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On Delta lands Programs enhancing wildlife

Mississippi's Delta Wildlife organization is making strides in its efforts to preserve, enhance and restore the region's wildlife and habitat, says Trey Cooke, executive director.

Founded in 1990 by 100 area farmers and business leaders, Delta Wildlife works with state and federal agencies to carry out a wide variety of projects, he said at the Allied Agriculture Conference at the midyear meeting of the Delta Council's board of directors.

“More than 80 percent of those founders are still leaders in the organization,” Cooke said, “and can point with pride to all that's been done to improve both wildlife habitat and the environment.”

Membership now totals more than 2,000.

Projects can have multiple benefits, he noted. “Grass filter strips, for example, not only help control erosion and improve water quality — significant problems in many areas of the Delta — they also provide wildlife habitat.”

Small linear strips along fields don't involve large amounts of land, but can bring four-fold increases in quail populations. “Farmers are really interested in this and have been very cooperative.”

In cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, bottomland hardwoods programs have helped to restore wetlands areas and provide wildlife habitat, as well as an economic benefit to the landowners, Cooke said.

Nearly 230 landowners and 731 Wildlife Conservation Society members are cooperating in wetland restoration and winter water programs, he said, with more than 4,600 acres of habitat restored, and nearly 16,000 acres enhanced.

Delta Wildlife and several state/federal agencies are involved in two major watershed restoration projects.

“Mississippi is No. 1 in the nation for impaired streams, due chiefly to sedimentation,” Cooke said. “We're working with landowners to reduce the amount of sediment going into our waters and to enhance the quality of our streams and waterways.”

Implementation began this year on the $1.34 million Bee Lake watershed project.

“When completed, we expect sedimentation will be reduced by 60 percent,” he said.

Planning and implementation are under way on the Steele Bayou watershed restoration project, which will incorporate practices that “may make this a benchmark for such programs,” Cooke said.

Among programs being conducted under the auspices of the Delta Wildlife organization are:

  • Nesting box programs for wood ducks, bats, and other birds, as well as butterflies.
  • Habitat seed programs, which provide wildlife plants twice annually to members.
  • Educational outreach through presentations to schools, civic groups, and hunting clubs; also, certified hunter education classes.
  • Wildlife/habitat management programs provide members with detailed management plans, including implementation plans.
  • Information on federal aid programs that may be utilized to implement conservation or wildlife management practices.
  • Winter water/wetlands enhancement programs, which provide water control structures to members in order to attract migratory fowl; also, specific wetlands management plans for waterfowl and moist soil plant management.
  • Wetlands Reserve Program, as a partner with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, restores previously-farmed wetlands through hydrology restoration and reforestation.
  • Fisheries restoration program enhances area lakes through additional fishing structures and implementation of best management practices to improve water quality.
  • Quail habitat restoration program develops implementation/management plans for landowners; some cost-sharing is available on quail implementation projects.
  • Turkey habitat restoration program seeks to improve habitat, improve reproduction potential, and control predators.
  • Delta Wildlife research program offers limited funding and staff support to researchers who initiate projects in the Delta that may lead to improved wildlife or natural resources.
  • Backyard habitat, native flora, and urban forestry program, provides membership with information to implement projects that attract backyard wildlife, along with education on use of native plants for landscaping.
  • Information clearinghouse program provides answers to wildlife/conservation questions.

Cooke said a corollary organization, Delta F.A.R.M (Farmers Advocating Resource Management), founded in late 1998, now has about 800,000 acres enrolled, with about 100,000 being added each year.

Members are landowners, farm operators, or land managers, who cooperate in an annual evaluation to document non-regulatory conservation information on their farm or land. They are encouraged to implement as many recognized best management practices as possible to conserve, restore, and enhance the area's environment.

“We want to help insure a more sustainable, profitable future for agriculture in the region,” Cooke said.

There is also an education component aimed at “improving the image of agriculture and educating the public that farmers are the nation's No. 1 environmentalists.”

Delta F.A.R.M serves as a conduit between farmers and governmental agencies, he said, in providing members with up-to-date conservation implementation information, cost-sharing availability, and regulatory information.

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