to furnish them with healthful outdoor recreation.

Other values of wetlands include the storage of ground water, the retention of surface water for farm uses, the stabilization of runoff, the reduction or prevention of erosion, the production of timber, the creation of firebreaks, the provision of an outdoor laboratory for students and scientists, and the production of cash crops such as minnows (for bait), marsh hay, wildrice, blueberries, cranberries, and peat moss. Some wetlands provide good fishing.

This article points out relative values of different types of wetlands to wild game in general and to waterfowl in particular. It locates and describes areas that should be protected and improved to meet the needs of a stable or increasing waterfowl population. The information is presented with the fervent hope that it will assist and stimulate the establishment of more comprehensive land-use programs and policies. The inventory was financed largely by funds derived from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps.

The wetlands data on which this report is based were gathered by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the cooperation of various State fish and game agencies. Much of the assessment of waterfowl values was made by State biologists for their respective States.

The Problem of Saving Wetlands
The great natural wealth that originally made possible the growth and development of the United States included a generous endowment of shallow-water and waterlogged lands. The original inhabitants of the New World had utilized the animals living among these wet places for food and clothing, but they permitted the land to remain essentially unchanged.

The advent of European settlers brought great changes in the land, and aquatic habitats were particularly vulnerable to the settlers' activities. Kenney and McAtee wrote in 1938:

Among the assets of mankind, wildlife receives its true appraisal only in advanced stages of civilization, when, owing to the heedless destruction of earlier times, it has been seriously if not irreparably reduced. Under pioneer conditions the rules for the treatment of wildlife are immediate exploitation of the useful and drastic destruction of the useless, and these rules tend to remain in effect long after the original motives are gone. In the earlier stages of settlement no one thinks of allotting any land for the use of wildlife; the effort is to wrest every possible acre from nature and make it yield an income. There is no vision to see, there is no time to learn, that land units with their natural occupants, as exemplified by a beaver meadow, a muskrat marsh, a duck lake, a deer forest, or an antelope mesa, are productive entities that under certain circumstances may be worth far more than anything man can put in their place and that once destroyed may never be reestablished.

The term "wetlands," as used in this article and in the wildlife field generally, refers to lowlands covered with shallow and sometimes temporary or intermittent waters. They are referred to by such names as marshes, swamps, bogs, wet meadows, potholes, sloughs, and river-overflow lands. Shallow lakes and ponds, usually with emergent vegetation as a conspicuous feature, are included in the definition, but the permanent waters of streams, reservoirs, and deep lakes are not included. Neither are water areas that are so temporary as to have little or no effect on the development of moist-soil vegetation. Usually these very temporary areas are of no appreciable value to the species of wildlife considered in this article.

Most wetlands can be drained or filled to create suitable land for agricultural, industrial, or residential expansion. Others lie in potential impoundment sites where permanent deep-water environments can be developed. If either type of project is carried out, however, the food and cover plants required by waterfowl and other wetland wildlife no longer grow in abundance. These aquatic plants need waterlogged or shallow-water soils in order to thrive.

Apparently, a great many people still think that until one of these two courses is followed, any wetland area is just so much wasteland--an unfortunate occurrence in the land-economist's classification of productive land uses. So long as this belief prevails, wetlands will continue to be drained, filled, diked, impounded, or otherwise altered, and thus will lose their identity as wetlands and their value as wildlife habitat.

State and Federal agencies engaged in conflicting programs of wetland destruction and wetland preservation must work together to develop unified wetland-use programs that are both acceptable to the landowner and beneficial to the Nation.

It is one-sided planning, for example, if a flood-control agency neglects wildlife values as it plans for the elimination of river-overflow areas, when these areas are used by millions of ducks during the winter season.

In land-use planning, an agency dealing with drainage projects would be subject to criticism if its plans to remove water from extensive marshlands or scattered potholes were developed without regard for the fact that, individually or collectively, they provide essential habitat for thousands of duck broods, as well as homes for economically important muskrats and other fur animals.

Total-resource planning would be equally ineffective if the wetland preservationists sat on the sidelines and objected to all drainage and flood-control projects without appreciating the requirements of these other interests or offering to cooperate in a plan to help preserve the best wildlife wetlands.

Within the past decade, there has been an increased awareness on the part of game and fish administrators and the general public that the preservation of aquatic habitats must be a cooperative endeavor. Fish and wildlife agencies, because of limited funds and personnel, could never hope to do an adequate job by themselves. They need the help of other land-use agencies whose primary responsibilities lie outside the fish and game field. Cooperative planning with these agencies can go a long way in preserving and improving conditions for wetland-inhabiting fish and wildlife -- by providing that proper attention is given to their habitat needs.

The ultimate importance of waterfowl and other wetland wildlife in furnishing recreation for the growing population of our country will depend on the extent to which wetlands are preserved as wildlife habitat in connection with the use and development of other resource needs. In many instances, wildlife must be a byproduct of more essential land and water uses; in others, wildlife production should be the primary objective of land use. In any case, advance planning must be done before it is too late.

As a basic step to such planning, the Fish and Wildlife Service, with full cooperation of the State game agencies, began an extensive inventory of the wetlands in the United States to determine (a) the location and extent of wetlands in each of the 48 States, (b) the wetland types in each area or group of areas, and (c) their relative usefulness to wildlife, particularly waterfowl, in the States where they are found. More than 74 million acres of wetlands were delineated, classified, and evaluated. The inventory covered both private and public lands.

