Jim Loveless stabs the air toward the Missouri River's bluffs near Columbia. "There's an immature eagle," says the wildlife biologist. The bird tilts in the high breezes above Plowboy Bend, named for a 19th century steamboat that had some hard luck here.
Nearby, both Loveless and the eagle spot mallards, pintails and snow geese among the thousands of fowl feeding and courting in the marshy pools of this bottomland. Just out of sight, the Missouri River barrels toward Jefferson City.
That young eagle doesn't know it, but hunting here hasn't been this good in a long time-unless you were hunting soybeans, that is. But in 1989, the beans bit the dust when the Department of Conservation embarked on perhaps the most innovative wetlands restoration project in the world. The Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, managed by Loveless, combines recycled wastewater with river water to create wetland conditions that used to be widespread in Missouri, conditions that supported a wealth of plants and wildlife.
Wetlands-marshes, swamps and fens-formerly made up more than one tenth of Missouri's landscape, Loveless says. Many were created by the spring and fall flooding of rivers and streams, which left behind sheets of nutrient-filled water on the rich bottomland soils. Acre for acre, wetlands support more animal and plant life than most any other kind of ecosystem. Ducks, geese and other migratory birds found abundant food when traveling these riverways on their spring and fall migrations.
Missouri's 4.8 million acres of wetlands were a little too rich for their own good. Farmers figured the soils were too productive to leave to the frogs, water lilies, geese and beaver. During the late 1800s, millions of acres of swamp in southeast Missouri were drained for farming.
For decades, levees and dikes have confined many rivers and streams to relatively deep and swift channels. Although this opened bottomlands to farming, the swamps and marshes shrunk to about 10 percent of their original size.
That's where the Conservation Department and Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area come in. Recognizing that wetlands are our fastest disappearing ecosystem, the Conservation Department created an ambitious plan to boost the quantity and quality of wetland acreage on public and private lands all over Missouri by the year 2000. The plan calls for more than twice the amount of wetlands than existed in 1989. That will mean not only more habitat for wetland flora and fauna but also more opportunities for outdoor recreation.
The 4,269 acres at