FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Vicki M. Boatwright or January 24, 1996 Diana M. Hawkins U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE AND LOWER MISSISSIPPI RIVER CONSERVATION COMMITTEE SIGN COOPERATIVE AGREEMENT
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is joining forces with the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee to enhance water quality in the lower Mississippi Valley and restore fisheries habitat in the lower Mississippi alluvial valley that extends from the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at Cairo, Illinois, to the Gulf of Mexico. Loss of approximately 80 percent -- close to 20 million acres -- of the forested wetland habitat in this area over the past two decades has resulted in the decline of many fish and wildlife species. These losses prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate the area as an ecosystem of special concern in 1995.
Recently Noreen K. Clough, the Service's Southeast Regional Director, and Edwin F. Crowell, chairman of the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee, signed a cooperative agreement to create a forum where river management agencies can discuss various issues involving the Mississippi River and make collective decisions on needed actions that states would be unable to accomplish individually. This agreement is patterned after one that has functioned successfully between the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 50 years.
Under the new agreement, the Service provides a full-time coordinator who maintains an office in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This office provides the Committee's member agencies with a focal point for planning and coordinating, on an ecosystem basis, a variety of natural resource management business in the lower Mississippi alluvial valley.
The Committee was chartered under a constitution signed by 11 conservation and water quality agencies in Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee to manage the river's natural resources in these states. Because the Mississippi River generally forms boundaries between states rather than flowing completely within them, no individual state has the management authority or funding to deal with natural resource problems that transcend state boundaries. Although water quality problems may originate in the upper reaches of the river, they frequently affect downstream states, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
The Committee has already made some significant strides in focusing public attention on the major environmental problems in the lower Mississippi alluvial valley and the necessity of planning on a basin-wide scale to resolve them. The organization was recently awarded a $19,000 grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to compile a metadata catalog that identifies agencies operating Geographic Information Systems in the lower Mississippi alluvial valley. This catalog, which is available from the coordinator, will provide resource managers with an important planning tool in their efforts to develop an ecosystem management plan for the lower Mississippi River.
The Committee is also working with state environmental quality agencies and the EPA to develop a basin-wide, water quality enhancement plan. A key component of this plan will be the development of non-point source pollution abatement strategies that will be developed and implemented on a watershed basis. The reduction of nutrients originating from non-point source pollution within the lower Mississippi River watershed is critical to decreasing the low dissolved oxygen condition (hypoxia) that occurs annually in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening marine fishery resources. The Committee co-hosted the first Gulf of Mexico hypoxia management conference with the EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality in Kenner, Louisiana, on December 5-6. More than 200 people attended the meeting on the potential ecological and economic impacts of the extensive hypoxic area that develops each summer in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Scientists theorize that increased nutrient inputs from the Mississippi River are significantly correlated to the expanding size of the hypoxic zone.
To be successful, the development of fisheries restoration, enhancement, and water quality improvement plans must occur concurrently within the lower Mississippi alluvial valley. To achieve these goals the Committee plans to work cooperatively with the agricultural, navigation, and manufacturing industries to increase their involvement in the management of Mississippi River resources.
Copies of the metadata catalog or requests for the Committee's quarterly newsletter can be forwarded to LMRCC Coordinator, 2524 South Frontage Road, Suite C, Vicksburg, MS 39180, or contact Debbie Strickland at (601) 629-6604.
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1996 News Releases