A Century of Wetland Exploitation
Some understanding of what is likely to happen to the wetlands in the next hundred years can be gained by looking at changes during the past century. Reviewed here are some of the highlights of national legislation affecting the status of wetlands and the results of some previous wetland surveys. Land-use activities resulting in wetland reclamation or modification (principally through drainage) are also evaluated.

SWAMP LAND ACTS OF 1849, 1850, AND 1860
The sentiment in Congress during the middle of the 19th century was that public domain had little value until it became settled, thereby ceasing to be public domain. Wetlands were actually considered a menace and hindrance to land development.

As first passed (1849), the Swamp Land Act granted to Louisiana all swamp and overflow lands then unfit for cultivation, the object being to help in controlling floods in the Mississippi River Valley. In 1850, the act was made applicable to the other 12 public-domain States. In 1860, its provisions were extended to Minnesota and Oregon.

The original purpose of the grants was to enable the States to reclaim their wetlands by the construction of levees and drains. The States were supposed to carry out a program of reclamation that not only would lessen destruction caused by extensive inundations but also would eliminate mosquito-breeding swamps. As of June 30, 1954, a total of 64,895,415 acres of wetlands had been patented to the 15 States affected (table 1). Minor adjustments are still going on, although it is unlikely that the figure will ever reach 65 million acres. Swamplands never were ceded to the other 19 public-land States.

The 13 original States retained all unsold land within their boundaries when the Federal Government was first organized; Texas retained all its unsold land at the time of annexation. The extensive coastal marshes of these 14 States, therefore, were never owned by the Federal Government.

Table l. -- Acreage granted to States for swamp reclamation
[Action authorized by Swamp Land Acts of 1849, 1850, and 1860]
State Acres
Alabama 441,289
Arkansas 7,686,575
California 2,192,875
Florida 20,325,013
Illinois 1,460,164
Indiana 1,259,231
Iowa 1,196,392
Louisiana 9,493,456
Michigan 5,680,310
Minnesota 4,706,503
Mississippi 3,347,860
Missouri 3,432,481
Ohio 26,372
Oregon 286,108
Wisconsin 3,360,786
Total 64,895,415

It would be pointless to trace in detail the use and misuse of lands granted to the 15 States under the Swamp Land Acts. A few examples from Iowa may suffice. In this State the land was turned over to the counties. It was bartered for all sorts of considerations, such as public buildings, bridges, and like purposes foreign to the intent of the acts granting the land. Some counties went beyond this and bargained with immigration companies, selling the land to a company for 25 to 75 cents an acre, with the provision that the company put settlers on the land. In other cases, the land was sold by the county commissioners to themselves for nominal considerations. Other counties gave their wetlands to railroad companies.

Of approximately 65 million acres of wetlands given to the States, nearly all are now in private ownership. The landowners can do with them as they wish. It is unfortunate that water-conservation and waterfowl-protection areas were not selected and set aside for public benefit at numerous locations before the lands were transferred from Federal ownership. If this had been the case, the Government would not now be in the position of buying these "wastelands" at high prices.

The first attempt at a national inventory of remaining wetlands was made in 1906. The U. S. Department of Agriculture was requested by the Congress to seek information on the extent, character, and agricultural potentialities of the wetlands of the nation. To supplement and verify existing data on the subject, a questionnaire was sent to one or more persons in each county in States east of the 115th meridian. In his letter requesting the information, the Chief of Irrigation and Drainage Investigations of the Office of Experiment Stations stated:

This office is being called upon by Members of Congress and others interested in the matter for information as to the amount and location of swamp and overflowed lands in the United States that can be reclaimed for agriculture. These frequent inquiries, together with the fact that numerous bills were introduced in both Houses of the last Congress for the drainage of swamp lands, show that the reclamation of these lands is fast becoming a matter of national importance.

Eight of the public-land States in the arid West were excluded from the inventory, as were all coastal lands overflowed daily by tidewater. Obviously, the inventory was not a complete picture of wetlands existing at that time. Rather it was an inventory of wetlands that probably could be easily reclaimed. It was estimated at the time that 79 million acres of swamp and overflowed land could be made fit for profitable agriculture. This was broken down into categories arranged according to agricultural capabilities under existing conditions as follows:

1. Permanently wet and not fit for cultivation, even in favorable years, unless cleared or protected   52,700,000
2. Wet pasture for livestock, though forage often of inferior quality   6,800,000
3. Subject to periodic overflow by streams, but at times produce crops   14,700,000
4. Too wet for profitable crops during above-normal rainfall periods, but usable during seasons of light or medium rainfall   4,800,000

Most drainage projects since that time have reclaimed lands in the last three categories. Although some attempts have been made to drain wetlands in the first category, such projects have generally been the least successful from the agricultural standpoint.

The second inventory of wetlands, conducted in 1922, was recorded in the 1923 Yearbook of Agriculture. It was conducted by the Bureau of Agricultural Economics of the U. S. Department of Agriculture and was based on data furnished by the U. S. Bureau of Public Roads, on soil-survey reports, on topographic maps of the U. S. Geological Survey, on various State reports, and on results of the 1920 census of drainage. This inventory is the most complete nationwide survey of wetlands ever conducted and is the basis, even today, of most reclaimable wetland estimates.

The 1922 inventory showed 91,543,000 acres, of which 7,363,000 acres were listed as tidal marsh and the remainder as inland marsh, swamp, and overflow land. After subtracting 16 million acres of very deep peat and some coastal-marsh areas, the investigators believed that 75 million acres of wetlands would be suitable for crops after drainage. Of this amount, about two-thirds would have to be both drained and cleared of trees or brush (swamps and timbered overflow lands), and one-third required only drainage (herbaceous marshes).

