Forest gains promising for flood abatement, ducks and hunters

Bottomland hardwood forests provide critical habitat and play a huge role in floodwater absorption

Darker green shows the forested areas within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (lighter green) as of 2012.

© Ducks Unlimited

Darker green shows the forested areas within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (lighter green) as of 2012.

MEMPHIS – Jan. 28, 2016 – As another year begins with record high Mississippi River levels, conservation partners in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley are marking the promise of a 1-million-acre gain in forested wetlands. These bottomland hardwood forests not only provide critical habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, they also play a huge role in floodwater absorption.

"The lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley was once a nearly 25-million-acre expanse of forested and backwater wetlands," said DU Director of Conservation Programs Craig LeSchack. "About 80 percent of that forest has been cleared, and much of the natural hydrology has been destroyed. By adding 1 million acres of forest, landowners and conservation groups are restoring the capacity of the system to support wildlife and handle fluctuating river levels."

Thanks to the application of cutting-edge GIS technology by the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture (LMVJV) science staff and Ducks Unlimited's Southern Regional Office staff, the extent of hardwood forest within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley can be monitored. Since that monitoring began in 1992, forest cover has increased by one million acres.

"Achieving this restoration milestone is the result of effective partnerships among state agencies, federal agencies, non-profit organizations and private landowners," said LMVJV Coordinator Keith McKnight. "From conservation easements protecting large remaining mature forest tracts to reforestation efforts like those through the Wetlands Reserve Program, this is an achievement shared by many."

The Mississippi Alluvial Valley is a migration corridor for millions of migratory birds, including waterfowl, each year. Many of these species are dependent on bottomland hardwood forests for rest, food and nesting habitat. Both the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and Ducks Unlimited identify the area as a top priority for restoration and protection in order to maintain desired populations of North American waterfowl. It is also one of the most popular areas of the country for waterfowl hunting.

"Hunting flooded timber in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley is an experience like no other," LeSchack said. "Mallard wings, as they whack their way through the bare limbs, have a way of making an indelible mark on our memory. Thanks to coordinated conservation efforts, now we have one million more acres in which to experience that!"

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 13 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.