• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

    "Great book and great blog - thanks for the first book I have seen that addresses the contemporary river, headwaters to gulf." Dan McGuiness, Audubon, St. Paul, Minnesota

    Click to order

  • Catagories

  • Archives

  • August 2019
    M T W T F S S
    « Oct    
  • Meta

  • Advertisements

Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana


Bayou Jean Charles runs through Isle de Jean Charles

Isle de Jean Charles: Bayou St. Jean Charles

Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

Dangling out at the end of a thread in the Point aux Chenes Wildlife Management Area is the narrow ridge created by Bayou St. Jean Charles. The string, the island road actually, connects the community of Isle St. Jean Charles to solid ground at Point aux Chenes, where a new, gated community was being built in the fall of 2006. A fourteen-foot hurricane levee will protect the new houses in the gated subdivision. No such levee will protect the small wooden houses that line Bayou Jean Charles, which bisects its narrow ridge. Fiddler crabs drag their single claws along the muddy banks of the stream. Rickety wooden walks connect the houses on the far side of the bayou to the single road that runs the length of the island.

Isle St. Jean Charles is the home of a group of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaws. Before the road, a dirt track built through the marshes in 1953, islanders came and went by boat and made their livings from the marshes–fishing, shrimping, crabbing, and trapping. In 1960s the road was upgraded with crushed clamshells, with black top in the 1970s, and raised and fortified with granite boulders, against which waves can crash, in the 1990s. It promptly sank six inches. High tide can cover it and swamp the wetlands to the north. Hurricanes can flood it. Rita poured four feet of water over it. The history of the road is the history of the marshes on either side of it. They, too, have sunk. By the end of the twentieth century where residents of the island once grazed their cattle and grew their corn, potatoes, beans, okra, and melons had turned to a salt marsh or open water.

Until the early 1900s islanders built their houses of “bousillage,” a mixture of clay and mud and roofed them with domes woven from the palmetto that thrived under the live oaks woods that once shaded their houses and anchored their ridge for a quarter mile back. Now, live oaks are dead; their skeletons rake the sky.

The residents of Isle St. Jean Charles measure their years by what hurricane hit when: Hilda in 1964 flooded the island with thirty-six inches, Betsy in 1965 tore off roofs and siding, Carmen in 1974–thirty-eight inches of water, Juan in 1984–eighteen inches, Danny in 1985–more water, Andrew in 1992–eighteen inches, Lili in 2002 battered houses, Katrina in 2005 blew off roofs, Rita in 2005 blew in four feet of water. FEMA never showed, nor did the American Red Cross. As more and more families left, the community, like the marshes, fragmented. Half the 240 people living on the island in 1997 were gone by 2006.[i]

Isle de Jean Charles is being lost to the destruction of the Louisiana Deltaic Marshes by careless oil and gas drilling. And it continues. It is also being lost to rising sea levels.

For more read the following article in Daily Kos.

[i]             Quaid, John, “Written Off: The Gulf is slowly swallowing Isle de Jean Charles and other south Louisiana towns,” Special Edition: Washing Away, 1997, New Orleans Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com/hurricane/index.ssf?/washingaway/writtenoff_4.html; Norrell, Brenda, “Living in the aftermoth of two Killer storms,” Indian Country Today, October 2, 2006, http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096413755.


The St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project

1 Mississippi is hosting a webinar on Monday, June 17 at 2:00 PM CDT on the proposal to close the New Madrid Floodway at its foot. Click here:  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8363148575022700544 to register for the webinar.

It’s baaaack: The closure of the foot of the New Madrid Floodway is back on the agenda of folks who farm the floodway and see there land flooded every year the Mississippi Floods. If you remember, two years ago the floodway was opened to provide extra storage capacity for the flooded Mississippi. But every time the river floods water backs up into the floodway at its foot.

It seems that Senator Roy Blunt is pressuring the Obama Administration to go forward with the closure of the floodway by putting a hold on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

I cut the following essay from The Mississippi, because the issue had been resolved in 2007 when U.S. District Judge James Robertson of the District of Columbia ordered the project halted and the work already accomplished dismantled. It had not. Soon after the Memphis District of the US Army Corps of Engineers began working to satisfy the court’s objections to the closure of the floodway. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others who object to the project or no more satisfied with it as it stands now than they were when the judge ruled in 2007. These things never go away. This link will help you understand where the project stands now.

