By Andi Cooper
Imagine leaning against an oak in a flooded bottomland hardwood forest, hiding in the shadows as a huge flock of mallards flutters down through the treetops, or picture yourself in a pit blind in a flooded rice field as waves of pintails circle overhead, warily inspecting the decoys. The lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV)
boasts some of the most storied waterfowl hunting in the nation. This cherished tradition—and the waterfowl and wild places on which it depends—is what Ducks Unlimited's America's River Initiative
seeks to preserve for future generations.
The Mississippi River is the heart of the Mississippi Flyway
, a migration pathway followed by millions of ducks and geese each year from their northern breeding grounds to their southern wintering areas and back. An estimated 4 million to 8 million waterfowl winter in the MAV each year, including up to 40 percent of the midcontinent mallard population. Many more waterfowl continue migrating to the Gulf Coast or to Latin America, but they all rely on resources in the MAV to see them through their journey.
Encompassing 25 million acres in the floodplain of the lower Mississippi River, the MAV was once a vast wilderness of bottomland hardwood forest and other wetlands supporting an incredible abundance and diversity of wildlife. During the past century, however, the majority of these habitats were cleared, drained, and converted to other land uses. Today, only about 20 percent of the region's original bottomland hardwood forest remains, and much of the floodplain has been significantly altered.
Conserving the MAV's most important waterfowl wintering habitats is the goal of the America's River Initiative. Through this effort, DU will protect, restore, and enhance at least 42,000 acres of wetlands in Arkansas
, and Tennessee
. A top priority will be to conserve key waterfowl habitats on public lands. To date, DU and its federal and state agency partners have conserved 137,000 acres on public lands in the MAV, a large proportion of which is open to waterfowl hunting and other forms of outdoor recreation.
Since nearly 80 percent of the MAV's remaining bottomland hardwood forest and other wetlands are privately owned, DU works with landowners to protect waterfowl habitats with conservation easements. These legally binding agreements restrict land-use activities that would degrade the property's value to waterfowl and other wildlife. The protections that conservation easements provide remain in effect forever, even if the property is transferred to other family members or sold to an unrelated buyer. By donating conservation easements to DU's landholding arm, Wetlands America Trust
, private landowners have permanently protected wildlife habitat values on more than 170,000 acres in the MAV alone.