Overview of the Proposal
Brief History of Cache River National Wildlife Refuge
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established on June 16, 1986 with the purchase of 1,395 acres within an approved acquisition boundary of 60,400 acres. On August 5, 1998, the Regional Director approved the Final Environmental Assessment and Land Protection Plan to expand the existing acquisition boundary by an additional 114,900 acres. The approved expansion area approximated the 10-year floodplain of the Lower and Middle Cache River Basin, including Bayou DeView, and increased the approved acquisition boundary to a total of 175,300 acres. The acquisition boundary was further expanded by 410 acres on June 22, 1999, and by 9,864 acres on February 4, 2005 by authority delegated to Regional Directors to approve any refuge expansion totaling 10 percent or less of the approved acquisition boundary for an established refuge. The current acquisition boundary encompasses 185,574 acres, and contains approximately 68,000 acres (fee title). Cache River NWR is one of four refuges administered by the Central Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge Complex that also includes Bald Knob, Big Lake, and Wapanocca NWRs. In addition, Cache River NWR adjoins White River NWR to the south.
The Cache River Basin is characterized by meandering channels, shallow sloughs, oxbow lakes, cypress-tupelo brakes, and scrub-shrub wetlands. The topography includes natural levees, stream channels, and a series of shallow ridges typical of the floodplain. This unique complex of wetlands provides critical wintering habitat for a myriad of waterfowl and other migratory species, as well as resident wildlife species. By virtue of the extent of its remaining bottomland hardwoods and permanently inundated wetlands, the Cache/Lower White River Basin is the most important breeding area for Wood Ducks in Arkansas. The Refuge also provides important habitat for threatened or endangered species such as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Least Tern, Piping Plover, and fat pocketbook mussel.
Cache River NWR was designated as a “Wetland of International Importance” in 1989 under the auspices of the “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat,” commonly referred to as the Ramsar Convention. Similarly, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan identified the Refuge as the most important wintering area for Mallard ducks in North America.
This Draft Land Protection Plan (Draft LPP) identifies and describes the proposed expansion of the acquisition boundary for Cache River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). In order to truly restore the ecological functions for fish and wildlife species in the Cache River Basin, fully implement strategic habitat conservation, and demonstrate that watershed restoration within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) is achievable, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and its partners believe that the land acquisition focus for the refuge must be extended beyond the scope of the current approved acquisition boundary. If the proposed expansion is approved and implemented, it will: (1) Enable protection, restoration and enhancement of an additional 102,000 acres; (2) provide new connections with Bald Knob NWR, Cache River NWR, and White River NWR, six Arkansas state wildlife management areas, two state natural areas, and numerous private lands conserved through federal, state, and non-governmental organization easements (Figures 1 and 2); (3) enhance conservation effectiveness; (4) help restore ecological functions: (5) increase water quality, (6) protect and restore natural hydrology and habitats for the benefit of numerous fish and wildlife trust species; (7) benefit willing sellers outside the current acquisition boundary; and (8) improve access and public use opportunities on a nationally renowned hunting and wildlife observation area.
Cache River NWR, in Monroe, Prairie, Woodruff and Jackson Counties of east-central Arkansas, extends an areal distance of approximately 65 miles along the Cache River floodplain from Clarendon to Grubbs. Land acquisition has continued on a willing-seller basis, and the refuge now contains about 67,400 acres. This proposal would expand the current 185,574-acre acquisition boundary of Cache River NWR to include up to an additional 102,000 acres surrounding the Cache River NWR (Figure 2). When combined with the current Cache River NWR acquisition boundary, this proposal seeks to protect, restore, and enhance up to a total of 287,574 acres both east and west of the Cache River and Bayou DeView. This proposal encompasses undeveloped areas in Monroe, Prairie, Woodruff, Jackson, Cross, and Poinsett Counties. Towns located within or adjacent to the proposed expansion include: Grubbs, Fisher, McCrory, Cotton Plant, Gregory, and Beulah.