The following is the full story as it stood in 2007:

Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in the New Madrid Floodway

Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in the New Madrid Floodway

The St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project

In 1928 when General Edgar Jadwin and the Corps of Engineers designed the New Madrid Floodway, the agency left a 1,500-foot gap at the foot of the setback levee for the release of floodwater and installed a fuse plug levee at Birds Point at its head. The designers understood that the lower third would become a backwater storage area. To compensate landowners for the use of their land, the agency purchased flood easements in the upper two-thirds. That wasn’t necessary in the lower third, which would flood with the river every time. It was the floodway’s role as a backwater storage area that created an uproar at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when the Crops published its plan for the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project, which promised to eliminate backwater flooding in the New Madrid Floodway.

The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 authorized the dredging of St. Johns Bayou for flood control, the St. Johns Bayou Pump Station, which included a gated culvert across the foot of the bayou, and the New Madrid Pump Station and a gated culvert set in the 1,500-gap in the setback levee of the New Madrid Floodway. St. Johns Bayou Basin is located between the setback levee and Sikeston Ridge. The gated culverts would halt backwater flooding from the river, but assure interior flooding in both St. Johns Bayou basin, located between the setback levee and Sikeston River, and in the New Madrid Floodway. The pumps would clear water ponding behind the closed culverts. The culvert across St. Johns Bayou was built. In 1997 the Memphis District of the Corps of Engineers filed its intent to prepare and environmental impact study of the project.

Environmentalists, river conservationists, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and taxpayer watchdogs: all objected. They balked at closing the last connection the Mississippi had to its floodplain in Missouri, at the $65 million cost, at the damage that would be done to Big Oak Tree State Park, at the loss of spawning habitat for fishes and wintering places for waterfowl, to the channelizing of St. Johns Bayou and other drainage ditches. They complained that the project would benefit a handful of big landowners. They noted that East Prairie in the St. Johns Bayou Basin would continue to flood due to runoff from roofs and parking lots. They encouraged the Corps to find non-structural solutions to the flooding problems, including a ring levee around East Prairie.

The East Prairie Enterprise Community, the local sponsor of the project, and other residents of Swampeast, weren’t interested in environmentalists’ concerns. East Prairie residents complained that a ring levee would cut them off from the rest of the world. Farmers gave little support to the Wetland Reserve Program. They had rejected a 1993 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offer to purchase land in the St. Johns Bayou basin for a national wildlife refuge at fair market value. Nor were they interested in converting their lands from crops to timber.

In September 2000 the Memphis District sought to please both the environmentalists and the residents of Mississippi County when it revised its plan. The floodgate and the pumps would stay, but the following changes would be made: the Corps would dredge only the St. Johns Bayou-St. James Bayou drainage ditch, reduce its width from 200 feet to 120 feet, and excavate only one side to avoid cutting into forests. The engineers would not dredge the upper 3.7 miles of St. James Bayou Ditch to avoid the habitat of the golden topminnow, a state endangered fish; would avoid mussel beds or relocate them and set up a ten-year monitoring program. They would set rock structures in the channels to enhance fish habitat; move water in and out of the lower reaches of the floodway and the basin for winter and early spring waterfowl and to allow spawning fish to pass to and from the river; purchase conservation easements on 765 acres of herbaceous land along the channel to replace shorebird habitat; reforest 9,557 acres of seasonally flooded cropland. At Big Oak Tree State Park they would build a control structure to regulate water in its swamps–enough for the cypress, but not too much for the oaks.

