May is National Wetlands Month

May is National Wetlands Month and three Wetlands of International Importance (designated by the RAMSAR Convention of 1971) are right here in Region 7.  They are Cheyenne Bottoms, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (both in Kansas) and the Upper Mississippi River Floodplain Wetlands which stretches through Iowa.  These wetlands are three of the most important “flyways” for migratory birds in the country – right here in our backyards, folks!

The Ramsar Convention provides a framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.  The treaty was signed in the city of Ramsar, Iran, in 1971.  There were originally 21 delegates from countries around the world who signed the first treaty.  While it originally emphasized providing habitats for water birds, the Convention has subsequently broadened its scope to address all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, thereby recognizing the importance of wetlands as ecosystems that contribute to both biodiversity conservation and human well-being. Wetlands cover an estimated 9% of the Earth’s land surface, and contribute significantly to the global economy in terms of water supply, fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism.    There are presently 165 Contracting Parties which have designated 2,118 wetland sites for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.  Signatories are committed to the designation of wetlands of international importance, as defined by internationally agreed criteria.  That means that the designated wetlands are protected from development.

Let’s take a closer look at the three Wetlands of International Importance….

Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve and Wildlife Area is located in Barton County, Kansas.   With 11,500 acres of marsh land, it is the largest marsh in the interior of the United States.  There are 134 species of birds that breed

Harland Shuster (2012) Center for Great Plains Studies Photo Project

and nest in the area, 148 species that may winter there, and 63 species that are permanent residents.  At least 345 of the 472 species of birds known to occur in Kansas have been recorded at the Bottoms including threatened and endangered species such as Whooping Cranes and Piping Plovers.  Annually over 60,000 visitors come to Cheyenne Bottoms  for the purpose of hunting, bird watching, environmental study, fishing and trapping.  These visitors bring revenue to the nearby cities of St. John, Stafford, Great Bend and Hutchison by their use of hotels, restaurants and other facilities.  Here’s a link to a lot of interesting information and a calendar of migrations and events at Cheyenne Bottoms:

Kansas Wetlands Education Center

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (QNWR) was established in 1955 to provide wintering and migration stopover habitat for migratory birds along the Central Flyway of North America. These marshes, together with a wide diversity of other habitats, provide food, cover, and protection for a wide assortment of wildlife. Wetlands, large and small, are present throughout the Refuge which has 22,135 acres of rare inland salt marsh and sand prairie.

Egrets. Photo from FWS

US Fish and Wildlife

 Thousands of Canada geese, ducks, and other migratory birds, such as Sandhill Cranes and shorebirds, use these wetlands as they pass through the Refuge on their annual migrations.  The grasslands surrounding QNWR also provide habitat for many mammals including beaver, porcupine, black-tailed prairie dog and armadillo as well as numerous species of grassland fowl.  This link will get you to a map of the driving route through the refuge as well as observation points and what kind of birds and wildlife to look for:

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the newest RAMSAR site in Region 7.  Encompassing over 240,000 acres of diverse floodplain habitat, the refuge stretches alongside 260 miles of the Mississippi River through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.  The refuge protects a significant portion of

U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Upper Mississippi River

the Mississippi Flyway, the migration corridor through the center of the country used by over 40% of the migratory waterfowl in the U.S.  Other wildlife includes over 300 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles, and 14 species of amphibians.  Humans also flock to this natural treasure; more than 3.7 million visitors explore these refuges annually and enjoy recreational offerings like hunting, fishing wildlife observation, boating and camping.  For more information click here:

Visiting a wetland full of beautiful, vibrant life will restore your appreciation of the goodness of the earth.  Enjoy the contrast of organized chaos as flocks land and take flight and the perfect calm as they float and rest.  The mixture of noisy vocalizations and quiet feeding are better than any roller coaster ride. May is National Wetlands Month.  Come experience the smells of wet earth and salty sand.  Let the beauty of our Region 7 wetlands refresh your soul.

Cynthia Cassel is a SEE Grantee where, for 3-1/2 years, she has worked with the Wetland and Streams team in the Water branch.  Cynthia received her BS from Park University and lives in Overland Park where she regularly carries a bag of rocks so as to remain safely earthbound.

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