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Restored Wetlands Provide Critical Habitat for Migratory Birds, Many Other Species

Wetlands and wildlife – they’re made for each other. Wetlands provide critical habitat, shelter food and places to raise young.

Landowners across the country are voluntarily restoring and protecting wetlands on private lands. This not only provides high-value wildlife habitat but provides many other benefits, such as cleaner water (wetlands act as filters!) and reduced flooding risk (they store water!).

Saving the Nation's Wetlands

Wetlands are one of nature’s most productive ecosystems. They clean and recharge groundwater; reduce the damaging impacts of floods; enhance wildlife habitat; sequester carbon; and create diverse recreation opportunities such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching and canoeing.

Thousands of landowners voluntarily take big and small actions every day to protect, restore and enhance wetlands and wildlife habitat. Seventy-five percent of the nation’s wetlands are located on private and tribal lands.

When Exotic Fish are Away, Hawaiian Waterbirds Will Stay

Coastal wetlands the world over are known for harboring an impressive array of plants and animals. In the Pacific Islands, wetlands not only provide habitat for many unique species, including some threatened and endangered waterbirds, but also support communities of people who rely on these special places for food and other essentials.

Human development, agriculture, and rising seas are encroaching upon these wetland ecosystems and causing visible and profound changes. Another threat, less obvious to the casual observer, lurks beneath the water’s surface: non-native fish. Researchers with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry are studying the threats posed by exotic fish species and working with partners to battle the gilled invaders.

Vanished Rabbit Reappears on Central California's Dos Rios Ranch

Some exciting news recently came from a large wetlands restoration project now underway in Central California. River Partners, a nonprofit conservation organization, documented the first occurrence of a state and federally endangered rabbit on its habitat preserve at Dos Rios Ranch, a key piece of riverfront habitat located at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers in Stanislaus County.

Thanks to a generous loan of wildlife cameras from a professor at the University of California, Davis, River Partners’ summer interns captured images of riparian brush rabbits at Dos Rios Ranch in July in remnant riparian habitat along the Tuolumne River. Riparian brush rabbits are a critically endangered subspecies of rabbit that was thought to be extinct following catastrophic flooding in 1997.

Conservation Easements Preserve, Restore Florida Wetlands

The Archbold Biological Station located in central Florida occupies 5,200 acres of pristine Florida scrub habitat on the southern tip of the Lake Wales Ridge, which is considered an ecological wonder. Eastern indigo snakes, Florida sand skinks, Florida scrub jays, burrowing owls and crested caracaras occupy the mosaic of uplands and wetlands found within the confluence of the Kissimmee River and Fisheating Creek watershed.

This renowned research facility has hosted scientists from all over the world for almost 75 years, and its scientific publications document the status and habits of plants and animals that are found nowhere else on earth.

Conservation Groups, Farmers Protect & Restore Precious Puget Sound Estuary

When many people think of Washington State, they imagine rain, coffee and apples. My view is much more complex and nuanced, thanks to our team at NRCS who showed me diverse agricultural landscapes, including the state’s major estuary - Puget Sound.

During my visit, I was greeted by an idyllic landscape steeped in history. Early settlers to the Puget Sound area converted marshlands into pastures and hayfields. We visited one such area now known as Klingel Wetlands, where levee systems were installed in the 1890s and 1950s to prevent flooding.

At a Washington Ranch, It's for the Birds - and Elk

Most landowners would give up when faced with the challenges on Nine Pine Ranch near Chewelah, Washington, but not Glen Hafer. After trying for 40 years to farm his piece of land in the Colville River Valley, Hafer decided to convert it back to its original glory – wetlands.

Historically, the land in this valley flooded annually from the river, but settlers drained the area to farm. With no wetlands to hold water, flooding in the area worsened over time, making the land tough to farm.

When Hafer took the reins of his family’s land, he wanted to do something different. He was already – as he puts it – “semi-retired” and wanted to use his land to support his family.

Rocky Mountain Wetland Provides Fen-tastic Habitat for High Altitude Plants, Wildlife

Sloshing through a wet meadow in ankle deep water, I am surrounded by thick mats of sedges, rushes and some beautiful wildflowers. This saturated meadow lies in the shadows of the 13,000-foot Sheep Mountain peak near Trout Lake, Colorado. It is a scenic spot, rich in plant diversity, but also a unique habitat in Colorado.

I am visiting this lush, high-altitude wetland with the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests’ lead hydrologist, Gary Shellhorn who explains that this wet meadow is called a fen. Fens are peat-forming wetlands, created when wetland plants die leaving mats of dead and decaying plant matter. Fens are sustained by mineral-enriched groundwater, which is less acidic.  For this reason fens support a more diverse plant and animal community. In southern Colorado, it takes about 2,000 years to accumulate eight inches of peat at a fen. This suggests that most fens are 4,000 to 10,000 years old.

Conservation Work in Arkansas Makes Positive Impact Downstream

I recently toured several farms near Stuttgart, Ark. with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner, state officials and conservationists. We met farmers working to clean and conserve water using conservation efforts, including the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The tour provided me and my colleagues from Washington, D.C. and almost a dozen states an opportunity to see firsthand how voluntary, incentive-conservation practices are helping Arkansas farmers maintain productivity while protecting wildlife habitat and improving water quality and water use efficiency.

On Terry Dabbs’ Discovery Farm, we heard how the combination of conservation practices results in better water quality. As Dabbs said, if he is contributing to poor water quality downstream and in the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, he wants to know about it and fix it.