Benefits to Water Quality
Reforestation in the Lower Mississippi River batture will improve water quality by:
- Reducing sediment loss
- Reducing soil erosion
- Reducing the amount of nutrients reaching Gulf waters
Each summer, an area of low oxygen, known as hypoxia, forms in the Gulf of Mexico. This Hypoxic Zone or Dead Zone can kill fish and marine life and may have large-scale ecological impacts on the Gulf is fisheries resources and economic impacts on the Gulf’s commercial and recreational fishing industry.
This Hypoxic Zone forms due to excess nutrients (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus) carried by the Mississippi River and the seasonal stratification (layering) of Gulf waters. These nutrients come from agricultural runoff.
The Gulf Hypoxic Zone averages more than 5,000 square miles each year, or about the size of Connecticut.
To mitigate hypoxia in the Gulf, states, tribes, and federal agencies within the Mississippi River basin are developing strategies for nutrient reduction, including restoring floodplain wetlands.
Additional reforestation in the batture will filter more nutrients from the 1.25-million-square-mile Mississippi River watershed. Each acre of cropland in the Lower Mississippi River region converted to forest removes 84 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous on average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Reforestation will also significantly reduce soil erosion and sediment loss. Current sediment loads delivered to rivers and streams in the Lower Mississippi River Valley average 1.15 tons per acre per year.
Additionally, forests do not require the use of agricultural pesticides, thus eliminating their use on lands converted from agriculture to forest.
Research by the U.S. Forest Service’s Center for Bottomland Hardwoods shows that “converting agricultural lands close to streams into forests would greatly lessen water outflow and reduce the effects of sediment load as far as the Gulf of Mexico.”
Benefits to Wildlife
The population of many forest-dwelling songbirds, certain raptors, and a forest-dwelling shorebird, the American woodcock, have declined in the region. This is due to the loss and fragmentation of forest habitat in the region, along with the loss of complex forest structure.
The region is part of the Mississippi Flyway, a major migratory route for birds. Approximately 60 percent of the bird species found in North America use Lower Mississippi River habitats. This region is North America’s most important wintering area for mallards and wood ducks.
Dozens of forest-dwelling birds pass through the region traveling back and forth to northern nesting grounds and wintering areas in the tropics. Some, such as the rusty blackbird, nest in the boreal forests of Canada but depend heavily on Lower Mississippi River forests for wintering. The population of rusty blackbirds has declined more than 90 percent in the last 40 years, as both its nesting and wintering habitats have diminished.
Reforestation of marginal agricultural lands in the project area will
- Improve habitat and create more habitat for migrant waterfowl,
- Create more forest structure for forest-interior songbirds,
- Increase populations of bird species of concern, and
- Create more nesting and wintering habitats for birds.
Eight high-priority species of waterfowl use the forested wetland complex in the region. These are the hooded merganser, Canada goose, gadwall, northern pintail, green-winged teal, ring-necked duck, mallard, and wood duck.
Converting agricultural land to forest will provide additional food sources for migrant waterfowl. Scrub/shrub wetlands and different forest associations that are scattered in with submerged and floating plants provide an abundance of food including seeds, insects, snails, spiders, crayfish, and other foods.
In the winter, forested wetlands and shrub/scrub wetlands provide roosting sites for waterfowl. These forested wetlands are also used as pair bonding sites by many species during spring migration and provide critical brood habitat for resident wood ducks and hooded mergansers.
Reforestation will create larger, more complex blocks of forests, which benefit many forest-interior songbirds. Two songbirds of high conservation concern, Swainson’s warbler and cerulean warbler, are among the species that depend on larger, more complex forested blocks that can be provided through restoration and management.
Other songbird species of concern, including prothonotary warbler, Kentucky warbler and Acadian flycatcher, will benefit also from forest restoration.
The swallow-tailed kit, a forest-dwelling raptor species of high conservation concern, is absent from most of the region. Experts believe it may repopulate the Lower Mississippi River Valley as larger forest blocks are restored.
Reforestation of marginal agricultural land in the batture is economically and ecologically effective. Most of the land has not been leveled, which ensures a more diverse array of forested wetland habitat types will be available to wildlife.
Reforestation in the Lower Mississippi River batture makes economic sense. It will:
- Reduce financial demand for disaster assistance and crop insurance on lands with repeated losses from flooding or excessive rainfall.
- Help protect federal navigation and flood-control infrastructure (levees) from erosion and catastrophic failure during floods.
- Help diversify local and regional economies by providing highly valued hunting, other outdoor recreational activities, forest products, and carbon offsets. The region includes 18 of the 50 poorest counties in the nation.
Reforestation in the batture is also cost-effective. Land values are relatively low, and most of the land has not been leveled, which ensures that a diverse array of forested wetland habitat types will be available to wildlife.