Audubon, other conservation groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have made the case for years that the Corps proposal would severely impact tens of thousands of acres of wetlands and aquatic habitat important to migratory birds, Mississippi River fishes, threatened black bears and other wildlife. Authorized by Congress 67 years ago, the so-called Yazoo Pump is a relic of an era when wetlands were considered wastelands, and the intent was to increase the production of crops on marginal farmland.
Audubon hailed the decision.
"We are pleased the EPA has recognized the importance of this ecosystem to the ecological health of the Mississippi River," said Bruce Reid, Audubon's Lower Mississippi River Program Director. "Hopefully this decision signals a new, more sustainable approach to managing the Mississippi River that takes into account the essential role of wetlands in protecting both communities and wildlife. Healthy rivers can reduce flooding, absorb pollutants and provide critical habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife."
The Yazoo Backwater Area, covering nearly one million acres near Vicksburg, Miss., is one of the few remaining large wetland habitats subject to backwater flooding from the Mississippi River.
"The Army Corps of Engineers needs to be more environmentally responsible. This decision doesn't fix the Corps, but it is a start," said Betsy Loyless, Audubon Senior Vice President and Donal O'Brien Chair for Advocacy and Policy. "The Corps should focus on ways to protect and restore wetlands along the river's length and particularly in coastal Louisiana, where wetlands are the first line of defense against tropical storms."
A recent nonpartisan independent poll released by Audubon and other conservation groups showed wide public support among affected communities for restoring wetlands as a defense against tropical storms like Hurricane Gustav.
Protecting the Mississippi is a top Audubon priority. The Mississippi River Basin drains about 40 percent of the area of the lower 48 states, making it the largest watershed in the country. Up to 90 percent of all freshwater entering the Gulf of Mexico comes from the Mississippi River. Taken together, the Mississippi River Basin and the Gulf of Mexico encompass more than 40 million acres of large river floodplain, coastal wetlands and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Approximately 60 percent of all North American bird species depend upon the River's habitats, including 40 percent of all waterfowl and shorebirds that migrate along the Mississippi flyway.