Big Oak Tree State Park

Big Oak Tree State Park

The Corps published essentially the same plan in June 2002, but added the construction of the wildlife corridor between Big Oak Tree Park and the Ten Mile Pond conservation area and riparian buffers along sixty-four miles of streams and drainage channels to filter water flowing to Big Oak Tree. Most important, the engineers made the commitment to the restoration of Big Oak Tree, purchasing and reforesting 1,800 acres surrounding the park and restoring the park’s hydrologic connection to the Mississippi with water control structures in the park, a canal with gated culverts set in the mainline levee to allow water to flow between the park and the river. The cost of the new plan came to $85 million dollars and still did not satisfy the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the owner of Big Oak Tree Park.

In 2004 the Memphis District issued a contract for the construction of the New Madrid closure and the pump, but stopped work on the project when National Wildlife Federation and the Environmental Defense Fund filed suit in Federal Court, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act.

In December 2005 the Corps published a second Revised Supplemental Environmental Impact that would allow fish to spawn in the sumps behind the culverts and would reestablish the hydrological connection between Big Oak Tree and St. James Bayou through a culvert in the levee.

The Corps pointed out repeatedly that the success of the project depended on finding people willing to sell their land for mitigation to add 1,800 acres to Big Oak Tree State Park or the addition 1037 acres needed for the wildlife corridor and riparian buffers.

In the fall of 2006 the Corps of Engineers started work on the project, even after being told they would likely lose the Federal suit filed two years earlier. The suit came to fruition in September 2007, when U.S. District Judge James Robertson of the District of Columbia ordered the project halted and the work already accomplished dismantled.

Mississippi River Trail-By Water or By Land

I found a new site yesterday, The Mississippi River Trail, which encourages people to canoe from Saverton, Missouri to Cairo, Illinois, a distance of two hundred miles. Saverton, the starting point just south of Hannibal, hugs the bank of the river in Pool 24. The site, which seems to be under construction, includes maps of Pool 24 and a variety of other maps of the trail, but not all. You can find the Upper Mississippi navigation maps , which are available for purchase, but which you can print on your home printer. It’s not perfect, but it works. You can also print USGS maps, show you the river, but also the roads to the river’s edge.

I have a sorry history with canoeing. For my work on The Mississippi: A Visual Biography, I floated the Headwaters, dumped three times, almost lost my camera (fortunately a wooden camera that dried out), and quit before I was about to back over a waterfall. Not a great experience.

If you want to explore the wetlands created by the river, go by road.

Ted Shanks Wildlife Management Area: Flag Lake

Ted Shanks, just north of Louisiana, Missouri, is a Missouri Conservation Department managed wetland and will worth the visit.

Norton Woods, June 1994

You will need USGS maps to find Norton Woods, at the northern end of Stag Island. It is not easy to find. It is on a skinny strip of land that is swamped every time the river floods.

Norton Woods on the USGS map

Cuivre Slough

A boat ramp at Cuivre Slough gives access to the river. To get there travel across the old channel of the Cuivre River.

Duck Chute at the Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi River

Duck Chute is a part of the complex of wing dikes that direct the current of the Missouri River into the Mississippi and keeps the rivers from taking over Duck Chute at the main navigation channel. You can get to it from the Columbia Bottoms Wildlife Management Area.  You to get to the viewing platform, look to the left and you will find the trail worn by anglers who descend into the chute for the fishing. It is only available when the river is down.

Harlow Chute

Harlow Chute, south of Crystal City, Missouri, is a part of the Middle Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge.  Use a USGS map to get to it.

Degonia Creek at Cora, Illinois

Degonia Creek streams into the battue lands, on the river side of the levee, at Cora, Illinois, and forms its own little floodplain, within the larger Mississippi Floodplain.

There are other places to explore. I will touch on them another time.

The Magic of the Atchafalaya River Swamp

Six Mile Lake

In 1812 President Thomas Jefferson sent Captain Amos Stoddard to explore the Louisiana coastal plain, including the Atchafalaya Basin. He was one of the first to describe the strings of lakes and bayous that laced together the Atchafalaya Swamp, which divided the “Delta from what is called the elevated country.”

