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CONSERVATION NEWS



Senator Thad Cochran

Cochran Praised For Conservation Funding

Wildlife Mississippi has voiced support for the efforts of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) that resulted in increased funding for several of the country's most important conservation programs. Senator Cochran's efforts to fund the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) drew praise from Wildlife Mississippi.

WRP is a voluntary program that offers financial incentives to landowners to restore bottomland hardwoods and wetlands. Mississippi ranks second in the nation in WRP enrollment, with over 150,000 acres entered since 1990. Senator Cochran included over $400 million for the WRP, which will restore 250,000 acres of wetlands. This is the same level as President Bush requested.

"The WHIP, which was authorized in the 1996 Farm Bill at Senator Cochran's request, is funded at $63 million, $8 million above the President's request. This level of commitment proves that the program is successful and will continue to provide Mississippi landowners with meaningful incentives to enhance wildlife habitats," stated William J. Van Devender, President of Wildlife Mississippi. WHIP cost-shares with landowners to provide cover for wildlife as well as nesting and brood habitat for species like quail. Nationally, it has already improved wildlife habitat on over 1.3 million acres.

The HFRP is a voluntary program established for the purpose of restoring and enhancing forest ecosystems to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species. Mississippi is one of three states selected to receive funding for HFRP, which is being implemented in 2006 as a "pilot" program.



The
Basilosaaurus cetoides is the state fossil of Mississippi, and these remains were excavated in Jasper County. Photo by the University of Southern Mississippi- Crystie Baker

Whale Remains Found In Clarke County

Remains of a primitive whale are being unearthed from pasture land in southeast Clarke County.

Forty million years ago, the creature swam in an ocean 600 to 1,000 feet deep that covered Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Now it's partially submerged in a field owned by Danny Fleming - but coming closer to the surface every day as excavators dig.

A lot of the prehistoric specimen called Basilosaurus cetoides has turned to dust, but even with more than half of it gone, the remaining portion is 34 feet long. These sea mammals could reach lengths of up to 80 feet.

Students from Wright State University in Ohio volunteered to accompany archaeologists from the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science to perform the dig. The Mississippi Office of Geology is co-hosting the project.

George Phillips, a paleontologist with the Museum of Natural Science, said, "They may never be displayed, but they will be stored here for research and educational purposes. The remnants being taken from around the site will tell us if the animal fed on both freshwater and saltwater creatures."

Phillips said the discovery of Basilosaurus in the region is relatively common - but what is less known is whether they crossed into freshwater feeding areas.

James Starnes, a geologist with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said an ancient bay extended from the current Gulf of Mexico to southern Illinois until about 10 million years ago.

"The Basilosaurus became extinct at the end of the Eocene period, approximately 34 million years ago," Starnes said. "They were mammals that lived in the sea which once covered much of Mississippi - about 20 million years after dinosaurs became extinct."



The Leopold Education Project

Mississippi State University's Wildlife and Fisheries Field and Stream Program is adding a new youth educational component. This program will be available soon in Mississippi.

The Leopold Educational Project (LEP) is an environmental education program based on the classic writings of the renowned conservationist, Aldo Leopold. The LEP curriculum aligns with the essays in A Sand County Almanac as a springboard for observing the natural world, to install a love and respect for the land and all that inhabit the land and to protect the earth's natural resources.

The LEP has developed a proven curriculum (Lessons in a Land Ethic) that "fosters a positive relationship between our younger generations and the soil, water, plants and animals” - or what Leopold simply called "the land." His objective was to "teach the students to see the land, understand what he sees and enjoy what he understands".

For detailed information on the Leopold Education Project, please visit the LEP website at www.lep.org.



Wildlife Mississippi has dedicated much time and energy toward achieving the goals and objectives of the NAWMP. Photo by WIldlife Mississippi - Rob Ballinger.

Waterfowl Plan Celebrates 20 Years

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of a historic turning point in wildlife conservation - the creation of the world's first continental waterfowl conservation strategy. In 1986, the Governments of the United States and Canada signed the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), a partnership designed to reverse alarming declines in waterfowl populations and their wetland habitat that were then occurring.

In 1994, Mexico joined this partnership, fulfilling the continental vision of the Plan. The plan established science-based population and habitat conservation goals. To make it work, regional, public-private partnerships termed "joint ventures" were created that continue to be a major driving force in conserving vital waterfowl and wetland habitat today. These projects not only advance waterfowl conservation, but make substantial contributions toward the conservation of all species dependent on wetlands.

"In the last 20 years, joint ventures have invested $4.5 billion to conserve 15.7 million acres of waterfowl habitat," said Service Director Dale Hall. "These partnerships are the model for how diverse agencies, organizations, landowners, companies and scientists can work together for wildlife conservation."

From the long-established joint ventures to those currently in development, there are nearly two dozen such partnerships at work across the continent. A significant source of support for joint venture projects comes from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. With these grants and money from partners, joint ventures can organize on-the-ground conservation projects that directly support waterfowl and other species.

The Plan doesn't just benefit waterfowl, however. Wetlands conserved under the Plan recharge groundwater supplies, abate floods, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation in our waterways and improve water quality by filtering out pollutants. Joint venture projects provide jobs and enhance ecotourism, contributing to the national and local economies. Also, habitats conserved under the Plan benefit many other species of wildlife, adding to our outdoor experience.



Billy Van Devender

MDEQ Elects Chairman and Vice Chairman

The Commission for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) recently elected Billy Van Devender of Jackson as Chairman and Dick Flowers of Tunica as Vice Chairman. Elections for Chairman and Vice Chairman are held annually.

"Billy Van Devender and Dick Flowers bring enormous experience and knowledge to the Commission, and I look forward to continuing to work with them. They believe as we do that we must conserve and improve our environment while fostering wise economic growth," said MDEQ Executive Director Charles Chisolm.

Jackson businessman Billy Van Devender has served on the Commission since 1998. He was re-appointed by Governor Haley Barbour in 2005. Van Devender is a graduate of the University of Mississippi and earned an M.B.A. from Southern Methodist University.

Dick Flowers of Tunica first served on the Commission from 1989 to 1991 when appointed by Governor Ray Mabus. Flowers was also appointed twice by Governor Kirk Fordice in 1992 and 1998, and was reappointed in 2005 to a 7 year term by Governor Haley Barbour. He is a graduate of Mississippi State University.

Other Commission members are: Martha Dalrymple (Amory), Chat Phillips (Yazoo City), Charles Dunagin (Summit), Howard McKissack (Harrison County) and Jack Winstead (Lawrence).

The Commission on Environmental Quality is empowered to formulate policy for the Department of Environmental Quality, enforce rules and regulations, receive funding, conduct studies for using the state's resources and discharge duties, responsibilities and powers as necessary. The seven Commission members are appointed by the Governor to 7 year staggered terms.