Scenic Streams Program
The Scenic Streams Stewardship Program was designed to promote voluntary private conservation efforts along Mississippi's unique and outstanding rivers and streams.
As we enter a new century, the landscape of Mississippi will change. People will continue to move out of cities into rural areas with road building projects expanding to connect communities and accommodate this development.
The agriculture and forestry industries will continue to provide food, building materials and paper and pulp products for our society. People and industry will make expanding demands on water resources for services such as sewage treatment, surface drainage, and water for industrial processes.
Our rivers and streams will flow through this increasingly populated and complex landscape. When you consider the multiple uses that we presently demand of our rivers and streams, increased demands in the future are a cause for concern.
Streams accommodate our various human activities, but at the same time they support a rich variety of fish, aquatic animals, and plants. Streams, their flood plains, and hardwood bottom-lands provide essential wildlife habitat for deer, turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, most of our migratory and native songbirds, and countless other varieties of wildlife.
People have long felt a strong connection to streams and rivers. They run through our history, our literature and our personal experiences. Whether it is the scenery, the sounds, the cool water on a summer day, the pull of a fish in the current, or the gliding of a canoe, streams and rivers provide us with diverse pleasures. Their value to us is not easily measured, but it is great. To maintain this value, streams need the consideration and help of landowners and others.
In the Act that creates the Scenic Streams Stewardship Program, the drafters wrote that there is a necessity for a "rational balance between the use of these streams and the conservation of the natural beauty along these streams." Conservation is possible through the concern and effort of landowners of property adjoining rivers and streams.
Landowners along streams need to make their land produce income for them just like landowners without streams. Their financial obligations begin with annual taxes to the County, and involve mortgages and loan payments.
Stream side landowners are different from other landowners because their activities along the stream can directly affect it for better or worse.
For these select few people, there is tremendous opportunity to be good stewards of the water, land, and wildlife along the stream. Stewardship is defined by Webster's as " the careful responsible management of something entrusted to one." A steward is a conservator.
The Scenic Streams Stewardship Program asks that landowners consider voluntarily using Best Management Practices (BMPS)along streams and leaving a buffer zone of trees and vegetation along the banks. A stream buffer zone or Streamside Management Zone (SMZ) of an appropriate size and width will keep erosion to a minimum, and will keep stream banks stable. The width of the buffer zone is left strictly up to the landowner. Soil specialists or foresters can recommend appropriate widths based on slope, and soil characteristics.
The benefits of keeping stream banks intact through the use of BMPS are many. Property values remain strong, soil and nutrients stay in place, and the stream avoids degradation from silt, caving banks and erosion. Also, swimming holes stay deep, and a canopy of trees helps keep water temperatures cool.
There is a balance for landowners between leaving uncut buffer zones and using their land and timber resources fully. Trees left standing translate to foregone profits in a timber sale. The legislature made the Stream Program completely voluntary so nobody would feel regulated into leaving uncut trees.
A landowner participating in the Scenic Streams Stewardship Program will become eligible for any tax incentives that may come into existence. The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks recognizes that tax credits or other financial incentives will greatly aid this stream buffer program.
Recently enacted state tax credits for re-planting trees (Reforestation Tax Credit) will help those who replant along streambanks. Tax credits for fish and wildlife habitat improvement activities along streams are desired at this time by the Department and will be proposed to the Legislature. Proposed creditable activities include leaving buffer zones along streams. Federal tax law presently provides income tax deductions and estate tax reductions for qualified conservation donations such as conservation easements.
This Program considers one stream at a time, and is built at the community level. If a stream is evaluated and found eligible, an Advisory Council with a landowner majority is assembled from the communities near the stream. If strong public support for nomination is shown in the community, and if this is reflected by comments at the public meeting, a bill of nomination is submitted to the legislature. If local support is lacking, the stream won't be nominated. This is a joint decision of the Advisory Council and the Department.
This program gives interested landowners a way to do things that will have a positive effect on their streams without mandatory regulations.
Following passage by Congress of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, Mississippi's first attempt at a streams bill was in 1969. After 6 failed attempts at a regulatory streams act, the project was abandoned in 1978. If nothing else, it was clear that a program that was mandatory or regulatory would not work in Mississippi. Twenty years later came a renewed effort to have a streams program in Mississippi without regulation. This effort came under the leadership of the late Richard L. "Dick" Livingston, chairman of the House Game and Fish Committee, and William Y. Quisenberry, of The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks - a longtime key player in state land conservation . The Mississippi Scenic Stream Stewardship Act was passed in the in the 1999 Legislative Session and was signed by the Governor March 16, 1999. This legislation created the Scenic Streams Stewardship Program which began August 9,1999.