Two recent estimates of wetland acreage appear in publications of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. From a drainage reconnaissance survey, technicians of the Soil Conservation Service estimated that in 1940 there were 97,332,000 acres of "wet, swampy and overflow land outside organized drainage enterprises."

In the latest (1953) U. S. Department of Agriculture publication on the subject, the statement is made:

Our country includes within its boundaries 125 million acres of undeveloped wet and swamp lands which are subject to overflow. With proper drainage and protection, an estimated two-fifths of this area, or 50 million acres, would be physically suitable for crop or pasture use.

The several wetland inventories just referred to are not directly comparable. Acreages granted to the States under the Swamp Land Acts apply to only 15 States. The inventory of 1906 excluded eight States in the West as well as tidewater marshes. The 1922 inventory was the most complete and no doubt represents areas of natural marsh, swamp, and overflow lands which, at that time, had been little changed by drainage or by flood-control projects.

The two recent reconnaissance surveys by the U. S. Department of Agriculture represent many millions of acres not ordinarily thought of as wetlands--such as crop and pasture lands that can be made more productive by removing waterlogged tracts.

It is difficult, therefore, to arrive at reliable figures representing the actual reduction in original wetlands through drainage and flood-control activities since this country first started its agricultural and industrial expansion. Table 2 attempts to do this for seven selected States, where data from three previous wetland summaries and the current inventory by the Fish and Wildlife Service appear comparable. These same States were particularly active with wetland-reclamation projects, inasmuch as they include nearly 40 percent of all land in drainage enterprises today; yet they contain only 16 percent of the land area of the United States.

Table 2 suggests that 17 million acres of original wetlands have been lost in only seven States. The U. S. Department of Agriculture estimates that, in the country as a whole, 45 million acres were reclaimed by a combination of clearing, drainage, and flood control on land in publicly organized drainage and flood-control enterprises. Forty million acres more are listed as reclaimed by drainage and flood protection alone, although admittedly there was considerable duplication in the areas measured. Also, some of this land reported as "improved" for cropland and pasture was probably suited to such purposes before the advent of the reclamation projects. However, it seems reasonably safe to state that at least 45 million acres of our primitive marshes, swamps, and seasonally flooded bottomlands are now devoted to crops, pasture, and other dry-land uses.

Table 2. -- Change in wetland acreage since 1850
State Swamplands patented to States since 1850 USDA inventory of 1906 USDA inventory of 1922 Current FWS inventory 1
  Acres Acres Acres Acres
Arkansas 7,686,575 5,912,300 4,220,000 3,748,800
California 2,192,875 3,420,000 1,179,000 457,000
Florida 20,325,013 19,800,000 16,846,000 15,266,400
Illinois 1,460,164 925,000 600,000 176,700
Indiana 1,259,231 625,000 778,000 267,100
Iowa 1,196,392 930,000 368,000 117,000
Missouri 3,432,481 2,439,600 1,085,000 322,000
  -------------- -------------- -------------- --------------
Total 37,552,731 34,051,900 25,076,000 20,355,200
Percent reduction since 1850   9.3 33.2 45.7
1Figures in this column do not agree with State-total figures in table 6 because acreages of open-water types are excluded in order to represent coverage similar to the 1850,1906, and 1922 inventories.

The Soil Conservation Service has estimated the original, natural wetlands of this country at 127 million acres. Assuming a minimum loss of 45 million acres, we now have in this country about 82 million acres of land that is too wet for crop or pasture use -- lands on which drainage or flood-control operations so far have had little effect on their original wet condition. This figure corresponds to information gathered during the current inventory by the Fish and Wildlife Service, in which 74.4 million acres were delineated and an estimated 5 to 7 million acres were bypassed.

Spokesmen for the preservation of waterfowl habitat have often turned to acreage figures of drainage enterprises as a good source of information on the loss of waterfowl wetlands. Drainage, it is true, has been and will probably continue to be the greatest single destroyer of duck habitat. However, not all improved land in present drainage enterprises represents former marshes and swamps. Much of it was essentially dry land to begin with. Also, much land now in drainage enterprises is still in its original wet condition.

In 30 States where 50,655,190 acres are listed as "land drained," 12,400,059 acres of this total are classed as unfit for cultivation because of poor drainage. Losses to crops occur frequently on an additional 9,176,046 acres classed as having only fair drainage. Thus, there appear to be good opportunities to preserve and develop waterfowl habitat by working in cooperation with active drainage enterprises which still have vast acreages of natural marshes and swamps within their districts.

In connection with the 1930 census of drainage, which listed a countrywide total of about 84 million acres in organized drainage enterprises, the statement is made that of this amount 31,600,000 acres had been fit to raise a normal crop prior to drainage and 19,100,000 acres fit to raise a partial crop. Thus, more than 50 million of the 84 million acres, or about 60 percent of the land then in organized drainage enterprises, could be classed as "fair" to "good" for agriculture before any drainage improvements were undertaken. Obviously, we cannot use drainage-enterprise figures to show the extent of waterfowl-habitat losses unless we take into account these before-and-after conditions.

More than one-fifth of this country's cropland is in drainage enterprises. Farmers in the humid parts, and in some of the semihumid parts, of the United States (including the two Dakotas) drain to take surplus rainfall off some of their lands. Most of this is gravity drainage, although pumps are sometimes used. In the Western States where irrigation is practiced, drainage is mainly for the purpose of taking seepage water off irrigated lands and carrying away alkali salts.

