The Mississippi River is one of the nation's most important natural assets. Covering 41 percent of the continental U.S, its watershed stretches across the heart of the nation, spanning the far reaches of the Platte River in Nebraska to the Great Lakes, and hosting a globally significant flyway and habitat for more than 325 species of birds. The diverse wetlands created by the river and its tributaries are not only vital to birds, but to people, from New Orleans to communities farther upstream. A national treasure, with tremendous economic as well as ecological importance, for over 200 years “America’s River” has also inspired the development of a rich, vibrant and unique cultural heritage, from Mark Twain, to the Delta Blues, to some of our nation’s most celebrated cuisine.
But decades of mismanagement have taken a grim toll on the Mississippi and its surrounding ecosystem. Birds, other wildlife, people and communities are at risk from the consequences of unsustainable river management. Each year, 16,000 more acres of Louisiana coastal marsh, a natural barrier for tropical storms, are lost because we have nearly eliminated the river's ability to re-build its Delta with fresh water and sediment. A huge, oxygen-depleted "dead zone" forms in the Gulf of Mexico each summer because we have destroyed or isolated millions of acres of wetlands throughout the Mississippi's immense watershed, stripping the river of its ability to filter excess nutrients from intensive agriculture in the Midwest and other sources. And Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the 2008 Midwestern floods underscored the need to manage the basin comprehensively, as an interrelated system from headwaters to gulf.
Audubon is working with its field offices, chapters, and other environmental partners in a massive effort to restore the Mississippi River ecosystem into a vital, thriving waterway and resource that supports both rich, diverse wildlife, and healthy and vibrant communities.
The Mississippi River drains parts or all of 31 states and two Canadian provinces, an area of 1.25 million square miles. The drainage basin extends from New York to Montana and from Minnesota to Louisiana. More than 250 tributaries drain into the Mississippi, including the Ohio and Missouri rivers.