The Mississippi River Alluvial Valley includes the floodplain of the Mississippi River from Cairo, Illinois, USA, to the Gulf of Mexico. Originally this region supported about 10 million ha of bottomland hardwood forests, but only about 2.8 million ha remain today. Furthermore, most of the remaining bottomland forest is highly fragmented with altered hydrologic processes. During the 1990s landscape-scale conservation planning efforts were initiated for migratory birds and the threatened Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus). These plans call for large-scale reforestation and restoration efforts in the region, particularly on private lands. In 1990 the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act authorized the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). The WRP is a voluntary program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture that provides eligible landowners with financial incentives to restore wetlands and retire marginal farmlands from agricultural production. As of 30 September 2005, over 275,700 ha have been enrolled in the program in the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley, with the greatest concentration in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi, USA. Hydrologic restoration is common on most sites, with open-water wetlands, such as moist-soil units and sloughs, constituting up to 30% of a given tract. Over 33,200 ha of open-water wetlands have been created, potentially providing over 115,000,000 duck-use days. Twenty-three of 87 forest-bird conservation areas have met or exceed core habitat goals for migratory songbirds and another 24 have met minimum area requirements. The WRP played an integral role in the fulfillment of these goals. Although some landscape goals have been attained, the young age of the program and forest stands, and the lack of monitoring, has limited evaluations of the program's impact on wildlife populations.
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The role of the Wetland Reserve Program in conservation efforts in the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley