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The Nature Conservancy seeks partners in the "Big Woods." (Special Supplement)

The Nature Conservancy is working with private landowners, foundations, corporations, public agencies and its membership to conserve, restore and sustainably manage important Arkansas wetlands. Giant cypress trees, tupelo swamps and bottomland hardwood forests survive in an area of the Delta the Arkansas Field Office of the Conservancy calls the "Big Woods."

People and plants and animals all need wetlands. Wetlands support lush and diverse plant life, which provides wildlife with food, water, rest, nesting and breeding sites. Dense and diverse flora support high populations of invertebrates, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals.

People benefit from wetlands, too. Bottomland forests purify the water that floods them in the rainy seasons. The forest floor filters and transforms nutrients, removing the more toxic, inorganic ions and releasing them as organic particles that serve as a food source for stream organisms. This capability to purify water is of enormous economic value to cities dependent on good water.

Wetlands Support Life

During severe floods, forested floodplains store water, prolonging the time over which the water is released. Water release is thus slowed and occurs at safer levels, reducing flood crests and water velocities downstream. Enormous economic benefits are derived from the "flood insurance" wetlands provide.

Wetlands help replenish ground water supplies. Values are also provided by wetlands for commercial fishermen; recreationists who hunt, fish or simply enjoy nature; and landowners who harvest bottomland hardwood timber. We are privileged, too, in the Arkansas Delta to have wonderfully rich soil, due to the sediment-laden floodwaters history brought us and the Delta "wetlands of old" processed for us.

Arkansas' Delta wetlands are part of the Nature Conservancy's Mississippi River Alluvial Plain (MSRAP) ecosystem initiative. Seven state field offices of the Nature Conservancy -- Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana -- are working with private landowners to identify and establish a corridor of forested wetlands along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The "Big Woods" is Arkansas' part of the MSRAP effort.

The Big Woods

Arkansans are fortunate. Our wetland-rich state still has a substantial amount of floodplain forest intact. Conservation and restoration of a long corridor of forested wetlands has already started in Arkansas. Wildlife management areas and refuges exist in the "Big Woods" as well as several large tracts of sustainably managed, privately held forested land. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are planting hardwoods as well as the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and the Arkansas Forestry Commission. The Conservancy and other private landowners and companies are also planting native hardwoods in the bottomland--whether the trees are for a natural wildlife habitat, future duck hunting, timber harvesting or "I just like to see these trees grow" philosophy.

Wetlands of the "Big Woods" include the bottomlands of Bayou de View, the Cache River, the lower White River and the lower Arkansas River. The "Big Woods" contains floodplain forests recognized by the 49 nations of the Ramsar Convention as "Wetlands of International Importance." The lower 41 miles of the Arkansas River have been listed in the Registry of Arkansas Natural and Scenic Rivers -- it is the single remaining stretch of undisturbed "big river" in Arkansas.

Several rare plants and animals find shelter in the "Big Woods," including the federally-listed endangered interior least tern. The "Big Woods" contains nesting sites for bald eagles, and parts of the "Big Woods" have tracts large enough to provide habitat for native black bear.

The "Big Woods" is vitally important as a migration route for neotropical songbirds, giving food and rest; and the region provides the single most important mallard wintering area in the lower Mississippi Valley.

Some of the Nature Conservancy's recent "Big Woods" activities include:

* Attending county meetings to meet with local citizens to discuss the needs of Delta farmers.

* Providing a Nature Conservancy scientist, Ken Clough, for Cotton Plant High School in the Project WET (Water Education Team) program, supported by a grant from the McKnight Foundation to the Nature Conservancy.

* Visiting Delta timber companies to discuss their concerns and interests regarding the future of Arkansas' bottomland hardwoods.

* Reforesting bottomland hardwood habitat by planting native hardwood seedlings on more than 300 acres in the Cache River Basin (Woodruff and Monroe counties) with private foundation money from Global Releaf.

* Supporting environmentally compatible economic development by participating in the Delta Empowerment Zone/Enterprise Community effort.

* Purchasing and accepting for donation, Delta lands with wetland values that contribute to the bottomland hardwood system, and can help establish the "river of trees" desired in the "Big Woods."

Bobby Robinson, a Woodruff County farmer, quorum court member, and president of Robinson Seeds, Inc., in Cotton Plant, compliments the Conservancy. "We really appreciate what the Nature Conservancy has done in Woodruff County. Every day I see more and more the results of the Conservancy's work for wetlands and wildlife. Our children and grandchildren will see the greatest benefits."

Special places endure in the "Big Woods" -- steamy swamps with private duck "holes" and 2,000-year-old cypress trees; massive, hollow sycamore trees with hidden bear dens; secluded Delta "rain forests," holding genetic secrets in isolated plant communities; secret pools with giant fish waiting for the right pole.

The "Big Woods" has a lot to offer. By working together, the health and wealth of the natural resources and the health and wealth of Delta residents can be increased. The environment and the economy need each other.

The Nature Conservancy has a tradition of partnering environmental needs and economic needs. It helped facilitate the exchange and acquisition of Potlatch wetlands in the Delta. The Nature Conservancy also partners with International Paper in a management agreement for a heron rookery on IP lands, and the Conservancy enjoys long-term relationships with Weyerhaueser and Georgia-Pacific.

Jobs provide hope and self-worth; jobs that sustain nature ensure a future for our children.

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is an international membership organization committed to the conservation of natural diversity. The mission of the Nature Conservancy is to preserve plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and water they need to survive. To date, the Conservancy's Arkansas Field Office and its 3,800 Arkansas members have helped protect 101,000 acres of land in Arkansas. Nationally, the Conservancy has been responsible for protection of more than 7.5 million acres in 50 states and Canada. While some Conservancy-acquired acres are transferred for management to other conservation groups, both public and private, the Conservancy owns and manages some 1,300 preserves -- the largest private system of nature sanctuaries in the world.

The Conservancy still purchases special lands for habitat conservation but the Conservancy has also come to see a broader need--to look at larger ecosystems, recognizing the needs of both people and nature.

Nancy DeLamar, vice president of the Nature Conservancy and state director of the Arkansas Field Office, serves as vice-chair of Gov. Tucker's Wetland Task Force. For more information, call 663-6699.
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Author:DeLamar, Nancy Spargo
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 24, 1994
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