Promoting stewardship of the Missouri River and its fish & wildlife.
To promote and facilitate the preservation, conservation, and enhancement of the natural resources of the Missouri River System.
- identify and prioritize issues of concern in the Missouri River system for cooperative resource management
- formulate plans and programs for carrying on cooperative research and management studies
- improve coordination, communication, and cooperation among entities responsible for natural resource management on the Missouri River
- encourage implementation of actions to preserve, conserve, and enhance natural resources of the Missouri River System
A century ago the 2,341-mile-long Missouri River was one of North America's most diverse and abundant habitats, comprising numerous side channels, oxbow lakes, wooded islands, sandbars, backwaters, floodplain forests, wet prairies, and marshes. It supported equally diverse and abundant fish and wildlife
resources. In the time since, human activity has dramatically transformed this complex ecosystem into four habitats: main stem reservoirs, reservoir headwaters, reservoir tailwaters, and a channelized open river reach.
Most of these changes occurred after 1945, when the Federal government began an ambitious program of dam building, channelization, and bank stabilization. Six large main-stem reservoirs submerged the former upper river under permanent pools, and the channel of the lower river was greatly narrowed for commercial barge navigation. Below the reservoirs some remnants of the former river exist, but with highly modified
flows and cold water. Virtually all of the original river diversity and floodplain habitats are gone.
River Fish and Wildlife
As the river changed so did its fish and wildlife. Among the most severely impacted are native Missouri River fish species such as the pallid sturgeon, sicklefin chub, sturgeon chub, and flathead chub. These fish depend on high spring river stages, sandbars, shallow waters, and turbidity to feed and reproduce. Other fish species have prospered and economically important sport fisheries have developed in the reservoirs and their tailwaters.
Shorebirds—such as the interior least tern and piping plover— that depend on river sandbars for nesting and roosting have declined substantially. Despite the loss of river wetlands and sandbars, the Missouri River still serves as a major migration corridor for many birds, including waterfowl.
The river is managed for flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, municipal and industrial water supply, recreation, and fish and wildlife—including endangered and threatened species.
Declining fish and wildlife, increasing demand for natural resources, and conflicting priorities for allocation of Missouri River water present special challenges to future river management. In 1987, recognizing the river’s many purposes and the need to secure coordinated, system-wide fish and wildlife management recommendations, the seven main-stem states formed the Missouri River Natural Resources Committee.
The Committee provides management recommendations and technical assistance to state and Federal agencies with river management responsibilities, including recommendations on reservoir
water levels and releases for the Corps of Engineers’ Annual Operating Plan.
The Committee also sponsors an annual conference to share and coordinate information, and in recent years has emphasized aquatic and wetland habitat recovery to enhance wildlife, recreation, and natural resource conservation.
The Committee also designed the Missouri River Environmental Assessment Program to develop the sound biological data needed to adapt management practices to changing river conditions. It is a blueprint for providing the scientific basis for balanced managemen of fish and wildlife resources on the Missouri River's main stem and floodplain while avoiding or minimizing conflicts with other river uses.