Floodplain restoration in Big Muddy

The NWTF Missouri State Chapter is working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to increase wildlife habitat and overall ecosystem health at Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

Nicknamed Big Muddy due to its murky, silt-laden waters, the lower Missouri River is the largest free-flowing river in the country. It encompasses about 1.5 million acres of essential lowland habitat for many species of plants and wildlife, including wild turkeys.

The FWS established a nearly 30,000-acre refuge around the river in 1994 after the “Great Flood of 1993,” one of the most devastating in the nation’s history.

Shortly after the refuge was instituted, the FWS enacted a plan to restore and conserve the area’s unique riparian habitats, seasonal wetlands, lowland forests, and native floodplain grasslands devastated by the flood. For nearly three decades, the FWS has continuously achieved conservation goals that have returned the area to its former glory.

However, the refuge recently acquired 510 acres of private land that needed some work to transform it back to its native habitat type.

Through collaboration with NWTF, Pheasants/Quail Forever, and the Army Corps of Engineers, work is underway to revitalize this newly acquired parcel to a diverse mix of floodplain prairie habitat.

The NWTF’s Missouri State Chapter allocated $12,000 from its Super Fund to help purchase a mix of native grasses and wildflowers, which were planted earlier this year.

“The seed planting will restore the 510 acres of critical prairie habitat and bolster overall ecosystem value,” said John Burk, NWTF district biologist for Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. “Recent research data tells us that one of the most important reasons for our turkey decline is a significant decline in poult survival from what it had been when we were setting harvest records every year nearly 20 years ago.

The most efficient and effective way to improve poult survival is to improve the quantity and quality of early brood habitat; this project does exactly that and on a significant scale. However, the project goes beyond game species. It benefits declining pollinators and grassland-dependent bird species such as the eastern skylark and dickcissels. It really encompasses everything.”

After the wildflowers and native grasses are established, the 510 areas will be managed in perpetuity, specifically through the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge Prescribed Fire Program.

This work complements the refuge’s goal of restoring and maintaining 5,200 acres of high-quality prairie habitat over the next 15 years.

In addition, the 510 acres affected by this prairie restoration project will be open to outdoor recreation opportunities, including hunting.

“This project really shows what NWTF is all about,” Burk said. “Improving wild turkey habitat and increasing hunting opportunities, while benefiting many other species and improving the overall health of the ecological community. Healthy habitats equal healthy crops.”