The goal of the program is to encourage voluntary private conservation efforts by riparian (stream-side) landowners. In a non-regulatory framework, landowners will be assisted in voluntary management agreements which seek to maintain scenic values while ensuring their rights to continue customary uses along the stream.
When a stream or river is nominated to the program, a landowner-based stewardship plan will be created for it. Generally, the goal is to maintain good water quality for recreation and fish and wildlife habitat. Achievement of the goal will be through use of Best Management Practices ( BMPS) which are water quality improvement practices that will maintain the health of streams by keeping stream banks in good condition and preventing harmful sedimentation.
The program applies to streams that have not been channelized within the past five (5) years and are considered by law to be public waters. Designation as a public waterway depends on the volume of water that flows in the particular section of the stream. The Public Water Statute, Mississippi Code § 51-1-4, provides that for a stream to be a public waterway, the mean annual flow volume must be at least one hundred (100) cubic feet per second (cfs). Small headwater sections of streams do not generally qualify as public waters, and so it is the middle and lower sections of streams that may be qualified for the Scenic Stream Stewardship Program. However, all landowners will be able to participate in tax credits for reforestation, and stream conservation activities.
Status of Eligible and Nominated Streams
- What is the chance that this program will turn into something that is regulatory, and can the Federal Government come in on the heels of this program and take it over?
This program is a creation of the Mississippi State Legislature. If it changes, the legislature will have to do it. It would be against legislative intent to have a regulatory program. This much can be learned from a reading of the first paragraph of the Act which created the program. The Legislature refused for nearly 30 years to pass regulatory versions of a streams program. The efforts failed six times between 1969 and 1978. In 1999, this voluntary, non-regulatory, landowner outreach program was created and passed into law. The legislature does not want to regulate landowners with a streams program.
In order for the Federal Government to come in on the heels of a state program, the Federal Government must have delegated (given) administrative powers to the state over some subject and provided the state with federal guidelines to follow, and the state must have failed to follow them.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks has not been delegated any administrative power over streams or waters by the Federal government. The Stream Stewardship program is Mississippi law, not Federal law, and so there is no basis for the federal government to step in.
- Will this open up my stream to more public use and all the attendant problems, littering, too many people etc.?
No. The important fact is that this does not change public water law, nor does it give anyone more legal rights to float, swim or use public waters than they had before the program.
This is a landowner outreach program. There is some required public notice about meetings and about the nomination and designation, but most of the interaction with people is aimed at landowners along the stream or river.
The day to day work of the Program, and the vast majority of the correspondence, contact, and transactions will be with landowners. This is not a promotional campaign to open up a river to more use. It is a stream buffer program, with water quality and stream bank stability as its goals. It seeks stability or improvement of fish and wildlife habitat, not increased exploitation of streams. Recreational use will be a natural consequence of having a healthy, scenic stream. Most recreational users of public waters tend to value many of the same scenic qualities as the landowners in the program. Recreational users who litter, and break laws will be dealt with by law enforcement officers as is the present case.
- If all the program really asks is that folks use BMPs voluntarily, what is the difference between this and the way things were before, because BMPs were already voluntary. Why do we need a Scenic Streams Program to do this?
BMPs are voluntary, it is true. The idea of leaving buffer zones along streams is hard to oversell or overemphasize. Farmers have had buffer programs such as CRP and WRP for some time. When compared with farmers, non-agricultural landowners along streams are less likely to receive the message about improving water quality with buffer zones. This program provides a way to directly reach these people.
County and local governments generally do not have the people or resources to do educational programs that reach out to landowners, and since stream conservation is a statewide issue, it is proper for a statewide resource agency to undertake such a task. This program uniquely fits the expertise of an agency such as the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Streams provide habitat for the fishery and wildlife resources that the Agency manages. Healthy in-stream and riverbank habitats help sustain fish and both game and non-game wildlife species.
A Stewardship Plan considers a river as a whole and provides a framework in which voluntary, coordinated private conservation efforts can link its different reaches with protective buffer zones. This is a watershed approach to conservation. Also, concerned landowners have not up till now had a way to be part of an organized plan. They may have used BMPs because they felt it would help the river , but they couldn't see how their activities related to what others may have been doing to keep the river or stream healthy. For landowners who never heard of BMPs, this program is a way to spread the message that riparian landowners have a substantial effect on the river for better or worse and that the choices they make matter for the overall condition of the stream.
Unity of purpose and the ability to see how one's efforts relate to similar undertakings up and down a stream make this different from the status quo. This gives direction to concerned riparian landowners and a way to focus their concerns about their stream.