The Conservation Fund has achieved two important milestonesthe planting of its two millionth tree as part of its voluntary carbon offset program, Go Zero, and a total of one million trees in the ground at Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana. All were made possible via private donations.
Since 2010, donations from hundreds of thousands of individuals, together with gifts from leading companies, have been put to work at Upper Ouachita Refuge to restore nearly 3,000 acres with native seedlings. As part of its Plant One for Ouachita campaign, The Conservation Fund oversaw two plantings at the refuge last December, when the milestones were reached. Among the types of trees planted then were sweetgum, overcup oak, bitter pecan, nutall oak, willow oak and sweet pecan.
Forestland once blanketed the 46,500acre refuge, providing shelter for ducks and bears and slowing floodwaters for communities downstream. In the 1960s, when food prices began to rise, lush forests and waterways throughout Louisianaincluding the Upper Ouachita Refuge areawere slashed and burned, leaving behind a drastically altered landscape.
The refuge is one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the nation. The Conservation Fund, together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others, is aiming to repair the Ouachita Rivers natural hydrology and restore much of the native forestland that once covered the region. As they grow, the new forests will provide cleaner air, cleaner water for those downstreamincluding the cities of Monroe and West Monroe, LAand more places to roam for threatened species like the Louisiana black bear.
Our partnership with The Conservation Funds Go Zero program has been groundbreaking, Service Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner said. The Service alone could not have achieved what this publicprivate partnership has been able to accomplish. Together, we are returning significant portions of the Lower Mississippi Valley to its native state, conserving fish and wildlife, and fighting climate change. We are extremely grateful to The Conservation Fund and its donors for their work to achieve these milestones. Now lets push ahead to another milliontree mark.
Over the next century, these trees will provide food and habitat for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and other migratory birds and wildlife, said Upper Ouachita Refuge manager Joe McGowan. Its a partnership that has greatly improved our wetlands restoration efforts here. With the help of The Conservation Fund and its donors, Upper Ouachita will continue to provide some of the very best wetlands for wildlife and the American people.
The refuge, established in 1978, is bisected by the Ouachita River and consists of upland pinehardwood and bottomland hardwood forest; agriculture, moistsoil wetlands, and open water. The refuge provides excellent wintering habitat for tens of thousands of ducks and geese. The endangered redcockaded woodpecker and the Louisiana black bear are found there. Other wildlife species that make the refuge home include alligators, deer, turkey, squirrels, bald eagles and beavers.
We are incredibly proud of our donors and honored to work with the Service to restore special places in America like Upper Ouachita Refuge, said Go Zero director Jena Thompson Meredith. Its biologists and foresters are the very best stewards we could ask for to care for these new trees.
To date, The Conservation Funds reforestationbased carbon programs, including Go Zero, have helped to protect and restore more than 26,000 acres nationwide with eight million trees that will trap an estimated nine million tons of carbon dioxide as the forests mature.
Ann Simonelli is a media relations manager for The Conservation Fund. Stacy Shelton is a public affairs specialist in the Service Southeast Region office in Atlanta.