The Red River Important Bird Area (IBA), an IBA of over 235,000 acres, contains the Red River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the Barksdale Air Force Base. The Red River NWR, established in 2001, is still in the process of obtaining land to complete the goal acreage of its refuge. The intent is to acquire the following land: Lower Cane River (Natchitoches Parish), Spanish Lake Lowlands (Natchitoches Parish), Bayou Pierre Floodplain (Desoto and Red River Parishes), and Wardview (Caddo and Bossier Parishes). The Barksdale Air Force Base is home to the Eighth Air Force Museum that is closed to the public except once a year or on special request.
The Red River receives its name from the high concentration of red soil present in the river following flood periods. Many birds frequent the site, including the Interior Least Tern and Mississippi Kite. Other biodiversity includes 99 species of freshwater fish, 36 species of mussels, and 18 species of crawfish.
The IBA is a great site to find a number of birds of conservation concern, including endangered Interior Least Tern, vulnerable Piping Plover, endangered Wood Stork, and near- threatened Bell?s Vireo. Waterbirds are the most common to be found at the site. Diving ducks include Lesser Scaup, Ring-Necked Duck, Canvasback and Ruddy Duck. Cinnamon, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, and American Wigeon are all dabblers within the IBA. Wading birds such as Tricolored, Green, Little Blue and Great Blue Heron, and Great and Snowy Egrets all utilize the site. Migrating shorebirds include Ruddy Turnstone, White-rumped and Baird?s Sandpiper, Snowy Plover, and Long and Short-billed Dowitchers. A number of raptors may be found around the IBA, including large numbed of Mississippi Kite, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk. Bald eagles may be seen year round, with Golden Eagles being seen during migration. Neotropical songbirds also inhabit the site, such as the Yellow-throated and Yellow-rumped Warbler.
There are a number of threats the Red River IBA faces. Altered hydrology such as channeling and shortening of the river, as well as locks and dams, are creating disruptions to river ecology. The dredged material from the channelization of the river is discarded instead of being used to create habitat. The J. Bennett Johnson Navigation System in particular is decreasing the number of sandbars and islands in the river, critical habitat for the Interior Least Tern. The remaining sandbars are often visited by the public who sometimes cause harm to the nests or the birds themselves in a number of ways including through use of four-wheelers and illegal hunting. Urban sprawl is also a concern. Oil and gas development results in increased number of roads and oil pads, fragmenting habitat. The number of Northern Bobwhite has decreased dramatically over recent years from the increased number of invasive fire ants. Chemical, oil and gas, and industrial discharge can contaminate the river. Harmful agricultural practices and invasive species such as salvinia, water hyacinth, and tallow trees also pose threats to the IBA.
The actual river itself is owned by the state and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Boat traffic is overseen by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Red River NWR is also federally owned. The Barksdale Air Force Base is owned by the federal government and managed by the U.S. Air Force. Other lands within this IBA are privately owned.
This IBA?s diverse selection of habitat has dwindled since the mid-1900s when agriculture in the area boomed resulting in large tracts of land clearage. Historically, the Red River Valley was forested with bottomland hardwoods, cypress sloughs, and shrub swamps. There are currently efforts to reforest some of the area back to its previous state. As a result, flooded timber and farm fields with wet, depressional areas are now the prevailing habitat type.
Sandbars in the Red River are non-vegetative and change annually. Islands in the river may be half to one mile long, with vegetation generally growing more on the downstream side of the islands. Predominant species on islands are black willow and cottonwood, with more densely vegetated islands also growing some grasses such as cocklebur, pigweed, sedges and wild rice. These islands and sandbars rarely occur outside of the free flowing water of the river.
The J. Bennett Johnson Navigation System created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a system of locks and dams that have created essentially small lakes along the Red River. It has raised the water table and greatly reduced turbidity. Seasonal retention of water levels has allowed a rich diversity of aquatic plants. However, the slow moving waters do not allow the creation and maintenance of sandbars and islands, which is a loss of habitat, especially disruptive for the population of endangered Interior Least Terns.
The forests along the banks of the Red River are mostly deciduous mast-producing trees. Many species of oaks, green and white ash, sycamores and willows are all common trees. The forests? understory contains hawthorn and hackberry.
This IBA is used publicly for hunting, both recreational and commercial fishing, boating, jet skiing, photography, wildlife observation, and environmental education. Alligator hunting is allowed but restrictions apply. Most of the land within this IBA has been converted to agriculture for crops such as cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice. Livestock grazing also occurs. One of the first refuge management objectives will be to reforest disturbed areas back to the historical bottomland hardwood habitat. Oil and gas exploration is somewhat common in the area. Other areas are planned to be managed for wintering waterfowl and migrating shorebirds by controlling water levels through farming.