Historically, the floodplain along the Missouri River (that comprises the majority of the IBA) in the West-central Missouri River Bends IBA was extensive wet prairie and marshland (Nigh and Schroeder 2002). Aside from marshland protected at the refuge and conservation areas, the IBA today is mostly cropland, protected by levees. Some wetlands in the floodplain were re-created by the Great Flood of 1993. The upland hills on the south side of the IBA were historically timbered in oak and mixed-hardwood woodland and forest, which remain today as second-growth fragments among cool season pasture and scattered cropland.
Eleven percent of the IBA is publicly-owned conservation land, comprised of: the Cranberry Bend Unit of the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) (467 acres, 189 ha), and the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Baltimore Bend Conservation Area (CA) (1,149 acres, 465 ha) and Grand Pass CA (5,120 acres, 2,073 ha). Of the three, Baltimore Bend CA is upland forest, where the other two have bottomland wetlands. Baltimore Bend CA is predominantly upland forest, whereas Cranberry Bend and Grand Pass CA are mostly managed wetlands.
Many wetland habitats occur in the West-central Missouri River Bends IBA for a great diversity of migrant and breeding wetland birds. Massive concentrations of waterfowl utilize this IBA during migration and winter, with over 170,000 individuals seen at Grand Pass CA alone during the 2005 MDC Midwinter Waterfowl Survey. Bald Eagles and Yellow-headed Blackbirds have nested in the IBA, and King Rail were observed with young during 1993 flood. American Bittern, Least Bittern, Sora, and Marsh Wren have been observed in the IBA within their respective breeding seasons. Sandhill Cranes have even attempted nesting at Grand Pass CA, where staff reported observing a chick in 2003.
Despite the remnant and newly created wetlands from the 1993 flood, the Missouri River remains channelized and the flood plain heavily agricultural. Private landowners could cooperate with state and federal agencies in wetland restoration or protection through various incentive programs (e.g., Wetland Reserve Program). Increasing public awareness of wildlife values of the area is a priority listed in MDC?s Wakenda Bottoms Conservation Opportunity Area (MDC 2005) that encompasses the West-central Missouri River Bends IBA.