Table 3 gives drainage-enterprise statistics for certain years when census figures were available. Forty States now have organized drainage enterprises. Because of differences in organization and management, it was necessary in the 1950 census to arbitrarily divide the 40 States into two groups: the 10 "county-drain" States 2 and the 30 "drainage-district" States.

Table 3.-- Growth and condition of land in drainage enterprises for specified years

[In acres. Data from publications by Miller, 1950; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1950; and Wooten, 1953.
Kind of land 1920 1930 1940 1950
All drainage States:        
Land in enterprises 65,495,000 84,408,000 86,967,000 102,673,000
Improved land 1 44,288,000 63,514,000 67,514,000 82,138,000
Land available for settlement 3,120,800 4,204,100 4,569,000 ( 2 )
Thirty drainage-district States:        
Land in enterprises 22,281,300 36,688,000 39,872,000 46,546,000
Good Drainage (no loss of cultivated crops) ( 2 ) 26,444,000 30,270,000 24,970,000
Fair drainage (frequent loss of cultivated crops) ( 2 ) 5,903,000 3,430,000 9,176,000
Poor drainage (unfit for cultivation) ( 2 ) 4,341,000 6,172,000 12,400,000
Land improved or reclaimed by drainage ( 2 ) 29,587,000 29,362,000 41,759,000
Land protected against overflow ( 2 ) 3,786,000 6,150,000 3,516,000
Land improved by removal of alkali or seepage ( 2 ) 3,315,000 4,360,000 1,271,000
1Improved lands are regularly tilled or mowed, cleared for pasture, or used for farm sites, ditches, or roads. Much of this land was essentially dry before drainage.
2Not available.

Of the total acreage in the 30 drainage-district States, 31 percent was organized between 1940 and 1949, 7 percent between 1930 and 1939, 14 percent between 1920 and 1929, 33 percent between 1910 and 1919, 10 percent between 1900 and 1909, and 5 percent before 1900.

Agricultural drainage and flood control have doubtless been the greatest destroyers of wetland habitat in the country as a whole, but other factors, operative particularly in coastal marshes, have significantly reduced both the quantity and the quality of wetlands useful to wildlife.

A system of intracoastal canals and connecting waterways to oil fields has eliminated thousands of acres of marshes. Inlets cut to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf allow salt water to invade fresh lagoons and marshes, thereby reducing their wildlife value. At low tides, the marshes traversed by these canals suffer from abnormally low water tables, the full effects of which occur during periods of extreme drought. As Cottam and Bourn point out, "Such extremes and not the means in water relations determine ecological trends and wildlife values of a particular marsh area".

Ditches for mosquito control and for production of saltmarsh hay along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Virginia have affected 90 percent of this region's total original acreage of tidewater marshlands. Such projects remove many of the open-water areas that are of particular value to waterfowl. Shrubby growths of groundselbush and marsh elder largely replace the marshes' natural grass associations, and invertebrate animals that are important food items for waterfowl, shore birds, and fish are drastically reduced.

Both coastal marshes and interior marshes and swamps are being dissected by more and more roads that drain or fill wetlands and induce further exploitation of adjacent areas. Expansion of cities, industrial sites, and resorts is often accomplished at the expense of good wetland-wildlife habitat. Wetlands are often filled in to allow development of airports and beach properties; such developments received tremendous impetus immediately after the end of World War II. Some types of pollution also take a toll of wetlands habitat by adversely affecting vegetation. In the case of oil pollution, waterfowl are directly affected.

It must be kept in mind that as human populations continue to expand, the total wetland acreages will become smaller, and the job of preserving and developing wetlands for wildlife will become correspondingly bigger and more expensive. Never before in the Nation's history has it been so necessary to plan for the setting aside of land and water areas to serve the future needs of fish and wildlife, as well as to provide for the recreational needs of people who depend on these resources.

Wetland Soils

Soils provide the physical setting for generation after generation of man, lower animals, and plants. Wetland soils--a conspicuous feature of that setting--in many cases can be "improved" for man, for cultivated plants, and for domestic animals, or they can be left in their natural wet condition for wild plants and wild creatures. Geographic variations in climate, landform, and native vegetation largely determine the nature of the soil and hence the nature of acceptable land uses.

It may prove helpful, then, to take a brief look at wetland soils from the point of view of these geographic variations. Since it goes without saying that all wetland environments have some inherent wildlife values, which in many cases can be enhanced through habitat development, most of this discussion centers around past agricultural use--and, in many cases, misuse. Some wet soils have proved to be excellent cropland after being drained. Others have been completely unsuited to that purpose and should never have been drained.

As experience is gained in the field of soil capabilities, estimates of undeveloped wetlands that are physically feasible to drain for agricultural use have become progressively lower. Perhaps the day is near when a combination of soil science and greater wildlife-value appreciation will result in the setting aside of more and more wetland sites for wildlife use.

Some pedologists look upon soil as predominantly mineral matter found in subaerial rather than subaquatic situations. If this definition is accepted, those high-organic materials that are formed essentially from aquatic vegetation are actually not soils at all. Rather, they serve as the parent material from which future soils will develop. For soil-classification purposes, however, mineral soils are usually differentiated from the so-called organic soils associated with wetland environments.

