02 May 2008

Mississippi Valley Mecca for Wintering Birds to be Enhanced

Habitat which provides a winter mecca for waterfowl other migratory birds in Arkansas, will be enhanced through a project funded by a federal grant and local conservationists.

View of project area wetland. Images courtesy of Richard W. Johnson.

A recent grant of $909,138 from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act will be used for habitat management at Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. Partners in the grant proposal include Ducks Unlimited, Wetlands America Trust, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, M.E. Black Farms, Bear Bayou L.L.C., Arkansas Audubon, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Rich-N-Tone Duck Calls, Mack's Prairie Wings, Benny Petrus Chevrolet, 5-Oaks Lodge, Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co., Hardly Able L.L.C., and private individuals. They provided about $200,000 in matching funds and another $1.9 million of in-kind contributions.

Activities that will result include easements donated on 5,200 acres, restoration of 4,874 acres, and enhancement of 2,730 acres. A portion of the funds will also help a habitat enhancement project at the White River National Wildlife Refuge.

"This proposal is the first of at least two to restore and enhance the Bayou Meto Basin (BMB) of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (LMAV) to meet conservation objectives for migratory birds and other wetland dependent fish and wildlife," according to the NAWCA grant summary.

The "proposal secures perpetual protection of 4,066 acres of palustrine forested wetlands, 26 acres of palustrine emergent wetlands, 117 acres of palustrine scrub-shrub wetland, 472 acres of riparian habitat, and 519 acres of agricultural-upland habitats via donated conservation easements. The proposal also will restore 5,442 acres, including 844 acres of palustrine emergent or seasonally-flooded wetlands, 4,393 acres of palustrine forested wetlands, and 205 acres of palustrine scrub-shrub wetlands, and it will enhance 2,730 acres, including 586 acres of palustrine emergent wetlands, 376 acres of palustrine forested wetlands, 96 acres of lacustrine wetland, and 1,672 acres of seasonally-flooded rice field. Forest restoration and enhancement in this project will help ameliorate for the estimated 80% loss of this wetland resource in the LMAV.

"This grant will provide an estimated 869,607 Duck Use Days (a measure of carrying capacity or the number of waterfowl a given area of land can support in terms of forage) on wetlands restored and enhanced by this grant. Collectively, this represents 3,794,705 DUDs toward the LMVJV goal of providing approximately 490 million DUDs that will benefit at least 19 species of waterfowl, including five NAWCA high priority species and five NAWCA other priority waterfowl species. Restoration, enhancement, and protection of 9,307 acres of forested wetlands and riparian habitats in or near three LMV joint venture-designated Forest Bird Conservation Areas (FBCA) will benefit at least ten NAWCA priority species for the LMAV (Bird Conservation Region 26) and 15 other wetland dependent forest bird species using the proposal area. At least three NAWCA BCR 26 Priority Species of shorebirds and 20 other species of shorebirds that migrate through or winter in the LMAV also will benefit directly from work proposed herein. Protection, restoration and enhancement activities proposed herein will benefit the NAWCA BCR 26 priority species Little Blue Heron and at least 8 other species of marsh or wading birds.

Waterfowl use of wetland habitat.

“The Halowell Project will benefit numerous species of waterfowl, primarily the Northern Pintail, Mallard, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, Green-winged teal, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall and Northern Shoveler,” said Richard W. Johnson, wetlands program coordinator with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “Other species that will use moist-soil habitat occasionally but not exclusively include Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Wood Duck, Redhead, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck and the Hooded Merganser. Although the wood duck and hooded merganser use forested areas more often than moist-soil and the others are most often associated with deep open water habitats, they can be seen in the moist-soil areas, just not in the great numbers as with the other species. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Lesser Snow Goose and Ross’ Goose will use moist-soil areas as well. Some other birds that will utilize these areas include the Stilt Sandpiper, American Woodcock, White Ibis, Least Bittern, King Rail, Greater Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper and Least Sandpiper.

“The moist-soil areas provide habitat to a wide variety of birds throughout the year. They provide a suite of natural vegetation that provides a “balanced diet” for waterfowl and a substrate for invertebrates that are important to egg-laying hens. Shorebirds will use them and during the summer other species will use them like deer, turkey, rabbits and other small mammals, reptiles and amphibians,” he said.

Wetlands conserved by this proposal provide significant ecological goods and services, especially water quality benefits. The 3,102 acres of seasonally flooded wetland and rice fields to be enhanced and restored by this work will prevent an estimated 47-1,551 tons of topsoil being lost to streams and rivers in the proposal area."

Wetland and forest habitat.

"Plans for the enhancement project call for Halowell's west and central units to be divided into two units each, for a total of four units," Johnson said. "The reservoir's east unit will be used as a storage compartment for surface water. Other enhancements include the installation of a tailwater recovery system and water-transfer canals that will allow each unit to be flooded and drained independently.

"Until recently, Halowell had never been actively managed as a moist-soil unit," Johnson said. "Moist soil management is a lot like farming - the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. This grant will improve management efficiency and enable us to actively manage this area and create more food for ducks and other migratory birds.

"Basically, we're setting up Halowell as a small-scale farm to grow beneficial plants for waterfowl," Johnson said.

"Ducks don't just sit on one area and never move," said Luke Naylor, AGFC waterfowl program coordinator. "They're going to get up and move into the timber to loaf and feed. Improving habitat at Halowell Reservoir should also be beneficial to duck hunters in Bayou Meto WMA."

Johnson said the projects will increase and enhance waterfowl habitat in one of the Mississippi Flyway's most important wintering areas, help Arkansas meet its habitat goals under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and help attract ducks and other migratory birds to the state.

The project partners "fully endorse implementation of long-term wetlands conservation strategies to meet regional goals and objectives of this proposal. This proposal integrates important public lands with those of dedicated private landowners who sought to restore or enhance valuable wetlands on their property in the Bayou Meto Basin."

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