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Wetlands of the United States

Their Extent and Their Value To Waterfowl and Other Wildlife

Contributions to Other Wildlife


Primary emphasis in appraising values of wetland types has been on waterfowl because of the great interest in the sport of wildfowling and because waterfowl populations are no doubt more affected by wetland losses than are populations of any other group of game species. However, many wetlands in all sections of the country should be preserved solely on the basis of their value as habitat for wildlife other than waterfowl.

Pheasants

Sportsmen in pursuit of resident game and of migratory game birds not usually classed as waterfowl spend many more man-days afield than do the members of the waterfowling fraternity. Obviously, then, habitat for all forms of wildlife needs to be provided. Wetlands provide this habitat for scores of wildlife species.

The value of marshes and swamps for fur animals like muskrats, minks, and raccoons is well known because of the cash value of wild furs, which amounts to about $50,000,000 a year, even at today's low fur prices [18]. The use of wetlands by other game animals, however, is often not so obvious. Many a hunter has stalked a white-tailed deer for hours, only to have it seek the thick cover of an impenetrable wooded swamp. Woodcock hunters head for the alder swamps for their shooting. Pheasant hunters find good gunning along the wild, grassy cover of local marshes where fall and winter cover is available to the birds (fig. 11). Example after example of this kind could be cited.

Figure 11. -- Pheasant hunters in Emmett County, Iowa, take to the marshes where birds use marsh vegetation for protection.
Pheasant hunters

Thirty-eight of the game and fur animals that inhabit wetlands are listed in table 7. The table also indicates the available wetland types preferred by each species. Table 8 presents the number of different species using each type in the 48 States. These tables obviously cannot give details about any one species or any one State. They are presented only to point out that wetlands receive a tremendous amount of use by game species other than waterfowl. Some game animals with limited geographic distribution, such as Franklin's grouse and the scaled quail, were omitted from the lists. At least 50 fur or game species in the United States, exclusive of waterfowl, inhabit wetlands to secure food, water, or cover.

In addition, literally hundreds of species of non-game mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles find essential or useful habitat in wetlands. Fish and shellfish are known to use coastal and inland marshes and associated shallow-water areas to a very significant extent. However, no specific information on use by nongame species or by fish was gathered as a part of the inventory.

Wetland reports for the individual States present detailed information on the wetland types used appreciably by each species, the degree of use (high, moderate, low, or negligible), season of use (spring, fall, year-round), and type of use (food, cover, nesting). These reports have been made available to Federal, State, and private organizations having an interest in wildlife and land use.

The beaver deserves special mention because of his beneficial influence on waterfowl, other wildlife, and water conservation. Beaver flows oftentimes impound water-deficient wetlands such as meadows (Type 2), shrub swamps (Type 6), and wooded swamps (Type 7) into wetlands with shallow surface water (Types 3 and 4), thus converting them into areas of more value to waterfowl (fig. 12). Waterfowl biologists in the timbered States are high in their praise of this important fur animal as a developer of better waterfowl habitat. Black ducks and wood ducks in the Northeastern and Lakes States are especially benefited.

Figure 12. -- Beaver pond in Michigan, which is creating good waterfowl habitat. If flooded long enough, trees will die and herbaceous waterfowl food and cover plants will become established. Note beaver lodge in center.
Beaver pond

Habitat used by all forms of wildlife should be preserved and improved whenever possible. Each time a drainage project, or any other wetland-reclamation project, is prevented or modified to protect wildlife values, benefits will accrue to both resident and migratory game.


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