Three expansion areas have been identified within the proposed expansion project (Figure 3). A brief description of the currently proposed expansion areas are as follows: Area 1 – Cache River/Bayou DeView Corridor (38,483 acres) to provide corridor habitat and connect the watersheds of Cache River and Bayou DeView; Area 2 – Bayou DeView Peripheral (32,630 acres) strategically expand northward protection of the Bayou DeView floodplain, provide a restoration area associated with the junction of channelized/non-channelized river courses, further connect the watershed of Bayou DeView and Cache River, and establish watershed buffers east of Bayou DeView; and Area 3 - Cache River Peripheral (29,997 acres) to conserve unique habitats west of Cache River, facilitate future connection of the watersheds of the White and Cache Rivers, expand northward protection of the Cache River floodplain, and enhance riparian buffers along the Cache River. The areas and acreages above exclude state and municipal ownerships. These areas are encompassed by the recommended acquisition boundary proposed in Alternative 2 of a Draft Environmental Assessment for the proposed expansion of the refuge. (The current proposed configurations of the expansion areas total 101,110 acres; however Service Director’s approval for this project is up to a total of 102,000 acres). The purposes of this Draft LPP are to:
- Provide landowners and the public with an outline of Service policies, priorities, and protection methods for land in the project area;
- Assist landowners in determining whether their property lies within the proposed acquisition boundary; and
- Inform landowners about our long‐standing policy of acquiring land only from willing sellers. (We will not buy any lands or easements if the owners are not interested in selling.)
This Draft LPP presents the methods the Service and interested landowners can use to accomplish their objectives for wildlife habitat within the refuge boundary. Within approved acquisition boundaries, the Service would be able to enter into negotiations and/or partnerships for the protection, restoration, and enhancement of environmentally sensitive lands. The following list presents the most urgent needs for acquiring an interest in the lands encompassed by this proposal.
- Restore key ecological processes that drive and sustain the unique, but declining Cache River floodplain ecosystem, and improve ecosystem services and associated public benefits.
- Strategically restore altered geophysical features and original connectivity of water flow within and between the Cache River and Bayou DeView floodplains.
- Improve hydrologic function of these streams and their floodplains and enhance wetland and aquatic ecosystems for the benefit of trust species.
- Incorporate protection and enhancement of a diversity of critical habitats on which trust species depend to better represent the full spectrum of habitats that was historically present.
- Restore forested habitat and other natural plant communities to improve overall watershed health and stability, promote carbon sequestration, bolster ecological integrity, and increase habitat patch size to accomplish goals set forth in refuge, state, LMVJV, regional, and national plans for migratory birds, forest breeding birds, endangered species, and resident wildlife and fish species.
- Protect, restore, and enhance fragmented and degraded floodplain forests and create large contiguous forest and riparian buffers adjacent to the Cache River and Bayou DeView to improve water quality, provide fish and wildlife movement corridors, and enlarge habitat patch sizes for trust wildlife species.
- Protect lands between Bald Knob, Cache River, and White River National Wildlife Refuges, state wildlife management areas, state natural areas, and private conservation lands to enlarge conservation benefits within the Cache/White Rivers’ watershed, and increase and facilitate access and wildlife-dependent recreation on public lands.
Description of Habitats for Exapansion Areas
Cache River/Bayou DeView Corridor – 38,483 acres
Currently, only about 15 percent of this 38,483-acre area is forested; the remainder has been cleared for agriculture. The bulk of existing forest remains in partially connected Riverine Overbank Tributary areas (small drains) and contains willow oak, water oak, American elm, green ash, persimmon, and cherrybark oak, or in Post Oak Flats or Dry Phase Hardwood Flats of post oak, southern red oak, and shagbark hickory with willow oak in vernal pools and minor drains. However, historically, the dominant habitat types were: Wet Phase Hardwood Flats of delta post oak, willow oak, Nuttall oak, and overcup oak (41 percent), then roughly equal parts of: Riverine Overbank areas (14 percent), and Post Oak Flats (14 percent), and Dry Phase Hardwood Flats of post oak, southern red oak, and shagbark hickory with willow oak in vernal pools and minor drains (13 percent). Also worthy of note are smaller components of significant habitat currently underrepresented on the refuge: Isolated Depressions (3 percent), Terrace Depressions (1 percent), and especially Upland Hardwoods (9 percent).
