Raised on a farm in Central Missouri, Mark Flaspohler grew up exploring the big river floodplains. Flaspohler comes from a long line of conservationists and hunters; he began the family tradition of duck hunting at 10 years old. Through hunting and spending time in nature, Flaspohler developed a love of the land that as an adult led him to his job of 14 years as a biologist with Ducks Unlimited. Flaspohler and partners have shepherded a series of grants from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act to protect, restore, and enhance thousands of acres of wetlands in the Confluence Region of eastern Missouri.
The Confluence Region is the area surrounding the merging point of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The region often floods in the spring due to snowmelt and significant rainfall upstream. This cyclical flooding has created the lush wetlands that have attracted millions of birds a year for centuries. More than 250 species of waterfowl, waterbirds, and neotropical songbirds migrate through or use Confluence wetlands, Flaspohler says.
The area teems with such an abundance of life that upon traversing the area in 1721, French explorer Father Pierre François de Charlevoix wrote: “I believe this is the finest confluence in the world.” The cultural, historical, and recreational significance of the Confluence dates back centuries.
However, in recent decades the area has lost 90 percent of its wetland habitats. Two challenges facing wetlands in the Big River Confluence Region are floodplain development and converting land to other uses. Floodplain development alters the ecosystem of the area. The sprawling urban population of St. Louis has been using the floodplain as an expansion zone for factories, homes, airports, and shopping malls. “Infrastructure built in this area needs levy systems to protect it when the water level increases during spring floods,” Flaspohler explains. “These levy systems cut off the natural flow of highwater events from their natural floodplains and adjacent wetlands.”
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