Most types of waterlogged soils are grouped in two suborders known as hydromorphic and halomorphic. Hydromorphic soils are found in association with fresh-water marshes, swamps, seep areas, and flats. Halomorphic soils are the saline and alkali soils of imperfectly drained arid regions and the coastal salt flats of the humid belt. Alluvial soils underlie the remaining wetlands. Aside from alluvial areas and those upland depressions where water collects only for temporary periods, most wetlands delineated in this inventory are underlain by soil material known as peat or muck.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture Soil Survey Manual describes the formation and nature of peat and muck as follows:

In moist situations where organic matter forms more rapidly than it decomposes, peat deposits are formed. These peats become, in turn, parent material for soils. If the organic remains are sufficiently fresh and intact to permit identification of plant forms, the material is regarded as peat. If, on the other hand, the peat has undergone sufficient decomposition to make recognition of the plant parts impossible, the decomposed material is called muck. Generally speaking, muck has a higher mineral or ash content than peat, because in the process of decomposition the ash that was in the vegetation accumulates.

Peat and muck cover a total area in the United States estimated at 79 million acres. They exist under a wide range of climate and vegetation, but the most extensive areas are in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast marshes, Southeastern Coastal Plain, New England, the Great Lakes States, the Pacific Northwest, and the Pacific Coastal Valley Areas.

Northern areas. -- Northern peats and mucks are found in a cool-temperate, humid region extending from northeastern Maine and northwestern New Jersey to Minnesota and Illinois. They are also found scattered through northern Idaho and northern and western Washington on pitted plains, in stream valleys, and along borders of lakes. Native vegetation includes swamp forests of spruce, tamarack, and arborvitae in the north, and various conifers, maple, elm, and ash further south; reeds and sedges; and sphagnum moss and heath shrubs.

Peatlands in the northern sections of the region are not usually regarded as favorable for cultivated crops. They have not reached the advanced stage of decomposition of peat areas further south and are subject to late spring and early fall frosts. Many attempts at drainage have turned out to be expensive failures because the peat went through a period of shrinkage, and winds picked up the dry, fluffy particles from fields unprotected by windbreaks. This dry organic matter burns readily, and smoldering fires have destroyed many tons. However, some of the drained, dark-brown or black granular muck soils in the southern part of this area have produced fairly good vegetable crops.

Southeastern Coastal Plain. -- Extensive areas of woody and fibrous peat and muck occur in the flat seaward part of the southeastern Atlantic Coastal Plain. They occupy level upland terraces and border practically all lakes and streams near sea level. This region has abundant rainfall and high temperatures that favor peat decomposition. Native vegetation is mainly cypress and tupelogum forests, and cane.

The most common types of fibrous peat are derived from underground stems and roots of former stands of cane, sedges, rushes, and grasses accumulated in water basins or on land with a rising water table. There are also large areas of woody-fibrous peat, known as pocosins, which developed from a mixed open growth of cane and sedges interspersed with shrubs, such as gallberry and waxmyrtle.

There is little agricultural development of the organic soils in this region, and there is little probability of extensive use in the future. Growing of timber and utilization as a hunting and fishing area are among the more permanent uses of these lands. In areas such as the Dismal Swamp of Virginia and the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, the layers of woody peat have retarded the flow of surface waters with the result that the waters have been impounded in natural lakes.

Gulf Coastal Plain. -- Peat and muck areas in the warm and humid Gulf Coastal Plain are typified by the Everglades of Florida. Some marshes enclose water basins, others border ponds and wooded streams, and still others are built up on sandy plains or on bedrock near sea level. The climate is subtropical and humid, rainfall is heavy, and plants grow luxuriantly. Marshes are characterized by tall sedges, grasses, and rushes. Cypress and tupelo gum are predominant in the swamp forests.

Good-quality muck has developed in a narrow belt bordering the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee, where sugarcane and vegetables such as onions, cabbages, tomatoes, peppers, and beans are grown.

Throughout many centuries the layers of peat along the northern border of the Everglades impounded waters from the Kissimmee River basin, gradually giving rise to Lake Okeechobee. Plans are now under way to devote a large part of the Everglades to water conservation and wildlife management. These projects would help conserve surface waters, replenish ground water and artesian wells, and provide an increasing army of sportsmen with a good place to hunt and fish--all of which are essential to Florida's great tourist industry.

Pacific Coastal Valley areas. -- In the semiarid Pacific valleys, peat and muck developed in the marshes of the Klamath Plateau of northern California and southern Oregon and in the delta lands at the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers--about 50 miles inland from San Francisco. Rainfall is low, and summers are hot. Native vegetation is (or was) mostly reeds, sedges, rushes, and aquatic plants typical of shallow-water areas.

Drainage has been extensive in these two regions. At first, some of the drained areas under cultivation and irrigation in the Klamath district produced good yields of alsike clover, rye, barley, and tame grasses, but yields eventually declined as evaporation lowered the ground-water level and salts in injurious quantities accumulated at the surface.

The delta areas of California originally consisted of a number of peat islands. At present, most of these islands are under cultivation and are protected from overflow by levees. Yields are good to poor, depending on the type of peat. Under virgin conditions, the surface elevation of the peat islands was approximately at sea level. Since reclamation, most of them have been subsiding, and in some places cultural practices and occasional fires have lowered the present land surface to 8 or 10 feet below sea level.

In these inland areas of the Pacific slope, about 100,000 acres of drained but unproductive peat areas are now administered by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use by waterfowl. Most of the original wet conditions have been restored, and these areas now make excellent waterfowl refuges.

Coastal marshlands. -- Coastal marshlands occur mostly in tidal channels at the mouths of rivers, in quiet waters of lagoons, and behind barrier islands. There are about 9 million acres of these marshes, most of them along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. They vary from highly saline to fresh, and their vegetation varies accordingly. It includes cordgrasses, saltgrass, bulrushes, spikerushes, cattails, and some shrubs.

