For Immediate Release
April 28, 1999

Contact: Tom MacKenzie
404/679-7291

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is Helping to Reforest the Delta With More Than Half a Million Seedlings to Restore Wetlands 

It's a disturbing statistic -- an estimated 85 percent of the original forested wetlands of the Mississippi Delta have been lost to development and agriculture. There is a bright spot on the horizon, however. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Mississippi Wetland Management District (District) in Grenada is working to restore bottomland hardwood forests on marginal farmland.

During the last planting season, mid-December through early March 1999, the District's staff planted more than 542,000 seedlings - more than twice the amount they have ever planted - on over 1,800 acres throughout the delta.

"Everyone on the staff, from the mechanics to the foresters, really works hard to accomplish our work. For instance, because of the delta's hard clay soil, it takes as long as two weeks to prepare a mechanical planter," said Ramsey Russell, a Forester with the District.

They used two planters this year.

"It was well worth the work and time. Many wildlife species use these reforested areas for food, shelter and safe travel corridors between connecting habitats. Reforestation may also mitigate the environmental extremes of flooding and drought," said Russell.

A variety of native tree species are planted on the sites including several oak species, such as Nuttall, willow, and water; cherrybark; Shumard; overcup; baldcypress; green ash; sweetgum; blackgum; persimmon; pecan; hackberry; American sycamore; and eastern cottonwood.

With the delta's heavy clay soil types, the best planting usually involves rainfall and wet, muddy conditions. Because many sites have been fallow, some site preparation is necessary before planting; such as prescribed burning, mechanical tillage, or mowing. Hardwood seedlings are custom-ordered from nurseries to ensure adequate size and vigor. Seedlings are picked up or shipped from the nurseries during the winter months and then stored in refrigerated coolers to ensure they remain dormant until planted. To ensure that the seedlings are consistently planted at an adequate depth and spacing, the District uses tractor-drawn planters. An average of 20 or 30 acres a day can be planted with one planting machine and about 300 to 350 seedlings are planted per acre.

Mallards, wood ducks, 33 species of shorebirds, egrets, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, Swainson's warblers, painted buntings, and sedge wrens are among the myriad species of birds which can be seen in the delta's wetlands. The least flycatcher nested in the delta during the summers of 1996 and 1997, the only known nesting occurrences of this species ever in Mississippi. The District reforests low, poorly-drained, flood-prone soils into habitat which attracts these species and more.

They also manage wetlands reforestation on and off Service lands in the delta. While the Service-owned Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge, located in Tallahatchie County, includes a 465-acre section which was previously managed as a commercial catfish operation, most of the refuge consists of former agricultural lands.

Through a partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the Service helps implement the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) projects. Both of these NCRS programs offer cash payments to landowners who agree to discontinue farming the land for at least 10 years and replace crops with some form of permanent cover, usually trees. Last year, the District restored hardwoods on 443 acres of privately-owned properties through the two NRCS programs.

Established in 1989, the District was created to manage Dahomey National Wildlife Refuge in Grenada, along with Tallahatchie and to administer former Farmer's Home Administration (FmHA) (now Farm Services Administration) lands which were transferred to the Service. Over 32,000 acres in 26 northern Mississippi counties are currently managed by the District. The former FmHA lands are properties that were foreclosed on by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or that were deeded from the landowner to the USDA in lieu of loan payment. The original landowners were given the opportunity to purchase their properties back from the USDA, but Executive Order 11990 mandated that all critical wetlands within the properties are to be protected by USDA easements incorporated into the property deeds. Land use activities must be compatible with wetlands conservation. Those easements that were not purchased back by the original landowners were transferred in fee title to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The District manages 6,050 acres that are subject to USDA wetland easements.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprising more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 Ecological Services field offices. The agency administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, enforces federal wildlife laws, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

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Release #: R99-33


1999 News Releases

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