The Nature Conservancy is seeking volunteers to roll up their sleeves and help restore the historic Ouachita River floodplain in northeast Louisiana.
Chris Rice with the Conservancy said he hopes local people will get involved in planting 10,000 baby cypress trees in the Mollicy Farms Unit of the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge in January.
“As far as we know, this is the largest floodplain restoration in U.S. history,” said Rice.
The Mollicy Farms site is located on the east side of the Ouachita River in northwestern Morehouse Parish. The 20,000-acre site is a “historic” floodplain because it was isolated by a 17-mile, 30-foot levee three decades ago and has since been cultivated. The Conservancy has partnered with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in a $4.5 million floodplain restoration project that includes removing portions of the levee in six key places.
“We’re opening the levee to let the river flow into this 20,000-acre floodplain during high water events,” said Rice. “This natural process is essential to maintain a healthy bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem.”
The Conservancy helped the USFWS acquire the Mollicy Farms site for the refuge in the 1990s. The USFWR re-forested most of the site with more than three million trees, using machinery that could not reach the banks of the streams which have now been reconnected to the river.
“So we’re looking for volunteers to plant cypress trees where the machines couldn’t go,” said Rice.
The tree planting is one step in a long-term plan to restore the natural hydrology of the Mollicy Farms site, which in turn is expected to have an “effective restoration footprint” of more than 80,000 acres in northeast Louisiana. Bottomland hardwood flood plains and cypress swamps provide habitat for songbirds, waterfowl and rare wildlife such as bald eagles and Louisiana black bears.
Keith Ouchley, director of The Nature Conservancy in Louisiana, said in a prepared statement, “We hope that the Mollicy Farms site will be a model for floodplain reconnection and restoration up and down the Mississipi River. We believe the values associated with this type of restoration are many -- from wildlife habitat and water quality improvement to floodwater storage -- and we hope to prove that here at Mollicy.”
Volunteers for the tree planting will meet at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 28 at Black Bayou National Wildlife Refuge. The Conservancy will provide transportation to Mollicy Farms along with lunch and all of the necessary tools. The project will be labor-intensive and volunteers are asked to commit by Jan. 6.
Rice said he hopes to have Boy and Girl Scout troops, high school and college groups from throughout northeast Louisiana participate.
Anyone who would like to volunteer should contact Rice at 318.237.5569.