Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The (Re)Wild Mississippi

Remember the Mississippi River Flood around St. Louis in 1993? The middle Mississippi kept rising and rising, right through towns that never thought it could get that high. I helped fill sandbags that were supposed to help protect downtown Alton, Illinois for two days (it was something of a TV news stunt... the old "we care so much we're sending volunteers to sandbag"), and all I remember is that despite millions of sandbags, the river still rose over the top and flooded the town.
I bring up this flashback because other people also remember the flood of '93, but they're still doing something about it. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that.....
Since the flood of 1993, a nonprofit group has quietly assembled 25,000 acres of land around the Mississippi in an attempt to return some of the wild functions to the river. The object isn't the fickle waterway that Twain observed but one repopulated with wetlands, advocates say.
"It's called 'wilding' the river," said Tim Richardson, Washington liaison for the American Land Conservancy, which is the nonprofit organization that has established the Mississippi River Conservation Partnership. Most of the land, including a 3,200-acre chunk dedicated last month, has been assembled in the last five years by the California-based group.

The American Land Conservancy has figured out how to pull off a big project like this without making many waves.....
The project's biggest advantage politically, according to backers, is that it cuts down on flood insurance cashed in by farmers growing crops in flood-prone regions.
"What we do makes very good economic sense," said Jenny Frazier, vice president of the American Land Conservancy. The cost savings over the long term may be why the endeavor has avoided controversy associated with some other conservation efforts. About 95 percent of the property is considered public land, and much of that can be hunted or fished with the proper approvals.
"This project should serve as a model for the rest of the nation," said Rep. Jerry Costello, a Democrat from Belleville who represents Southern Illinois and is one of the project's strongest backers. "Flood plain wetlands restoration is good for the environment while providing more land for public use."
In the Mississippi region, an added ecological benefit to reducing farming near the river is the diminishing of fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi.
"The efforts are averting an endangered species crisis along the river," Richardson said. Species at risk include pallid sturgeon and birds such as the piping plover and the least tern..........
One of the criticisms I get is that I'm putting farmers out of business," said Frazier, who said she hunted and fished on her property in Bollinger County, Mo. "That's completely inaccurate. We find landowners who want to quit farming in the flood plain.

It's a lot better than filling sandbags, I can attest.


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