Catfish point, a Mississippi hunting club owned by its 76 members, sits on a bend of the Mississippi River. Its 12,000 acres are just a small portion of what was once the world’s largest bottomland hardwood forest, home to a wide range of birds, including prothonotary warblers and northern parulas. After years of farming and development, the habitat isn’t as rich as it once was. As a result, the club has teamed up with forestry consultants, Audubon, and the Anderson-Tully Company to restore habitat through targeted timber management.
Thinning some areas and letting others grow enhances habitat that attracts an array of birds as well as black bears and other game species, says Frank Smith, chairman of the club’s timber committee. The landowners also benefit by selling the timber. Similar efforts are taking place elsewhere in the region, with federal and state agencies working with private groups.
The goal, according to Norman Davis at Anderson-Tully, is to mimic “the natural rhythm” and structural diversity of the forest, thus achieving benefits to a wider variety of wildlife species over the long term.
“We’ve developed a strategy that provides habitat for species in both mature closed-canopy as well as early and mid-successional forest,” says Kevin Pierson, vice president of Audubon’s Lower Mississippi Flyway Program.
Looking to broaden the program, the project’s members have created new forestry tools for private lands, including inventories, management plans, and software. Smith is helping to organize other interested landowners in the Mississippi River Alliance, and Audubon Mississippi is preparing workshops and consortia to share their knowledge. By 2014 Audubon hopes to have brought bird-friendly management to 50,000 acres of private forest in the region. The response so far has been enthusiastic.
“People are saying that they want to see the swallow-tailed kite in its historical range north of Mississippi,” says Pierson. “I hear people say they want to show their kids what Eden was like.”
This story originally ran as "Restoring Eden" in the March-April issue of the magazine.