He erected dams, built dikes, lined the river, and stacked rocks in structures called “wing dams” that jut out into the river, directing the current to self-scour, leaving a channel. 9 feet deep in the middle.
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Then, in the early 2000s, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Corps’ management jeopardized the existence of three species living in the river – two endangered birds, the interior tern and the piping plover. , and the endangered pale sturgeon.
In 2005, the government launched the Missouri River Recovery Program, a partnership with the Geological Survey, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and several state agencies, to understand the species and restore its habitats. Two years later, Congress authorized the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee, a group of representatives from agriculture, shipping, conservation, tribal and state interests, to provide recommendations to the Corps.
The practical results arrived quickly for the tern and the plover. Scientists were able to count birds, nests and eggs. They determined that the birds’ success depended on their access to habitat: the sandbanks of the Missouri River.
“It’s extremely powerful. And that’s what science should do, ”said USGS hydrologist Robert Jacobson, who works on the program.
But they knew less about the sturgeon. The sturgeon is one of the oldest fish species on the planet, evolving some 70 million years ago. They have ridged backs and shovel noses, and can grow to nearly 6 feet, weigh 85 pounds, and live to 100. Much of the program’s first decade of research has focused on their basic biology. How often do they reproduce? Where do they live in the river? How are they growing up?