US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version

January 1993


Published in Diana H. Cross and Paul Vohs (eds.) Waterfowl Management Handbook. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1988. Online at


Wetland habitats in the United States currently are lost at a rate of 260,000 acres /year (105,218 ha/year). Consequently, water birds concentrate in fewer and smaller areas. Such concentrations may deplete food supplies and influence behavior, physiology, and survival. Continued losses increase the importance of sound management of the remaining wetlands because water birds depend on them.

Human activities modified the natural hydrology of most remaining wetlands in the conterminous United States, and such hydrologic alterations frequently reduce wetland productivity. The restoration of original wetland functions and productivity often requires the development of water distribution and discharge systems to emulate natural hydrologic regimes. Construction of levees and correct placement of control structures and water-delivery and water-discharge systems are necessary to (1) create soil and water conditions for the germination of desirable plants, (2) control nuisance vegetation, (3) promote the production of invertebrates, and (4) make foods available for wildlife that depends on wetlands (Leaflets 13.2.1 and 13.4.6). This paper provides basic guidelines for the design of wetlands that benefit wildlife. If biological considerations are not incorporated into such designs, the capability of managing wetlands for water birds is reduced and costs often are greater.

Although we address the development of palustrine wetlands in migration and wintering areas, many of the discussed principles are applicable to the development of other wetland types and in other locations.