Several types of peat occur, each with distinct characteristics and suitabilities for agriculture. Generally, the surface materials consist of coarse, fibrous, yellowish-brown peat, which has gradually accumulated over black, clayey mud flats or loose, gray sand.

Experience, both in this country and abroad, shows that some types of coastal marshes, when drained and used for hay or grain crops, undergo decomposition and a long-continued shrinkage. Ditches become more and more ineffective, and further drainage can be accomplished only through an increased use of pumps and dikes.

Alluvial soils occur in all parts of the United States on flood plains, first bottoms, or low terraces along rivers. They are composed of the recently deposited water-borne materials that are little changed by their new environment.

Some of the most productive soils of the world are alluvial in origin. Since they need protection from high-water stages of rivers, many areas are provided with levees and major drainage facilities which greatly reduce their wildlife value.

Alluvial soils of the Northeast, the Prairies and Great Plains, and the arid West are now largely under controlled management for agriculture. Row crops are grown on the better soils, and land that is still poorly drained is used for hay and pasture.

The largest area of alluvial soils in the United States is along the Mississippi River below the mouth of the Ohio. Flood-control and drainage projects have reclaimed much of this area for agricultural use, but millions of acres still remain unprotected from overflow--much of it is forested with oak, hickory, gum, ash, and cypress. Such areas are heavily used by migrating and wintering waterfowl, because overflow periods and availability of mast crops usually coincide with the seasonal movement of ducks.

Since 1880, approximately 8 million acres of agricultural land have been developed for farming in the 75 counties of the lower Mississippi Delta. Most of this development was preceded by drainage, but protection from floods was influential in stimulating land development. This trend can be expected to continue in the future. Recent estimates indicate that nearly 6 million acres of fertile but undeveloped alluvial lands in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas are physically suitable, with improvements, for crop production and pasture.

Interior wetland soils suitable for future agricultural development are often in the areas that are used most heavily by waterfowl and other wildlife. Landform and native vegetation, singly or in combination, are probably responsible for this seemingly direct relation. Except for the alluvial valleys of the South, the best waterfowl wetlands are in grassland regions rather than forested regions, and where the relief is level to slightly rolling rather than strongly rolling or mountainous. The best agricultural lands also are found where such conditions are extant.

As an example, most of Minnesota's present-day drainage is in the flat to gently rolling grassland region of the State, where soils are inherently more fertile. This is also the region where most of the remaining wetlands are rated high in waterfowl value. High soil fertility and high wildlife production seem to go hand in hand where wetlands are concerned. This close tie-in between soil fertility and wildlife use has been noted for other game species--notably farm game and white-tailed deer.

Widespread drainage, of course, can upset this direct agriculture-waterfowl relation. Since the best agricultural lands are the ones receiving the most drainage, waterfowl habitat on such lands often becomes locally scarce. The birds are then forced to use less desirable locations. Population densities of breeding ducks in the Dakotas appear to be a case in point. The highest breeding-pair counts are recorded in the glaciated, hillier parts of the Dakotas, where drainage is uncommon.

The problem areas of the future are indicated in a general way in table 4. These estimates by the U. S. Soil Conservation Service show the location, by States, of nearly 21 million acres of undeveloped wet soils that are considered physically feasible to drain and convert to cultivation. They include lands both inside and outside organized drainage enterprises. There is every indication that competition between agricultural and wildlife interests over the use of wetland soils will continue to be intense in the years ahead.

The current inventory by the Service and the States can furnish guidelines to show where the wildlife agencies should be prepared to go into action and where other land-use agencies need to lend a hand in a balanced program for dedicating wetland soils to their best permanent uses.

Table 4. -- Estimated acreage of fertile, undeveloped land that is physically feasible to provide with drainage in selected humid sections of the United States, 1948
[States excluded are Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Data from Wooten and Purcell, 1949]
State Acres State Acres
Alabama 683,000 New Hampshire 18,000
Arkansas 1,865,000 New Jersey 60,000
Connecticut 22,000 New York 100,000
Delaware 34,000 North Carolina 1,157,000
Florida 1,970,000 North Dakota 29,000
Georgia 1,721,000 Ohio 95,000
Illinois 69,000 Oklahoma 35,000
Indiana 135,000 Oregon 61,000
Iowa 56,000 Pennsylvania 90,000
Kansas 30,000 Rhode Island 4,000
Kentucky 170,000 South Carolina 966,000
Louisiana 2,769,000 South Dakota 88,000
Maine 64,000 Tennessee 242,000
Maryland 63,000 Texas 3,928,000
Massachusetts 19,000 Vermont 18,000
Michigan 690,000 Virginia 514,000
Minnesota 874,000 Washington 137,000
Mississippi 1,272,000 West Virginia 15,000
Missouri 323,000 Wisconsin 316,000
Nebraska 22,000    
    Total 20,724,000

Drainage and other water-control projects affecting wetlands have a profound and frequently detrimental effect on both the quantity and the quality of these lands as waterfowl habitat. A few years ago it was impossible to estimate the net effects of such projects on waterfowl distribution and abundance, because there was not enough information. The present inventory makes it possible to know approximately how many acres of the different kinds of wetlands are used by waterfowl and to determine the relative value of these wet areas to ducks and geese in the individual States.

Federal and State agencies responsible for flood control, drainage, and related land-use adjustments can use the inventory to gain a perspective on the status of waterfowl habitat in areas where their projects are being planned. It is increasingly important that design for such projects should include facilities and measures needed to protect or enhance the remaining wetland habitat for wildlife.

