Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge
In the Mollicy Farm Unit, the Upper Ouachita River separates two very different landscapes: A lush forest of native Northern Louisiana trees covers the west side, while on the east open farm fields unfold for acres. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
"Every day, we hear about the impacts of deforestation in the Amazon or Indonesia but it’s happening in the Gulf Coast area too. Migratory bird populations have lost more than 24 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest habitat over the last century along the Red River and lower Mississippi River valleys. Habitat destruction is more pronounced here than in any other area of the United States.” — Ray Herndon, Louisiana state director, The Conservation Fund
Thanks to donations from hundreds of thousands of dedicated individuals and private businesses, our Go Zero® program planted its 2 millionth tree in 2012! Half those trees are now thriving at Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge, where they are helping to restore the natural hydrology and historic floodplain of the Ouachita River. As these new trees grow, they will provide cleaner air, cleaner water and more room for the Louisiana black bear to roam.
The Ouachita River flows through Louisiana’s landscape for more than 600 miles beginning just 20 miles north of Monroe and stretching more than 42,500 acres north over the Lower Mississippi River Valley. It is the defining feature of the region and of the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1978 to preserve wetlands and homes for migratory birds.
Many people may not realize that Upper Ouachita is the largest ongoing floodplain restoration project in the United States. There are multiple conservation efforts and many organizations working here. The Fund has been working in the area for years, taking several strategic approaches to restoring the native forestlands around the river.
Why Does The Upper Ouachita NWR Need Restoration?
Winding through the refuge, there are large sections where the river separates two very different landscapes: on the west side, a lush forest of native Northern Louisiana trees covers the land, while on the east side open farm fields unfold for acres. Up until the early part of the 20th century, these farm fields were dense hardwood forests; in the 1960s, when food prices began to skyrocket, lush forests and waterways throughout Louisiana—including in the Upper Ouachita area—were cleared, leaving behind a drastically altered landscape of fragmented forestland.
But this area ended up not being optimal for agriculture. Significant and frequent flooding resulted in soggy crops and caused problems along the river for communities throughout the region.
We are working to restore the land to its natural floodplain by restoring forests, which will return homes to the deer, turkey, alligators, bald eagles, threatened Louisiana black bear and 265 species of migratory birds that lived here before the forest was removed. The restored land will also benefit the local community by providing a recreational area where visitors can hike, fish, birdwatch, hunt, and learn about nature.
Our restoration activities focus on the 16,000-acre Mollicy Farm, which was cleared back in the 1960’s to grow soybean crops. A 17-mile levee was constructed around the fields to control the natural flow of the river. Unfortunately, despite the levee, the land’s low elevation meant it continued to flood, making farming a very costly endeavor. The decrease in forestland also meant a decrease in wildlife habitat and in water quality for communities downstream, since the trees that used to help slow and filter floodwater were gone.
The Fund has been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on several ongoing initiatives to restore the native forest lands here:
In 2010 we protected more than 3,900 acres at the Mollicy Farm area of the Upper Ouachita NWR. This newly acquired land connects 13,000 acres of existing refuge lands. Its preservation not only protects habitat for tens of thousands of migratory birds, which visit the refuge every year for resting, foraging and breeding, but also provides open space for public recreation, enhances air and water quality and reduces flooding and erosion. Protecting this property has been a priority for the refuge for many years.
After helping the USFWS acquire priority land, we’ve been helping restore this land to it native forest habitat. In 2010, we planted 108,000 native hickory, oak and cypress seedlings on 358 acres in the Upper Ouachita NWR. Dell’s Plant a Tree for a Friend Facebook campaign made this possible. With the help of generous donors and partners, including BCBGeneration, Breathe Right and ShadeFund™, we hit a milestone in 2012 with the planting of a total of one million trees at Upper Ouachita NWR.
In 2013, we are aiming to restore another 400 acres here with help from Dell and our friends at Causes.com. You can help. Take the pledge today.
We’re continuing to work to restore forests at Mollicy Farm through Go Zero, our voluntary carbon offset program that allows individuals and companies the opportunity to measure, reduce and offset their carbon footprint. With the help of generous donors and partners, our Go Zero program is raising donations to plant more than 785,000 native oak, pecan and hickory trees on 2,606 acres of Mollicy Farms. Learn more >>
As the forests are restored and the trees grow, they’ll increase the land’s ability to store water and decrease floods in communities downstream, including the city of Monroe. They also help to filter excess nutrients from the water such as agricultural fertilizers, improving the water quality and clarity.
“While those who live upstream may not notice that the water is a little clearer, or that the river doesn’t rise as high next year, those of us downstream will take note, and we are grateful for all of the partners and donors who have helped make this project a reality,” said Harris Brown, president of the Tensas Basin Levee District in Monroe.
At the Fund, we know for conservation solutions to last, they need to benefit local communities. These conservation solutions are made to last. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will own and manage the newly restored forests, ensuring their protection.