The Lower Atchafalaya Basin

From thirty miles below Old River, “the Chafalia affords a beautiful sheet of water, at least as far down as Cow island, from seventy-five, to one hundred and fifty yards wide, and from twenty-five to thirty feet deep in the dry seasons. At Cow island the stream is divided; one part spreads into a large lake; the other part continues its course, and seems to maintain its usual breadth and depth. The current of the Chafalia is gentle till it is joined by the Plaquamines about one hundred fifty miles from the outlet on the Mississippi, which its velocity is considerably increased. It communicates with lake Natchez by means of several bayous, the largest of which is bayou Long. This bayou is connected with lake Flat, Grand river, and Grand lake, by means of several bayous, most of which are navigable in the season of high water. Grand lake is about forty miles long, and from three to ten miles wide, into which the Chafalia is emptied by a channel of about two hundred fifty yards wide; and a depth of nearly forty feet. It then posses through Berwick bay, which is from half a mile to two miles wide, and from sixty to eighty feet deep; and after a course of about twelve miles, it falls into Vermillion bay, which is an arm of the gulf.”–Captain Amos Stoddard

In 1982 the Corps of Engineers issued its Final Environmental Supplement, its plan for the Atchafalaya Basin. This came only after a multi-year battle with those people who cherish the Atchafalaya River Swamp and did not want to see it stripped of its trees, drained, and turned over to agriculture. The plan forbad the conversion of the swamp to other uses, including agriculture, and it banned certain logging practices.

Another source of concern for the Atchafalaya environmentalists was the huge amount of sediment being deposited in the lakes that compose the river swamp. The process began as the Atchafalaya drew more and more water and sediment from the Mississippi and from the Red River. Until 1917 the lower two-thirds of the Atchafalaya Basin was an open freshwater lake. Between 1917 and 1930 the Atchafalaya deposited 4.63 square miles of sediment into Grand Lake at its head and continued to do so at the rate of three-fourths of a square mile per year. By 1989 the process of sedimentation reduced the great basin lake, which once covered 230 square miles, to series of small shallow lakes—Six Mile Lake, Upper Grand Lake, Lower Grand Lake, and others—which cover fifty square miles at the basin of the basin north of Morgan City.

Which brings us to the Flood of 2011. Yesterday, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a press release noting that this flood increase the rate of sedimentation in the swamp. It will erode some parts of the basin just below the Morganza Spillway and deposit sediment in cypress-tupelo swamps that are normally isolated from the process of sedimentation.

Sherburne Wildlife Management Area: Des Ourses Swamp

Willows, the pioneers species on new soil, took root on the edge of Des Ourses Swamp, one of the many lakes in the Atchafalaya river swamp. The wetland and its surrounding forest swamp are a birding paradise. Ducks–mallards, woodies, gadwalls, shovelers, pintails, wigeons, teals, mergansers, and ring-neckeds–spend the winter. Wading birds–stilts, yellowlegs, sandpipers, dowitchers–stalk the shallows. Plovers, killdeers, sandpipers, and snipes pick their way through the mud flats in July when the impoundment is drained. American woodcocks fly in at dawn and dusk. Kites–swallow-tailed and Mississippi, red-shouldered-hawks, barred owls, woodpeckers–downy and red-bellied loggerhead shrikes, Carolina wrens, gnatchatchers, warblers, and oriole inhabit the forest, joined in the winter by kestrels, kingfishers, phoebes, kinglets, thrushes, robins, sparrows–field, song, white-throated, and white-crowned, and warblers–orange-crowned and yellow-rumped.[i]

Bayou to Upper Grand Flat

The banks of a narrow slough between Upper Grand River and Upper Flat Lake are lined with willows and carpeted with cockleburs. Depending on the water level, sometimes the slough flows to the lake and sometimes it flows to the river. Sometimes, it is flooded, and sometimes no more than a muddy ditch, too thick to paddle a canoe in and too wet to walk in.

Within the Lower Atchafalaya Floodway there were 94,000 acres of pioneer forests on recently deposited sands when the 1982 plan was issued. Nearly pure stands of willow could be found on new deposits. Older deposits hosted a mix of willow, cottonwood, and sycamore, with waxmyrtle, false nettle, lizard’s tail, blackberry, shield fern, and swartweed growing in the understory or covering the ground. The willow forests provided habitat for deer, swamp rabbits, and migratory songbirds.