Providing waterfowl with the required amount of habitat does not require that every acre of wetland be retained in its original state. In their present condition, millions of acres of wetlands are of little or no importance to waterfowl. Many projects can be designed to accomplish their primary purposes and, at the same time, maintain, or even increase, waterfowl values. On the other hand, in some regions of the country (notably, the prairie pothole region of the North Central States) practically any amount of drainage of marshes or of temporary surface water deprives waterfowl of irreplaceable breeding habitat.

The Corps of Engineers, Department of the Army, regularly eliminates wetlands in connection with its responsibility for providing flood-protection works and major drainage facilities throughout the country. Congress, however, in the Coordination Act approved August 14, 1946, provided that the Corps of Engineers and other Federal water-control agencies should consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the States concerned to determine the effects of proposed projects on fish and wildlife resources, with a view to avoiding or mitigating any damaging effects on wildlife. The wetlands inventory data now available should help in the prevention of unnecessary drainage of choice wetlands habitat, although constant vigilance by construction agencies and conservation interests will be needed to achieve this end.

Equally important is a clearer recognition of the need for additional waterfowl habitat in areas where the inventory shows a dearth of wetlands attractive to ducks and geese. Obviously, the wetlands inventory provides only the first step in meeting such a need, but often the first step in planning water-control projects is the most important.

Broad land-use programs, such as those of the Agricultural Conservation Program Service (ACPS) of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, can also capitalize on the wetlands inventory. Through ACPS, the Federal Government provides cash assistance to farmers in order to encourage the adoption of soil- and water-conservation practices, including drainage, that might not otherwise be undertaken. In addition, Congress has provided for insured loans to farmers for drainage and other land-treatment measures. Such incentives should be curtailed when they encourage the drainage of wetlands that constitute essential waterfowl habitat.

The Soil Conservation Service provides the technical know-how for doing the work by planning on-the-ground conservation practices. Part of this vast soil-conservation program is a nationwide soil-classification survey that undertakes to show how different soils should best be used -- whether for intensive cropping, regulated pasture, forestry, or wildlife production. The wetlands inventory will show farm planners and administrators the location of wetlands of particular importance in the national waterfowl-conservation program. This knowledge can influence the choice of practices needed to preserve necessary wetlands habitat. At least, it will help to show where conflicting national interests occur and should lead to the establishment of policies that are more harmonious to all resource interests.

In the pothole area of the Dakotas and Minnesota, wildlife interests are hopeful that the tremendous value of potholes in duck production, as well as their value when managed as agricultural wetlands, will show the need for an agricultural policy that favors wetland preservation and opposes further drainage of surface waters.

Conservation of an adequate share of the wetland resource for wildlife will no doubt require more than the defensive action that has characterized most efforts so far. It will necessitate a forward-looking program aimed at establishing waterfowl and other wildlife habitat as permanent features of rural land-and-water-management programs.

The inventory has potential use in planning overall flyway-management programs. Flyways are now generally accepted as practical, semi-natural areas where effective management of migratory birds can be applied. Since 1948, they have served as the basis for administrative action by the Fish and Wildlife Service in setting the annual hunting regulations. Lincoln states:

The terms "flyway" and "migration route" have in the past been used more or less as synonyms but the modern concept of a flyway is that it is a vast geographic region with extensive breeding grounds and wintering grounds connected with each other by a more or less complicated system of migration routes. Each flyway has its own populations of birds, even of those species that may have a continental distribution. The breeding grounds of one or more flyways may (and usually do) overlap broadly, so that during the nesting season extensive areas may be occupied by birds of the same species but which belong to different flyways.

Any plan for providing adequate habitat for large populations of waterfowl in a flyway must take into account both breeding and wintering habitat. Waterfowl are capable of migrating long distances without stopping, so providing habitat just for use during migration is not neeessarily essential to the welfare of the birds, though it is highly important from the standpoint of the hunter.

Unless the birds are induced to stop on their southern journey, hunting opportunities will be extremely limited in some States. It has been repeatedly observed that southbound waterfowl will take up at least temporary residence if attractive habitat is available enroute, and certain species will spend the entire winter in new, more northerly environments if food supplies and water conditions are favorable. For hunting, the inclusion of so-called intermediate wetlands is necessary to the adequate management of a flyway.

How can the wetlands data be utilized in the development of a flyway-management plan? There are two kinds of management in connection with waterfowl programs, although the two are closely interrelated. One concerns the birds alone, and the other concerns the habitat on which the birds depend. The first embraces regulations governing hunting and the actions necessary to control or abate depredation and disease. The present discussion is related primarily to the second kind of management, which concerns habitat used by waterfowl for breeding, migration, and wintering.

Wetland reports for individual States include county data forms that show, in most cases, whether a particular wetland type makes its most important contribution as breeding, wintering, or migration habitat. Each of these three kinds of habitat can be represented on flyway maps to show where wetlands should be preserved or created to take care of the seasonal requirements of waterfowl. For example, there is a direct relation between the distribution and abundance of shallow and deep inland fresh marshes and the distribution and abundance of young ducks produced in the United States.

The annual breeding-ground censuses show that about three-fourths of all the ducklings produced in the United States come from the Prairie Pothole States of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana. The wetlands inventory shows that 76 percent of the Type 3 and Type 4 marshes in the northern States are in the four Prairie States where 75 percent of the young are produced. This relation demonstrates the real importance of these two types for breeding waterfowl. Indirectly, it also points to the need for preserving all water areas in the pothole region in order that Types 3 and 4 may realize their full potential.

