The Wetlands Initiative is dedicated to restoring the wetland resources of the Midwest to improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and reduce flood damages. The Wetlands Initiative is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.
Our vision is simple: Wetlands are more valuable wet than dry.
For years, many believed that wetlands were more valuable dry than wet. In Illinois, more than 90% of the wetlands present 200 years ago are now drained, tiled, dammed, or leveed.
Today, the value of wetlands needs to be understood in both environmental and economic terms. Wetlands remove pollutants and control sediments to provide cleaner water. They offer food and shelter to a vast array of plants and animals. They store floodwaters to reduce the cost and misery from flooding. They moderate climate change by sequestering carbon. And, importantly—but often overlooked—their vital ecosystem services are essential for healthy economies.
Our work combines two basic strategies: restore more wetlands and strive to innovate fundamental changes in how we finance large-scale wetland restoration.
Our projects are based in Illinois, but our work influences restoration practice across the upper Midwest.
In 1994, Donald L. Hey and Albert E. Pyott founded the Wetlands Initiative to focus restoration efforts and funds on reversing the environmental damage created by the drainage of wetlands in the upper Midwest. Both had broad experience in the practice of wetland restoration, and they recognized the need for a niche organization that was small, nimble, and focused. Their interest was not in saving pristine wilderness areas, but in restoring lands that had already been destroyed.
In its second decade, the Wetlands Initiative remains committed to further restoration at each site, while also expanding our reach. We seek to do more than merely restore drained wetlands one at a time. We need new strategies and partnerships that reach beyond the resources of traditional philanthropy or government funds. We need nothing short of a new economic roadmap for restoration.
That’s why we’re working as “conservation entrepreneurs” to advocate, develop, and test innovative strategies to jumpstart restoration on a grand scale. These strategies include developing ecosystem service markets that compensate landowners for restoring wetlands for the beneficial services this natural infrastructure can provide: services like naturally removing nutrient pollution, reducing soil erosion, storing sediment, holding floodwaters, sequestering carbon, and providing recreational opportunities.