As more and more sediment accumulated and the land dried out, the pioneer forests would evolve into productive bottomland hardwood forests, treed in oaks–water, willow, Nuttal, and overcup; pecans, ash, and red maples: habitat for wildlife, gold to the timber industry. Without the 1982 plan the bottomland forests would have been logged and the land turned over to agriculture. The plan forbad the conversion of land south of U.S. 190 to agriculture.

Every spring the Atchafalaya inundated the forests for a few days to a few months, bringing in fish and crawfish and invertebrates. Decaying vegetation hosted bacteria, food for crawfish and invertebrates. Nutrients released from the decaying process nourished microscopic floating plants, more food for invertebrates. Water-loving mammals followed, feeding on fish. Floodwaters washed them all–fish, bacteria, invertebrates, and tiny plants–throughout the floodway.

Upper Grand Flats

Upper Flat Lake supports cypress trees, standing as individuals and in groups, and the stumps of cypress logged early in the twentieth century. Sandy islands support willows. Swampy islands, colonized by cypress and swamp privet, dot the landscape. When the water falls, campers can pitch their tents on them. When the lake floods, dry land disappears. Waterhyacinth float everywhere. The exotic plant, that has proliferated across the south, is a two edged sword in southern waterways. On one hand, it is capable of removing excess nutrients and filtering heavy metals and toxins from polluted water. On the other, it spreads rapidly, clogs the lakes and bayous, and kills the trees it surrounds.[ii]

[i] U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “Ducks Unlimited,” Around the Corps, July 2002, http://www.hq.usace.army.mil/cepa/pubs/jul02/story23.htm; Louisiana Travel, “Bayou Birds, the Atchafalaya loop, South Farm Unit, Sherburne Complex WMA,” http://www.louisianatravel.com/explorela/outdoors/birding/loops/atchafalayaloop.pdf

[ii] Mississippi River Commission, Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System, Louisiana, Feasibility Study, Main Report and Final Environment Impact Statement, Vicksburg: Mississippi River Commission, 1982, EIS-73, EIS-75-76; Niering, William, Wetlands, The Audubon Society Nature Guides, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1985, 464.

The Upper Mississippi–A RAMSAR Wetland of National Importance

Trempeleau Bay

From The Mississippi: A Visual Biography:

“It is a well-kept secret that the Upper Mississippi River, with its 2.7 million acre floodplain and its towering bluffs, is a tourist mecca. In 1999 the Upper Mississippi River corridor, with its fifty active bald eagle nests and eighteen active heron rookeries in its refuge, racked up 11 million recreational visits, more than Yellowstone Park. People came to hunt, fish, boat, bird and eagle watch, enjoy the fall colors, roam the old river towns, party at its festivals and fishing tournaments, and gamble on its riverboats. They spent $6.6 billion and provided jobs for 140,000, mostly in the hotel, restaurant, and retail industries.”

Last week the RAMSAR Convention recognized 300,000 acres of the Upper Mississippi River and its floodplain as a Wetland of International Importance. Included in the designation was the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, recognized since the 1930s as and important wildlife refuge.

On August 21, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set aside 706 acres of Mississippi River floodplain near Trempealeau, Wisconsin as a refuge for migratory birds and waterfowl. In 1979 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the Delta Fish and Fur Farm and added 5,617 acres to the refuge. In the fall of 1997 the American Bird Conservancy designated the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge and the Upper Mississippi River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge as Globally Important Bird Areas in the United States, the conservancy’s highest designation for a refuge.

Upper Mississippi, Wigwam Slough

The refuge provides breeding, resting, and feeding places for a wide variety of birds: grebes, cormorants, canvasback ducks, wood ducks, mergansers, shovelers, tundra swans, herons, osprey, eagles, coots, sandhill cranes, and others. It draws 70,000 visitors a year for hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, and photography.