The location of State, Federal, and private waterfowl-management areas can be studied in relation to the present distribution and value of wetlands to determine those regions where additional management areas should be developed. Work of this kind, of course, will have to be carried out by both State and Federal wildlife technicians whose responsibilities tie in directly with waterfowl management.

Flyway Councils, composed of representatives from each State in a flyway, are logical organizations to undertake habitat-adequacy investigations on a flyway basis. The wetlands inventory furnishes the framework for the undertaking. Some of the councils have already initiated preliminary studies along these lines. The Fish and Wildlife Service encourages and will lend its full support to such studies.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with State game and fish agencies, is now (1956) engaged in a wetland-preservation program. The wetland inventory serves as its basis, furnishing essential facts for planning intelligent action. Encouraging results are beginning to take shape, and it is expected that this program will eventually show lasting wildlife benefits. A few examples of activities along this line follow.

In the Northeastern States, all wetlands rated high or moderate in importance to waterfowl are being examined to determine their vulnerability to drainage, filling, or other land-use changes. Many of the lower-value wetlands also will be studied in this regard. In areas where the reduction of wildlife values is threatened by imminent land-use changes, further studies are being made to see if the losses can be prevented. Where threatened wetland is of outstanding importance to waterfowl, consideration is given to acquisition of the tract by the State or Federal Government for development and management as a permanent waterfowl-management area. If this is not feasible, efforts are made to preserve the area for its existing natural values as a part of sound community planning -- recognizing water conservation, recreation, and wildlife as public assets. The growing awareness of these public values needs to be encouraged.

Field biologists of the Fish and Wildlife Service are stationed at strategic locations in North Dakota, South Dakota, and western Minnesota, where drainage of duck-producing marshes is a common agricultural practice. It is their job to try to preserve wetlands so they can be used by waterfowl, muskrats, pheasants, and other species. They are working with farmers, local planning and civic groups, and with State and Federal land-use agencies to find ways of preserving wetlands and developing an appreciation of wetland values.

In many cases, the biologists have found that farmers will retain their wetlands when they are shown that it can be profitable to do so. Fur farming, minnow raising, forage-crop production, and conservation of a water supply often are promising alternatives to drainage. Using surface water for irrigation is becoming more popular, and in some cases it can be done without materially reducing the value of the water areas for wildlife. Some farmers favor marsh development to attract more ducks, fur animals, and upland game, which enables them to rent attractive shooting and trapping sites.

The aim of the preservation program in the Dakotas and Minnesota is to create agricultural programs that will give more attention to waterfowl values in the future utilization of wetlands. This program is showing some encouraging results, but cash subsidies, extended credit, and engineering assistance for agricultural drainage are serious handicaps.

In the Southeast and Lower Mississippi Valley, the inventory is being used as an effective instrument for promoting an equal-partner relation with the U. S. Corps of Engineers in connection with future flood-control programs. This approach looks toward land-use planning that includes the retention and improvement of waterfowl habitat as one of the purposes of water-control planning. Programs in the Southwest and Far West are being developed with special attention to opportunities for wetlands development and management in connection with reclamation projects of the Bureau of Reclamation.

In the Northwest, biology-training schools for soil-conservation field workers are sponsored jointly by the Soil Conservation Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and State game and fish agencies. Schools such as these give agricultural fieldmen and administrators an opportunity to learn firsthand the various practices that are beneficial to wildlife in general and how these practices can be applied to lands and waters under their influence. The development and improvement of wetlands for wildlife is given special attention. These schools appear to be meeting with immediate success.

Community wetland projects throughout the nation can eventually pay big dividends in waterfowl management and in recreational development. Using the wetlands inventory as a guide, plans can be made for improving local marshes, ponds, and swamps which commonly are considered worthless.

To this end, the wetlands map of a county or watershed can be used to plan a waterfowl-management project in which local groups will take part. In addition to preservation of local habitat of high quality, the overall program can include such worthy projects as improvement of low-quality wetlands by impounding more water, by controlling weed plants, or by other means. Sportsmen's clubs, landowners, State and Federal wildlife biologists, agricultural and recreational planning groups, and possibly the Boy Scouts, 4-H clubs, and other youth groups, could be invited to participate in such projects, all contributing to the cause in proportion to their interest and resources.

In this connection, an encouraging forward step has been provided by an agreement developed subsequent to passage of the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of August 4, 1954 (Public Law 566, 83d Cong., 2d sess.). A Memorandum of Understanding between the Fish and Wildlife Service (Department of the Interior) and the Soil Conservation Service (Department of Agriculture) has been entered into for the purpose of encouraging the coordination and integration of fish and wildlife conservation with works of improvement carried out under this Act. In this cooperative program, it is agreed that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the State fish and game agencies may make such recommendations for fish and wildlife conservation as they deem practical during the planning stages of proposed projects. Approved measures for mitigating or preventing damages to fish and wildlife resources would become part of the watershed work plan. Inasmuch as drainage is one of the approved features of watershed management, the preservation of wetlands habitat will be a problem in some projects.

Since the adoption of acceptable measures for watershed work represents, and depends upon, the wishes of local people, wetland improvements for waterfowl will hinge largely on the information and attitudes of local interests. This fact points up the importance of education and teamwork on the part of State and Federal wildlife workers, sportsmen's clubs, and other organized groups interested in promoting wildlife conservation as a definite part of watershed-protection programs.

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