Missouri Wetlands: Our Unsung Resource

Wetlands in Missouri are one of our state’s highly beneficial and yet often unappreciated natural resources.

Before European settlement, Missouri contained over 4.8 million acres of these important ecosystems, but that number was decimated between the 1780’s and 1980’s. Today, Missouri wetlands have been bulldozed, drained, filled in and otherwise reduced down to a mere 643,000 acres – a loss of 87% of their original footprint (Fretwell et. al 1996). Wetlands provide many critical benefits to both the residents of Missouri and the local environment, including improved water quality, floodwater storage, and erosion control. The benefits provided by wetlands not only help wildlife, but improve the lives of people, and are a valuable asset to the economy. 

The Missouri Department of Conservation states that 170 of the 228 animal species that are listed as rare, endangered, or unknown are dependent on wetlands (Burruss 1991). Eight percent of those 170 species have areas within Missouri that are federally listed as critical habitat; meaning that they are essential to the conservation of those species (Fretwell et. al 1996). It’s also recognized that nearly half of Missouri’s 2400 plant species are associated with wetlands (Leahy 2010). These areas have more impact than just providing a habitat for a staggering number of plants and animals. 

A Great Blue Heron. Photo by Tyler Butler.

Wetlands provide a variety of recreational activities that are enjoyed by millions of people each year. Over 21 million people visited Missouri State parks in 2018 to take part in different activities (Schmidt 2019).  From fishing or kayaking to a leisure day of bird watching, the opportunities offered by wetlands create a steady stream of revenue for both Missouri business owners and the state. 

Elephant Rocks State Park. Photo by Deborah Raney.

Residents have taken note of the value that wetlands provide. More than 70% of Missouri residents believed that the value wetlands provide would justify the state purchase of wetlands at 55-64% higher than market value based upon which function(s) were provided (McIntosh et. al 2010). With the various financial and environmental benefits provided, it shows that any action that is detrimental towards wetlands is detrimental towards Missouri residents themselves.

Protecting wetlands is equivalent to protecting the people. As the current administration continues to cut the protections of wetlands we must rally together to prevent any more injustices from occurring. We must work together to conserve and preserve our wetlands and waterways. It would be a tragic loss to both the people and the environment if these rollbacks stemming from corporate greed continue to occur.

Christian Sasse is a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University, where he received his Bachelor of Science in Geology, with special emphasis on organic geochemistry and hydro-geology.


Burruss, Ann. “Threatened and Endangered Species of Wetlands and Waterways in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region VII, Wetlands Protection Section, 1991. 

Fretwell, Judy d, et al. “National Water Summary on Wetland Resources.” Water Supply Paper, 1996, doi:10.3133/wsp2425.

Leahy, Mike. “THE WETLANDS OF MISSOURI.” Missouri Conservationist: Sep 2001, Sept. 2001, mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2001/09/wetlands-missouri.

McIntosh, Steve A, et al. “Benefit Transfer in the Field: Measuring the Benefits of Heterogeneous Wetlands Using Contingent Valuation and Ecological Field Appraisals.”

Papers, vol. 10, no. 01, Feb. 2010, https://econpapers.repec.org/paper/aplwpaper/10-01.htm.

Schmidt, Connie. “Facts and Figures.” Missouri State Parks, 16 Jan. 2019

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