Winniesheik Bottoms

In 1923 the Corps of Engineers proposed draining 30,000 acres of the Winneshiek Bottoms and turning them over to agriculture. It was the ensuing fight over the draining of the bottoms, which stretch from bluff to bluff north of Lansing, Iowa, that led Congress to purchase 200,000 acres of Upper Mississippi islands and sloughs and create the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

The RAMSAR Convention was formed in 1971 to highlight the importance of wetlands to humans and animals. For humans the protect water quality by filtering out pollutants and sediments. For animals they provide breeding, feeding, and nesting places. For humans, the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which extends from Minnesota to Illinois, provides numerous places to fish and hunt or merely observe the animals. Now is migration time, an ideal time for birders who live near the refuge.

Images and text, Copyright @ Quinta Scott, 2010

Oil, Ducks, the Louisiana Coast, and Tara Wildlife

An article on the work that Tara Wildlife is doing to provide winter habitat for migrating ducks has been sitting on my desk for over a week. It is a follow up on an article I wrote three weeks ago about providing feeding stops for waterfowl north of the Louisiana Coast to keep them out of the oiled wetlands.

In that time Michael Grunwald at Time has published an article stating that maybe, just maybe the BP gusher will cause less damage to Louisiana’s wetlands than the airboats skidding across the wetlands to remove the oil will cause. Grunwald and the scientists he interviewed, G. Paul Kemp, who suggested in May that the Corps of Engineers change the Mississippi/Atchafalaya ratio of 70/30 to 80/20 to hold back the oil,  and Ivor van Heerden, who documented the levee failures in New Orleans during Katrina in The Storm, have documented only 350 acres of oiled wetlands, tiny compared to the 2,000 square miles of wetlands lost to oil and gas canals reamed through the marshes to get at the oil. Len Bahr at LaCoastPost, who traveled with Grunwald on his tour of Barataria Bay, followed up with a posting that reflects what Grunwald described in Time.

Brecount Lake, Near Tara Wildlife

Still the work that is being done at Tara Wildlife to provide refuge for migrating waterfowl is important, because it is being done at a private refuge, albeit with public money. The US Department of Agriculture will give $6.1 million dollars to  private landowners in Mississippi to turn low-lying lands on their properties to wetlands for migrating waterfowl this fall. Some of that money will go to Tara Wildlife, which is creating wetlands on its lowlands.

When I was writing The Mississippi: A Visual Biography the reader suggested that I look into private efforts to restore wetlands. Fortunately, I had already toured Tara Wildlife with Sidney Montgomery, an avid bass angler who was Tara’s marketing director at the time. From him I learned about Tara’s owner Maggie Bryant, who inherited 20,000 acres from her husband and decided to take the land out of row crops and put it in conservation on her own. Tara fronts on twelve miles of the Mississippi River north of Vicksburg near Eagle Lake, an oxbow. In 2001 Bryant put 17,000 acres under conservation easement with Ducks Unlimited that that it would always be used for conservation.

Bryant and her staff manage Tara for sustainability. She took her cropland out of production and put in timber, rotating Tara’s harvest on an eighty-year cycle. First, she protected the young hardwoods from her carefully managed herd of deer. In the early years Tara refuge managed the deer for a private hunt club, and then offered it facilities to bow-hunters. Tara also catered to bird hunters, turkeys in the spring and dove and quail in the fall. The summers were devoted to youth camps to introduce kids to outdoor skills, wildlife management, and conservation. Bird watchers came to Tara for the 115 species that have been identified, including white ibis, roseate spoonbills, thousands of wood storks, and a pair of nesting bald eagles. As a dividend, birders might spot a silky black squirrel, more common in the northeast than the southeast, scrambling up a tree. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the folks at Tara began seeing Louisiana black bears, forty sightings in 2001 alone, leading wildlife biologists to hope that one day this private refuge would support a breeding population.

In 2006 Tara joined in a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and nineteen others* to encourage wildlife conservation on private lands. The Mississippi Partners for Fish and Wildlife hoped to build on the kind conservation work Bryan and her staff performed at Tara, and initiate bottomland reforestation projects, manage their timber, reestablish the hydrology in their wetlands, undam their streams and reestablish flow, and establish riparian buffers along their streams to absorb nutrients flowing off their fields.

