Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships

Project Profiles - United States

The Other Piece of the Puzzle
by Bruce Taylor, Oregon Wetlands Joint Venture

Located 20 miles north of Klamath Falls, the Williamson River delta was once a vast network of marshes that supported a rich array of fish and wildlife until farmers channelized the river and drained the delta lands for agriculture in the 1950s. The river is now contained by large levees throughout its 6-mile course across the delta to Upper Klamath Lake.

Although the seasonally flooded farmlands continued to draw large numbers of migratory waterfowl, the conversion to agriculture eliminated critical marsh habitat for two species of fish that were a staple of the Klamath Indian Tribe's traditional culture: the shortnose sucker and Lost River sucker, now both on the Federal endangered species list. The loss of the marshes also removed an important natural filtering system for the river's nutrient-rich flows, contributing to serious water quality problems in Upper Klamath Lake.

"Restoring an active river delta is an extraordinary challenge," says Mark Stern, the Conservancy's Klamath Basin project manager. "You really need to affect both sides of the river to make it work."

Initial restoration work undertaken by The Conservancy has restored seasonally flooded marshes within the dikes on a large portion of the northern Williamson River delta. Partners include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Klamath Tribes, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, PacifiCorp, Cell Tech International, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The Conservancy added more than 3,700 acres to its holdings along the river in early 2000 and now owns all of the diked lands along both sides of the lower 6 miles of the river.Farming will continue on the south side of the river for the next 3 years pending development of wetland restoration plans for about 2,700 acres of the new additions. The remainder of the property will be sold for continued agricultural use.

Restoration work is well under way on 3,600 acres on the north side of the river, where the Conservancy purchased the former Tulana Farms property in 1996 with the help of six major partners, and where farming continues on about 1,100 acres. The Conservancy's $4.8 million purchase of the farmlands along the south side of the river delta consolidated the lower river into a single ownership and opened the door to a comprehensive restoration strategy.

Up to now, the Conservancy and its partners had been working with a puzzle that came with only half of its pieces. The lost pieces have been gathered, and the picture is nearly complete.

For more information, contact Mark Stern, The Nature Conservancy, 821 SE 14th Street, Portland, Oregon 97214, (503) 230-1221, mstern@tnc.org

Enhancing Diversity in the Texas Panhandle
by John P. Hughes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and William P. Johnson, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Because of its complex of cottonwood groves, wet meadows, marshes, and sandhills, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is a unique site in the Texas Panhandle's mixed-grass prairie. Located near Canadian, Texas, the 5,824-acre WMA, which borders the Canadian River is host to a diverse array of birdlife, including wild turkeys, burrowing owls, blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, Canada geese, lesser prairie chickens, roadrunners, and Mississippi kites. With the construction of a 30-acre moist-soil management unit, known as the West Bull Slough Project, the WMA became even more diverse.

Work on the project involved raising the level of an existing road by 2 feet for a distance of 2,500 feet and replacing three old culverts with water-control structures. The elevated road level caused the existing 10-acre, spring-fed wetland to triple in size, and the water-control structures allow for water levels to be manipulated year-round. Project management calls for lowering water levels during summer months to encourage germination and growth of moist-soil plants. During the winter, the unit is flooded with shallow water to provide habitat for dabbling ducks.

The primary aim of the project's partnership was to improve habitat conditions for wintering dabbling ducks. However, since its completion in 1998, blue-winged teal and mallards have even used it as a brood-rearing site. However, waterfowl are not the only birds making use of the site - grebes, shorebirds, and wading birds also are found there.

In addition to the management unit, partners constructed an observation blind, boardwalk, and trails to facilitate wildlife viewing. Plans are to use the project site as a demonstration area for groups interested in wetland conservation and management. It will also be available for waterfowl hunting and fishing.

The West Bull Slough Project was made possible through the donations and cooperation of several partners. Funding was provided by the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Phillips Petroleum Company, Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cooper Natural Resources, and Kaiser-Francis Oil Company. The Natural Resources Conservation Service designed the project, and KN Energy and Upland Resources, Inc., contributed materials. Thanks to this partnership, diversity at the Gene Howe WMA has been enhanced.

For more information, contact Brad Simpson, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area, Route 3, Box 19, Canadian, Texas 79015, (806) 323-8642, bsimpson@yft.net.

Preserving the Endangered White River
by Tildy La Farge and Laura Houseal, Ducks Unlimited

"Hugely important." That's how David Marrone, an attorney and Manager of Conservation Lands at Ducks Unlimited, characterized the acquisition of the 4,166-acre Raft Creek and 900-acre Hatchiecoon tracts in Arkansas' White River ecosystem in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. Marrone qualified his statement with, "These tracts support one of the largest concentrations of wintering waterfowl in Arkansas."

