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Winter Water for Wildlife

Managing Shallow-Water Wetlands on Private Lands in the Mississippi Delta

 

A pilot project with Wildlife Mississippi and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

 

Providing dependable wetland habitat in working landscapes (like the Mississippi Delta) is sometimes difficult because of the need of agricultural producers to maintain profitable land use. However, the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), a USDA-NRCS program that provided financial incentives for private landowners to flood agricultural fields during the winter, was extremely successful during the years it was funded (2010 - 2013). While several studies associated with the MBHI demonstrated the potential for providing quality habitat in working landscapes, funding for the program has been discontinued. While increasing the amount of winter water on the landscape of the Mississippi Delta is a high priority that was addressed by the MBHI, the MBHI did not address key issues such as strategic targeting of habitat acres and cultural perceptions against managed flooding that may hinder long-term sustainability of such practices. Providing additional winter water in focal areas will greatly increase the attractiveness and carrying capacity for waterfowl and other wetland dependent wildlife.  Shorebirds and wading birds will also benefit from reliable shallow water habitats during fall and spring migrations; periods when shallow wetlands are typically limited in supply.  Wildlife Mississippi (WM), the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) and its partners have proposed a pilot project to create wetland habitat in one or more key areas in the Delta in conjunction with outreach and education efforts to increase landowner awareness of the benefits of wetlands and winter water on the landscape.     

 

With the assistance of the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture and the Louisiana/Mississippi Conservation Delivery Network, WM, the MDWFP and its partners developed a model to identify focal areas based on existing infrastructure forwater holding capacityon hydric soils in the Delta region.  The model indicated three primary focal areas(Figure 1). The project's focal areas are defined by state highways in order to be more relevant to private landowners. One of the focal areas identified by the model occurs in an area of Sunflower and Leflore Counties known to have a depleting aquifer. The partners elected to designate this area as a passive water management area, where pumping ground water to initiate flooding would not be required to participate in the program. However, landowners who do not pump water to achieve required flooding levels may not receive a full incentive payment. Landowners in the passive water area may receive a full incentive payment if they achieve and maintain required flooding levels using surface water where applicable. In the remaining two focal areas, pumping of ground or surface water or intensive water management will be required if needed to initiate and maintain required flooding levels on non-agricultural lands. Projects in the intensive water management focal areas on agricultural lands only will be allowed to flood passively using precipitation; however, these projects will receive a reduced incentive rate and will receive a lower score in ranking for entry into the program.   

 

Landowner/Producer Requirements

WM, the MDWFP and its partners will provide financial incentives to private landowners for flooding of crop fields, existing shallow-water wetlands and/or cost-share for infrastructure improvements to create wetlands and/or management activities to enhance existing shallow-water wetlands such as those present on CRP and WRP lands with the following stipulations:

  1. Only landowners within focal areas are eligible for funding. The three focal areas are defined as Bolivar - lands north of Hwy 82, east of Hwy 1, south of Hwy 32, west of Hwy 61; Sunflower - lands north of Hwy 82, east of Hwy 3, and west of Hwy 49E; and Tunica - lands in Tunica County, east of Hwy 61.
  2. Eligible habitats will include existing managed moist-soil habitat (i.e., natural grasses and sedges) and agricultural fields that have not been deep tilled. However, harvested rice fields are required to have been rolled, burned, or harrowed following harvest. Aquaculture ponds that are not currently in production are also eligible.
  3. Landowners or producers must agree to maintain shallow water practices for a period of three years. Contract length and management frequency for "wetland habitat management practices (i.e., mowing, disking, herbicide applications) will be prescribed by a biologist, but will not exceed three years.
  4. Landowners or producers must maintain at least four and no more than eighteen inches of water through natural flooding or by pumping groundwater /surface water if needed. Landowners participating in the "early shallow flooding" practice must maintain at least two and no more than six inches of water. Note: Some areas will necessarily have more than the maximum required water depth because of topography and should not be disqualified. 
  5. Flooding must be initiated (boards inserted into structures) no later than August 1 for moist-soil or September 30 for crop fields. Drainage must not be initiated (e.g., boards removed) until after April 1 for moist-soil and March 15 for crop fields in  at least two of the three years of the contract.   Extreme weather conditions affecting harvest or planting will be taken into consideration on a year by year basis.  Landowners participating in the "early shallow flooding" practice must pump to initiate flooding no later than July 1 and must maintain average water levels for the entire month for which they are receiving incentive payments.
  6. Landowners participating in the "early shallow flooding" practice may not also participate in any of the winter flooding practices within the same annual cycle.
  7. Projects will be competitively ranked to enroll in the program.
  8. Incentive payments will be based on crop or habitat type.
  9. Incentive payments for projects in the passive water management areas where no pumping occurs will be 20% of that for intensive water management areas. Landowners may elect to pump surface water, where available, and receive the full incentive payment.
  10. Landowners or producers within the intensive water management focal area will be eligible for the passive water management option with reduced incentive rate on agricultural fields only.

 

Winter Water MapFigure 1. Focal Areas for winter water management in the Mississippi Delta.

                                       

Practice Matrix for Winter Water for Wildlife

Practice

Description

Incentive Rate

SHALLOW WATER DEVELOPMENT - agricultural areas

Flooding to create shallow water habitat to hold no less than 4 and no more than 18 inches of water 30 Sept. - 15 March.  Water may be drained prior to 15 March one of the three contract years. Boards must be inserted no later than 30 Sept. If needed, pumping should be initiated no later than 31 Oct (intensive water management areas only).

$35 / water acre

 

 

SHALLOW WATER DEVELOPMENT - non-crop

Flooding to create shallow water habitat to hold no less than 4 and no more than 18 inches of water 1 Aug. - 1 April. Boards must be inserted no later than 1 Aug. If needed, pumping should be initiated no later than 1 Sept.

$25 / water acre

 

SHALLOW WATER DEVELOPMENT - aquaculture not in production

Flooding to create shallow water habitat to hold no less than 4 and no more than 18 inches of water 1 Aug. - 15 April. Flooding must be initiated no later than 1 Aug. If needed, pumping should be initiated no later than 1 Sept.

$20 /water acre

SHALLOW WATER DEVELOPMENT - early shallow flooding

Flooding to create shallow water habitat to hold an average of 2-6 inches of water (maximum depth 6 inches) for at least one month beginning1 July.Funding may extend for up to three months including the initial month.

$20 /water acre /month

WETLAND HABITAT MANAGEMENT - fall disking

No less than 1/3 and no more than 2/3 of the existing vegetation shall be disturbed by light disking to set back vegetative succession for mudflats within moist soil areas.  Disking shall take place prior to flooding.

$20 / acre managed

WETLAND HABITAT MANAGEMENT - herbicide treatment

Existing vegetation shall be disturbed by applying appropriate herbicides to control undesirable vegetation and promote desirable plants within moist soil areas. Total acre treated within moist soil area will be based on presence of problem plants.  All herbicides must be applied according to label recommendations.  One herbicide application will occur not prior to 1 May and not later than 15 July.

$25 / acre managed

WETLAND HABITAT MANAGEMENT - mowing

Not more than 2/3 of existing dense vegetation shall be disturbed by mowing to manage vegetative structure within moist soil areas.  Mowing shall take place prior to flooding, to suppress undesirable plants and provide areas for bird use.

$15 / acre managed

WETLAND CREATION

Creation of new wetland areas including water control structures and creation of infrastructure to hold water as needed.

evaluated on a per project basis

APPLICATION PERIOD ENDS JUNE 20 

CLICK HERE TO APPLY

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