U.S. Forest service grant funding to benefit wetland habitat project

The U.S. Forest Service/Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, in partnership with Ducks Unlimited, has received wetland grant funding.

Situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, the Shawnee National Forest provides critical wetland habitat for migratory waterfowl, songbirds and other wetland dependent plants and animals. 

The Forest Service noted in a news release that partners have been a vital component in accomplishing wetland restoration and enhancements over the years, including pursuing grant funding for land acquisition of sub-marginal farmlands adjacent to the forest, targeted for reclamation as wetlands.

Ducks Unlimited and 20 partners recently were awarded a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act Grant to benefit wetland conservation projects in Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri. 

With additional matching funds from Ducks Unlimited and its partners, total project investment will be $3.87 million and is scheduled to begin as early as spring 2017. 

Projects will protect, restore or enhance wetlands on public and private land in a 32-county focus area.

“These habitats are increasingly important for migration and wintering waterfowl, and we need to provide the kind of landscape they need,” Ducks Unlimited regional biologist Mike Sertle said in a news release. 

With the grant, the Forest Service/Shawnee National Forest will expand the Big Muddy Wetlands Complex and restore an oxbow to the Big Muddy River and 320 acres in the Oakwood Bottoms Greentree Reservoir. 

The wetland projects are in areas highly impacted by humans. 

During the late 1800s and through the 1900s, the area was ditched, drained, timbered, cleared, burned, farmed and grazed. 

The elimination and destruction of bottomland wetland habitats along the Mississippi River floodplain has taken place at an alarming rate during the past 100 years, resulting in a small fraction of the acres of seasonally flooded bottomland habitat that once existed. 

This loss of habitat has had substantial negative effects on the diverse terrestrial and aquatic resources that depend on this habitat type.

This is why U.S. Forest Service/Shawnee National Forest uses a variety of strategies to improve the integrity and productivity of the bottomland forest. 

As forest productivity declines so will habitat quality for migratory waterfowl and other species that depend on wetlands, including the Indiana bat, yellow-crowned night heron, cerulean warbler, timber rattlesnake and many other rare animals and plants.

“North America has lost about 90 percent of its wetlands, making conservation partnerships critical. By restoring wetlands and improving the health of these places, we increase the number of waterfowl and other species that depend on wetlands,” Shawnee National Forest wildlife biologist Paul Widowski said. 

Currently the mature oak overstory of Shawnee wetland forests is rapidly declining and as these oaks die, the shade-tolerant mid-story maple-ash-elm grow rapidly and fill the openings created by dead trees. 

If left unmanaged, these bottomland forests will transition from one dominated by oaks to one dominated by shade and flood tolerant maple, elm and ash, subsequently reducing the productivity of the wetland. 

The result is diminished biodiversity and the loss of the hard mast fruits (acorns, hickory nuts) that support many species of wildlife residing in and migrating through the Big Muddy River Bottomland Habitat Project area.

Forest restoration practices being used, such as timber stand improvements and reforestation projects, have occurred annually since 2007 with much success. 

However, combining these with prescribed fire and improved water control structures will be critical to ensuring the highly productive bottomland oak-hickory forests are replaced over time.

Places such as Big Muddy Bottomlands and Oakwood Bottoms constitute a large block of remnant bottomland hardwood forest that is irreplaceable to the Upper Mississippi River Floodplain. 

The primary management emphasis here is to provide flooded habitat for migratory and over-wintering waterfowl and other game and non-game species, including songbirds, raptors, reptiles, amphibians and other native, wetland species. 

Recreation facilities are provided to protect the resource, provide visitor safety, and to offer interpretation and education. 

A variety of recreational opportunities is provided in a primarily non-motorized setting, including hunting, fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing.

Successful management of these wetlands is possible because of partnerships with organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Heartland Conservancy, National Wild Turkey Federation, Sand Ridge Road Commission and Caterpillar Foundation.

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158
Email: news@annanews.com

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