Wetland degradation in the southern United States has been extensive. The original extent of bottomland hardwoods in the valley covered 24 million acres. Today, less than 5 million acres remain. Even with this draconian reduction in habitat, the valley still serves as the primary winter habitat for approximately 40 percent (1.5 million) of the mid-continent mallard population.

A public-private partnership purchased the two tracts, which have been turned over to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "Our main goal is to return this area to its native state," explained Steve Frick of Ducks Unlimited. "Winter flooding has been compromised by the reduction of wetlands and loss of bottomland hardwoods. We will restore hydrology with moist-soil impoundments, and we will plant a variety of bottomland species, including many oak species, bald cypress, and green ash." Jody Pagan, Natural Resources Conservation Service biologist, added that hydrological and vegetative restoration will be critical in the Raft Creek tract, which draws one-fifth of the State's waterfowl every winter.

The White River basin contains the second largest contiguous block (approximately 350,000 acres) of forested wetlands in the United States. The acquired lands lie within this greater wetlands area, which has been designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention. The White River basin area is designated a Flagship Project Area of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan's Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture, and on April 10, 2000, American Rivers named the White River one of America's 13 most endangered rivers.

"The White River basin is recognized internationally as a unique wetland ecosystem. While some of the forested floodplain has been protected by public ownership, the hydrology, which is the lifeblood of the system, also must be preserved," said Dr. Stephen Adair, Director of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited. Hugh Durham, Director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, called the project "a great example of the wonderful things that can happen for wildlife when the public and private sectors work together."

For more information contact, Tildy La Farge, Ducks Unlimited, One Waterfowl Way, Memphis, Tennessee, 38120-2351, (901) 758-3859, mlafarge@ducks.org.

White River Tracts Acquisition Partners

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Natural Resources Conservation Service
National Wild Turkey Federation
Private donors
Ducks Unlimited

Waterfowlers Adopt Shorebirds
by R. K. "Kenny" Williams, Ducks Unlimited

Historically, tidal freshwater regions of the South Atlantic Coast, stretching from the Cape Fear River in North Carolina to the St. Marys River in northern Florida, were developed for rice culture during the 1700s and 1800s. These tidal freshwater marshes were impounded with a network of dikes and could be drained or flooded with wooden water-control structures known as ricefield trunks.

The ricefields of the South Atlantic became extremely important wintering areas for migratory waterfowl. They were attracted to these areas to feed upon waste grain, natural moist-soil plant seeds, and a rich mix of invertebrates. As the rice culture period of this region waned, many of the old rice plantations were purchased and maintained as hunt clubs. After 1900, thousands of additional acres in the brackish and saline zones of the South Atlantic were impounded and managed for wintering waterfowl.

Waterfowl need these tidal wetlands, but so do shorebirds, particularly during the late winter/early spring migration period. At a March 2000 shorebird management workshop, sponsored by the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture and held near Charleston, South Carolina, particpants identified the need for a private lands program for shorebird management on tidal, impounded wetlands currently being managed primarily for waterfowl.

Out of the workshop came a commitment by a group of representatives from the Joint Venture, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and Ducks Unlimited. They formed the South Carolina Shorebird Habitat Management Group (Group), which held its first meeting in June in Charleston to develop an action plan for shorebirds.

The Group decided to contact owners and managers of managed wetlands in the fresh, brackish, and saline zones along the South Carolina coast to determine the level of interest in shorebird management and to offer technical assistance. The Group sent letters and questionnaires to over 50 private landowners and a few federal and state managers. The results have exceeded expectations. Thus far, landowners indicate they are willing to manage for shorebirds on over 30,000 acres. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan's 2002 habitat management goal for this region is 18,500 acres of state and federal lands. Successfully managed private lands may be able to meet the intent of that goal: to provide a reliable place for shorebirds to alight.

Water levels in these privately owned tidal impoundments can be manipulated very effectively using water-control structures. By maintaining late winter/early spring drawdowns at 1 to 4 inches in depth, excellent foraging areas for shorebirds can be maintained. Late-migrating waterfowl such as blue-winged teal and local breeding populations of mottled ducks also will benefit. This late winter/early spring adjustment in the typical wetlands-management scenario can be incorporated without compromising long-term management for wintering waterfowl.

This initiative should prove to be extremely important in meeting the habitat and population objectives of the Shorebird Plan and the South Atlantic Migratory Bird Initiative in the southeastern United States. Additionally, the South Carolina effort can serve as a model for future shorebird management efforts within the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture.

For more information, contact R. K. "Kenny" Williams, Ducks Unlimited, 3870 Leeds Avenue, Suite 114, Charleston, South Carolina 29405, (843) 745-9110, kwilliams@ducks.org.