The NWTF, the USDA National Resources and Conservation Services, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission collaborated to fund a cooperative forester position to facilitate projects and enrollment in the Arkansas Bottomland Hardwood Conservation Partnership Initiative and NRCS’ Wetland Reserve Easement program in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley.
The Mississippi Alluvial Valley is a huge swath of land, stretching from southern Illinois and tracing the Mississippi River as it encompasses numerous states, including Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.
The Mississippi Alluvial Valley once supported 24 million acres of floodplain forest, swamps, sloughs and riverine habitat, but deforestation has resulted in the Valley becoming the Southeast’s most deforested region, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. More than 75% of the Valley’s forest has been lost since European settlement, mainly for agricultural purposes.
Through its Wetland Reserve Easement Program, however, the NRCS is working with organizations like the NWTF and partnerships like the Arkansas Bottomland Hardwood Conservation Partnership Initiative to restore as much of the area as possible to its original glory. With more than 700,000 acres and counting already enrolled, the program is becoming a well-oiled machine for wildlife habitat enhancement.
Sid Munford, the NWTF and the NRCS cooperative forester, is overseeing partnerships and implementing various projects that are working to revitalize this section of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley in Arkansas, which is part of the Mississippi Delta focal landscape within the NWTF’s America’s Big Six of Wildlife Conservation.
“Our primary goals with my cooperative position are to maintain and enhance bottomland hardwoods on private lands that are enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Easement and get more private landowners enrolled,” Munford said. “This entails working with various partners to provide outreach and information in addition to the reforestation work.”
The last couple years have been particularly successful for the Arkansas Bottomland Hardwood Conservation Partnership Initiative.
Munford said more than 750,000 seedlings were planted on about 3,200 acres in the winter of 2019. Regional rainfall in the summer of 2020 flooded fields and prevented annual surveys and research, plus the national COVID-19 pandemic slowed progress. Despite those barriers, Munford said that on-the-ground conservation work enhanced more than 550 acres of bottomland hardwoods this year.
“Although we were happy to get as much work in as possible in 2020, we are looking forward to next year and getting the ball going,” he said. “I have already written 20 reforestation plans for currently enrolled land and have 18 more on file that were just recently enrolled into the Wetland Reserve Easement. If everything goes as planned, these easements will be restored back to native hardwoods next winter. It's going to be a huge tree planting season next winter.”