“Ingram’s investment serves as a demonstration of how collaboration can be applied to support similar projects throughout the Mississippi River – from its headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Mark Tercek, President/CEO of The Nature Conservancy.
Some of The Nature Conservancy’s most valuable partners are those working outdoors. On land, that means farmers and foresters; in water it is anglers, outfitters and now barge operators as a result of the Conservancy’s first collaboration with the river navigation industry.
Since 2009 The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky entered into a five-year partnership with the Ingram Barge Company to work with farmers and landowners in the Mississippi River watershed in ways that would protect the natural landscape and reduce runoff into rivers and streams valued by both organizations.
“Many of the conservation activities made possible through our partnership have been witnessed by crews on our towboats and by others traveling through western Kentucky on the Mississippi River,” says Tom Smith, a member of the Conservancy’s Board of Trustees in Kentucky and Vice President of Vessel Engineering at the Ingram Barge Company, which operates an inland fleet of more than 100 line haul towboats and nearly 4,000 barges to transport coal, aggregates, grain, fertilizer, ores, alloys, steel and other products.
During the first few years of this ground-breaking partnership, the Conservancy dedicated resources towards restoring and reconnecting bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands with the Mississippi River floodplain to improve wildlife habitat and water quality compromised by nutrient and sediment loads entering the river. Additional actions included acquiring or obtaining conservation easements on key parcels along the Mississippi River identified as ideal for accomplishing partnership goals.
Then things got interesting in 2011 when the new Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) made $20 million in new Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program funding accessible to organizations helping producers in priority Mississippi River watersheds with implementing conservation practices to deter, control and trap nutrient runoff, improve wildlife habitat and maintain agricultural productivity. The Conservancy has a 5-year goal of restoring and protecting 5500 acres in the WREP priority area.
“Thanks to the Ingram Barge Company’s generosity, we have been able to leverage MRBI funds in the Obion Creek, Bayou du Chien and Mayfield Creek watersheds,” says Shelly Morris, the Conservancy’s Western Kentucky Project Director. “This new stream of funding has enabled us to surpass our original goals.”
Together with colleagues at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Morris stepped up communications with landowners in Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle, Graves and Ballard counties about the new funding available for wetland restoration activities that benefit wildlife and water quality. A database created with GIS technology and NRCS records to identify tract boundaries, ownership and contact information for eligible landowners in the area facilitated the process.
Adds Morris, “During 2012, sharing information with eligible landowners about opportunities related to the MRBI paid off significantly when applications far exceeded our original goal of enrolling 1,500 acres. Instead, we received 35 applications on more than 4,600 acres!”
She attributes this success to getting the word out to the right people, effectively navigating the federal application process, and maintaining strong and productive relationships with landowners and partners at the local, state and federal levels. It is an accomplishment valued by both the Conservancy and the Ingram Barge Company.
“With 9 billion people projected to inhabit our planet by 2050, engaging in partnerships which foster a healthy, productive and accessible landscape are more important than ever,” says Terry Cook, State Director of The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky.
For the Ingram Barge Company, this partnership speaks directly to its goal of causing Zero Harm to associates, the environment, customers, community and property. Adds Smith, “This region and its communities have played important roles in our company’s success. As a result, we’re glad to be a part of this work and look forward to what we can accomplish together in the years ahead.”
The Nature Conservancy-Ingram Barge Company partnership focuses on the Obion Creek and Bayou du Chien watersheds which span Hickman, Fulton, and part of Graves and Carlisle counties in western Kentucky and comprise approximately 350,000 acres of highly fragmented agricultural land. Although the predominant land use is row crops, remnants of bottomland hardwood forests and cypress sloughs are scattered throughout the area. These habitats are known to harbor diverse species, including the federally endangered Indiana and Gray bats, Interior Least Tern and several listed mussels. The headwaters of Bayou du Chien also contain Relict Darter, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.