The Nature Conservancy joins the McKnight Foundation today in announcing that the Conservancy has been awarded an $800,000 grant for its efforts to conserve and restore the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth in Louisiana.
"By any standard, the Mississippi is one of the world's great rivers and conserving it must be a national priority," said Michael Reuter, the Conservancy's Central U.S. regional director of conservation programs. "It is the economic lifeblood of the nation's heartland. It also is home to an incredible number of native species, including 40 percent of all North American waterfowl and 25 percent of all aquatic species found on the continent. We want to thank the McKnight Foundation for this incredible investment in the Mississippi."
In the upper stretch of the Mississippi River, the grant will support the Conservancy's ongoing efforts to build and strengthen partnerships and implement practices that help to restore important tributary streams, namely: Minnesota's Root River, and Wisconsin's Pecatonica River. With the loss of native grasslands and woodlands and extensive draining of wetlands, the health of most tributary rivers and the aquatic species they sustain are in decline. The Conservancy is working with a variety of partners to improve stream health and associated water quality.
"By testing the effectiveness of different conservation practices in these watersheds, the Conservancy expects to learn and share innovative techniques that can improve the condition of the river while maintaining on-farm productivity. It isn't an 'either/or' proposition," said Vince Shay, director of the Conservancy's Upper Mississippi River Program.
The Conservancy also will use money from the McKnight Foundation to work with partners to create a conservation plan for priority sites within the St. Croix River watershed in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The goal is to identify threats and develop strategies to address them.
The grant will also allow the Conservancy to improve collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the National Resources Conservation Service on conservation projects. A Conservancy staff member is working as a Corps employee in order to help identify and develop floodplain restoration projects. In addition, an NRCS staff member will work out of a Conservancy office to better assess the benefits of conservation practices.
In the lower Mississippi River, which begins in Cairo, Illinois, the grant will be used to establish qualitative and quantitative values for the "ecosystem services" bottomland forests provide. The Conservancy and its partners plan to use these values to encourage landowners with farmland located in floodplains to restore bottomland hardwood forests.
"Forested wetlands provide valuable services to humanity," said Lee Moore, director of the Conservancy's Lower Mississippi River Program. "They help clean the air we breathe, they store flood waters, they help keep pollutants and sediment out of rivers, and more. This study will help show landowners potential profits from practices that promote the restoration of bottomland hardwood forests, such as the sustainable harvesting of timber or leasing forested wetlands for outdoor recreation."
Moore said the Conservancy and its partners in the study also plan to use the resulting data to influence U.S. lawmakers to create policies that provide financial incentives for landowners who restore bottomland forests.
The Conservancy will also use the grant money to build its expertise in large-scale river restoration by hiring a river scientist who also has expertise in engineering or by seeking an agreement with the Corps in which one of its employees would work directly with the Conservancy. The Conservancy's goal would be to help restore to a more natural condition areas of the lower Mississippi where the flow of water and sediment has been altered.
Finally, the Conservancy will use a portion of the grant money to work with partners to develop a decision support model that will allow for various management scenarios to be considered for the restoration of Louisiana's Atchafalaya River, the largest freshwater swamp in North America.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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