Missouri River

The Missouri River provides drinking water to millions of people and critical habitat for fish and wildlife. America's longest river (it beats out the Mississippi by 21 miles!) is also the backbone of a booming outdoor recreation industry that benefits communities throughout the river basin. Management of this immense watershed links people across ten states and two Canadian provinces.

Unfortunately, the Missouri River and the natural resources throughout its watershed are in trouble. Threats to the river and land around it include:

  • Fish and wildlife habitat destruction
  • Water quality problems involving sediment and pollution
  • Invasive species
  • Wetland and grassland loss
  • Conflicts over river management

The clock is ticking for many of the area's native fish and wildlife species. Three have been placed on the Federal Threatened and Endangered Species Lists (pallid sturgeon, least tern, piping plover) and 51 native fish species are rare or declining in the lower Missouri River.

There is hope! The League believes that a healthy Missouri River will be able to produce self-sustaining fish and wildlife populations. We just need to work together to get there.

Fortunately, what’s good for the recovery of the Missouri River is also good for water quality, wetlands, flood protection, outdoor recreation, and local economies.

Proposed Recovery Plan a Cause for Concern (April 2017)

The Izaak Walton League does not support the narrow range of options provided in the Corps of Engineers' draft recovery plan for the Missouri River. Read more details below:

Missouri River: Clay County Park. Photo credit Paul Lepisto.

What You Can Do

You can make a real difference for the Missouri River and everyone who relies on it. We have a few ideas to get you started:

  • Advocate for habitat restoration and recovery efforts with local, state, and national elected officials. Recovery efforts currently lack adequate funding. Officials need to hear that the river's health is important to you.
  • Establish a Save Our Streams (SOS) program to monitor the quality of local waters that drain into the Missouri River. We have all the information you need to get started on stream monitoring (it's easier than you might think!). By identifying local pollution problems, you prevent pollution from flowing downstream. Organize clean-ups along local streams, rivers, and lakes to make them healthier for fish and wildlife.
  • Coordinate invasive species awareness events to teach boaters and anglers how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. We have a Web page that outlines the three simple steps: Clean. Drain. Dry. 
  • Support conservation programs that protect wetlands and grasslands. These areas provide critical habitat for thousands of species of fish and wildlife, but they are rapidly disappearing. An important way you can get involved is by speaking out about agriculture programs that affect wetlands and grasslands
  • Attend Army Corps of Engineers meetings and speak up on how you want the Missouri River to be managed. The Corps holds public meetings and comment periods on their Annual Operating Plan to take input from the public. Take advantage of this opportunity and make sure the Corps knows your priorities for the river.

BACKGROUND: Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation

Hunting, fishing, boating, and other types of outdoor recreation help fuel the economies of Missouri River basin states. An incredible network of lands, waters, and other natural resources – often with the Missouri River as a focal point – support these activities. According to the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, participation rates for wildlife-related recreation in Missouri River states are the highest in the country. In the region called West North Central (North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri), which includes six of the eight Missouri River states:

  • Hunting participation among residents is 12 percent (compared with a national rate of 5 percent)
  • Fishing participation among residents is 21 percent (compared with 13 percent nationally)
  • Around-the-home wildlife-watching rates are 42 percent (compared with a 30 percent national rate).

Although this region has just 7 percent of the nation’s total population, 25 percent of residents hunt or fish (the highest percentage of a regional population in the country). Participation in wildlife-associated recreation by residents and visitors in the West North Central states totals more than 9 million people per year. Montana adds 950,000 participants each year; Wyoming another 762,000. Annual expenditures for wildlife-associated recreation in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming combined is $8.9 billion. In addition, according to research conducted for the Outdoor Industry Foundation by Southwick Associates, estimated economic activity in West North Central states related to paddling reaches $889 million per year.

Hunting, fishing, paddling, and wildlife watching provide tremendous economic benefits at the state and local levels. And each of these activities depends on clean water and healthy ecosystems.