In April 2001, the Jackson, Mississippi office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its fact sheet on the Yazoo Backwater Project, the Corps’ proposal to drain the lower third of the Yazoo basin with a huge pump, costing $181 million. The service refused to support the project. Among the several reasons given, the service feared that draining the backwater region would reverse the progress the private landowners had made in restoring its wetlands. Agriculture would replace conservation, farm fields would replace wetlands, corn and soybeans would replace bottomland hardwoods. Wildlife would lose habitat.

Finally, in 2002 Mrs. Bryant funded the salary of a full time staffer at the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee through the Tara Foundation and the Purvis Grange Foundation, two foundations she set up for the purpose of making contributions to conservation projects.[i] Photograph, 2006

*Audubon Mississippi, Delta Wildlife, Inc., Ducks Unlimited, International Paper Company, Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Mississippi Department of Transportation, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Mississippi Forestry Commission, Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation Commission, Mississippi Wildlife Federation, Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Foundation, Mississippi Chapter–National Wild Turkey Federation, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Quail Unlimited, Tara Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Weyerhaeuser Company.

[i] Young, Matt, “Tara’s Treasures,” Ducks Unlimited, May/June 2002, http://www.ducks.org/DU_Magazine/DUMagazineMayJune2002/2217/TarasTreasures.html; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Perspective on The Corps of Engineers’ Proposed Yazoo Pumps Project,” April 25, 2001, http://www.fws.gov/southeast/pubs/facts/yazooback.pdf.

Oil and waterfowl on the Louisiana Coast

Indian Bayou, Catahoula National Wildlife Refuge

“Catahoola Lake lies west of this place & communicates with the Red river during the time of the great annual inundation; it receives at the West or N.W. angle a Creek called little river, which preserves a channel with running water at all seasons, meandering along the bed of the lake; but all other parts of its superficies during the dry season from July to November & often latter, are completely drained & become clothed in the most luxuriant herbage: the bid of the Lake them becomes the residence of immense herds of Deer, of Turkeys, Geese, Ducks, Cranes &c&cc feeding on the grass and grain; the Duck species being generally found on or near the little river.”– William Dunbar, 1804[i]

William Dunbar described what modern wildlife managers call “moist soil management” for migrating waterfowl. He made his observations at Catahola Lake in northwestern Louisiana, north of the Red River, which is just as important for migrating waterfowl in the modern era as it was in 1804. And this year finding safe, oil-free resting and feeding areas for waterfowl is critical, because oil from the Deephorizon gusher has fouled their winter resting areas along the Louisiana coast.

Duck Impoundment, Red River Wildlife Management Area, Louisiana

Waterfowl, migrating from the Upper Mississippi basin, follow the Mississippi and the Tensas rivers south to the northwestern Louisiana wildlife refuges; those migrating from the Central Plains follow the Red River south to the refuges. Should those refuges freeze over during the winter, the birds move south to the Louisiana coastal marshes. If the coastal marshes are hot and dry, they retreat north to the northwestern refuges. My friend, Bayou Woman, complains that it has been so warm in the coastal areas the last few years, that the duck hunters are unhappy because the ducks are all up north. If that is the case this year, that’s good news for the ducks, bad news for the duck hunters, who will have to go north for their hunt.

Grand Prairie Rice Field, Arkansas

For years Ducks Unlimited has been urging rice farmers to flood their fields after harvest and invited the ducks to stop, rest, and feed.  This year the Natural Resources Conservation Service has started a program that encourages farmers and ranchers in states north of the Gulf coastal states to manage their lands this fall for migrating waterfowl.

In the spring rice farmers build mini-levees in their fields that follow the contours of their fields. The levees hold the water in the fields while the rice is growing. When their rice starts growing, farmers flood their fields, keeping the growing tips of the rice above the waterlevel. When they are ready to harvest the rice, they drain the fields and harvest the rice. Then they reflood the fields for the ducks.

Words and Photographs Copyright by Quinta Scott, 2010, All Rights Reserved

[i] Dunbar, William, “Journal of a Voyage”, Documents Relating to the Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana, Boston, New York,: Houghten Mifflin & Company, 1904, 19.