Acquisition of the this area would enable hydrologic and habitat restoration within this broad and critical gap between the two major prongs (Cache River and Bayou DeView) of the current acquisition boundary, and provide a unique opportunity to functionally reconnect these two watersheds and restore a comprehensive suite of habitat communities. Additionally, threats to the ecological health and integrity of the refuge could be significantly reduced by correcting the altered hydrologic regime resulting from agricultural conversions, curbing non-point source pollution, and reestablishing native plant communities. These improvements would support achievement of refuge purposes to an extent not possible without such expansion and the resultant increase in capacity and capability for conservation and management programs.
Bayou DeView Peripheral – 32,630 acres
This area extends the zone of protection of the historic channel of Bayou DeView from the current acquisition boundary northward to connect to Bayou DeView State WMA holdings; the area also extends in strategic areas to the east and west to encompass desirable habitats and improve access and management capability. The main expansion northward would provide a critical riparian habitat buffer for Bayou DeView (which currently does not exist) and allow hydrologic restoration and water quality improvement both here and downstream. This area would enable future restoration efforts to restore more natural flows through the historic bayou channel and reestablishment of more normally functioning riparian corridor and floodplain. Significant benefits to the Bayou DeView system also would be derived from reducing erosion and sedimentation, surface water withdrawal, chemical and nutrient runoff, and stream zone disturbance.
Most of the area has been cleared for agriculture; only around 6 percent of the area remains as forest in scattered blocks. Historically, the area supported mostly Wet Phase Hardwood Flats of delta post oak, willow oak, Nuttall oak, and overcup oak (35 percent), and then roughly equal parts of Riverine Overbank Tributary Valleys of willow oak, water oak, American elm, green ash, persimmon, and cherrybark oak (14 percent); Dry Phase Hardwood Flats of post oak, southern red oak, and shagbark hickory with willow oak in vernal pools and minor drains (12 percent); and the final major components of Riverine Backwater Upper and Lower Zones (11 percent and 10 percent, respectively). Following these are components of significant habitat currently underrepresented on the refuge: Post Oak Flats (6 percent), and Upland Hardwoods (4 percent).
Cache River Peripheral – 29,997 acres
The Cache River Peripheral area expands the current acquisition boundary 29,997 acres in several blocks strategically located along the western and northern sides of the Cache River watershed. Only about 15 percent of the area is currently forested; the remainder is agricultural land. Similar in function to Area 1, this expansion area would enable restoration and at least partial connection of the watersheds of the White and Cache Rivers. The largest concentrations of existing hardwoods are either: (1) Riverine Backwater Upper and Lower Zones; the Upper Zone containing willow oak and Nuttall oak with overcup oak in vernal pools, and the Lower Zone containing overcup oak, with Nuttall oak as a common associate and baldcypress and water tupelo in swales and along internal drainages, or (2) Dry Phase Hardwood Flats of post oak, southern red oak, and shagbark hickory with willow oak in vernal pools and minor drains.
Historically, the dominant habitat types were: (1) Riverine Backwater Upper and Lower Zones (17 percent and 15 percent, respectively); (2) dunes containing black oak, post oak, southern red oak, prairie grasses, prickly pear, and blackjack oak (13 percent). (Dunes are soils made up of wind- blown sands deflated from Late Wisconsin outwash channels and deposited on the adjacent, older valley train terraces. These dune fields are unique to the Arkansas Delta Region of the Lower Mississippi Valley (LMV), and scarcely represented in only a portion of two current refuge tracts); and (3) Holocene Point Bars and Backswamps containing Delta post oak, water oak, swamp chestnut oak, and mockernut hickory, with willow oak, Nuttall oak, and green ash in vernal pools (12 percent). Other substantial components found here that are very unique habitats to the Cache River watershed are Post Oak Flats (2 percent), and especially isolated Sand Ponds (1 percent in the Cache Bayou area) that historically supported shrub species of concern, such as corkwood (Leitneria floridana) (state listed as vulnerable), and the federally endangered pondberry (Lindera melissifolia).
A tupelo swamp. Photo: USFWS.
Wetlands at Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: USFWS.