This region is a GLOBAL IBA and was designated as a "Wetland of International Importance" under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially for its waterfowl habitat. This IBA includes two national wildlife refuges (Cache River and White River) and three wildlife management areas (Rex Hancock/Black Swamp, Dagmar, and Trusten Holder). It extends from the vicinity of DesArc to the confluence of the White, Arkansas, and Mississippi Rivers. Historically most of the site was covered by bottomland hardwood forest, and it still contains the largest continuous expanse of bottomland hardwoods remaining in the Lower Mississippi River Valley. Depending on the frequency, duration, and timing of flooding, tree species include bald cypress, tupelo, various oaks, sugarberry, honey locust, pecan, and water hickory. Many of the cleared areas are currently being reforested. Permanent water, in the form of rivers, oxbow lakes, sloughs, swamps, and beaver ponds, covers approximately five percent of the area.
This site regularly supports significant densitites of one or more of the bird species considered by Audubon as vulnerable in Arkansas. These are: Pied-billed Grebe - 100s wintering; Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 100s in summer; Wood Stork - late summer visitor; Hooded Merganser -many winter and nest; Swallow-tailed Kite - In 2002 an unsuccessful nest was found on White River National Wildlife Refuge, the first in over 100 years in Arkansas. This site is the most likely location in the state to support the return of this species to Arkansas; Mississippi Kite - supports many nesting pairs; Bald Eagle - five nests and up to 100 winter in the site; Red-headed Woodpecker - common; Acadian Flycatcher - many (1000s) nest in the site; Wood Thrush - Many (100s) nest on the site; Cerulean Warbler - a few (1-5) nest on the site; Prothonotary Warbler - Many (1000s) nest in the site; Swainson's Warbler - some (10s) nest in the site, but more study is needed; Hooded Warbler - Many (100s) nest on the site.
This is the most important wintering area for Mallards in North America, with an average of 306,000. Other common wintering waterfowl include Gadwall, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Less Scaup, and Canada Goose. A large number of Wood Ducks nest and winter in the site. Wading bird nesting has been poorly studied, but this site has prime habitat for nesting colonies. During fall migration over 1,000 Mississippi Kites per day move through the site. Also hundreds of Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Broad-winged Hawks move through on good days. This site winters up to 100 Bald Eagles, but specific roost site(s) has not been located. Reported nesting of Bank Swallows ont he lower Arkansas and White Rivers needs further investigation. The first confirmed sightings of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the US since 1944 occurred in the Cache River NWR in 2004. The "Big Woods" is critical for survival of this species.
Hydrologic change is the major threat to the area. The navigation channel on the White River is being studied for enlargement to nine feet deep. Several agricultural irrigation projects are under consideration that would remove water from the White River. Changes in water release patterns from Bull Shoals and Norfork Lakes are constantly under consideration. These projects could degrade habitat quality by altering flooding frequency and duration. Cowbirds parasitize a large proportion of monitored Swainson's Warbler nests. The Nature Conservancy worked with the city of Clarendon to develop a management plan that recognizes the value of natural resources to the economic vitality and cultural identity of the community. As part of this plan, they began an annual Big Woods Birding Festival in 2001. The Big Woods Conservation Partnership, which includes Audubon Arkansas, is addressing habitat conservation in general, and Ivory-billed Woodpecker conservation in particular.
Federal - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
State - Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
15% Swamp (cypress, tupelo, or mixed forest); 65% Lowland Hardwood Forest; 1% Upland Hardwood Forest; 5% Riverine Forest (Sycamore, River Birch, etc...); 5 % Riverine; 5% Natural Lake (oxbow, meander scar lake); 1 % Artificial Impoundment; 1% Shrub-Scrub Habitat; 1% Canebreakes; 1% Sandbars.