Warren among counties eyed for bird habitat

Published 12:04 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Habitat for migratory birds who can’t find a home in oil-spoiled Gulf Coast marshes this winter will be created in inland areas, including Warren County.

An extra $2.1 million in federal assistance is available to farmers and landowners along the key migratory bird flyway.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, will work with those with large tracts of land in a 23-county area to manage parts of their land to provide additional food, water and appropriate nesting sites, state conservationist Dr. Homer L. Wilkes said Monday.

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“More than 50 million migratory birds traveling south in coming months will instinctively head toward the marshes and coast lands of the northern Gulf of Mexico,” Wilkes said. “With some marshes and shorelines already degraded and the potential for larger-scale oil impacts in the coming months, it is essential that we provide inland and coastal food, water and cover for migratory birds.”

Interested landowners may sign up until Aug. 1 at local USDA Service Center locations.

Parts of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri are covered by the initiative, as they make up about 36 percent of the Mississippi Flyway corridor for a multitude of species. Areas in Texas, Florida and Georgia are also included.

“We’ll have sandpiper moving down first, and then, later in the season, ducks and geese,” said David Ringer, Vicksburg-based communications coordinator for the National Audubon Society’s Mississippi River Initiative. The society is one of several organizations in Mississippi set to work with the federal agency on the initiative. Society volunteers have helped efforts in coastal Louisiana in the transport of oiled birds and communications between rescue boats ferrying them in and out of the Gulf.

Areas in each state were identified by NRCS based on the greatest potential. In addition to Warren, Mississippi counties with priority are Adams, Bolivar, Carroll, Claiborne, Coahoma, DeSoto, Grenada, Holmes, Humphreys, Issaquena, Jefferson, Leflore, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Tunica, Washington, Wilkinson and Yazoo — all mainly in the Delta where most of the state’s Wetland Reserve Program sites are located, says the NRCS.

Wetlands farmed under natural conditions such as rice fields and catfish farms are ideal for the initiative. Farms that had produced this year’s crop can be flooded with small amounts of water to create breeding grounds for the birds, Ringer said.

“We expect there will be great interest from our farmers and ranchers who want to do something positive to help the migrating birds — not only this fall, but next spring and in subsequent years as well,” Wilkes said.

Other partners of the federal agency on the initiative in Mississippi are the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, USA Rice Federation, National Cotton Council of America, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Association of Conservation Districts, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, and the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation.