Since 1982, the Conservancy and its partners have reforested over 50,000 acres and safeguarded more than 120,000 acres in the Big Woods. Fortunately, the Conservancy’s work was preceded by decades of conservation action. Large-scale conservation efforts from the 1930s to 1950s created the White River National Wildlife Refuge and numerous state wildlife management areas. And in the 1970s, a group of concerned citizens working alongside the Arkansas Wildlife Federation stopped a project to channelize the Cache River.
The Conservancy’s first purchase in the Arkansas Delta was a 380-acre tract that was transferred in 1985 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the new Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. During the 1980s the Conservancy assisted in adding thousands more acres to the Cache River refuge. In 1992 a land exchange facilitated by the Conservancy, Senator Dale Bumpers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and Potlatch Corporation created a protected 80-mile corridor connecting the Cache River and White River refuges. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservancy helped landowners conserve thousands of acres in the Big Woods through voluntary conservation easements under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wetlands Reserve Program.
The Conservancy and its partners – public agencies, private organizations, businesses, landowners – are working together to conserve the Big Woods as a healthy, functioning floodplain ecosystem within the context of sustainable human use. To accomplish this, the Conservancy has outlined four goals: conserve the remaining forests and wetlands; reforest degraded sites to reconnect forest fragments; restore sustainable form and function to major rivers; and reduce river sedimentation and pollution to preserve water quality.
A prime example of the interweaving of these goals is at Benson Slash Creek, which had been turned into an agricultural ditch 60 years ago. In 2008 the Conservancy completed a project to reconnect the creek to its floodplain. The finished stream stretches some two miles and includes restored meanders, riffles and pools. Scientists are monitoring water quality downstream to measure the project’s effectiveness at reducing sediment entering Bayou DeView. The surrounding land is being reforested with support from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Conservancy is using the project as a living demonstration for others to replicate.
On a larger scale, the Conservancy has a team of hydrology, geomorphology and restoration specialists working on reducing sediment and stabilizing rivers throughout the lower Mississippi River valley. Additionally, the Conservancy is involved in an ecosystem services study designed to quantify estimates of flood water attenuation, carbon sequestration and water quality improvement provided from restored wetlands.