JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC) received an award from the U.S. Forest Service for its Pascagoula River Conservation Lands Project.
MFC received the award at the 2019 Regional Honors Awards in the “Delivering State and Private Forestry Program” category.
This year’s theme “Shared Stewardship, Shared Excellence – Our Commitment to the Land and People” acknowledges Forest Service employees, work units, partnerships and groups who have demonstrated a commitment in restoring, sustaining and/or enhancing forestlands and natural resources in the Southern Region. The Regional Forester’s Honor Awards Ceremony is an opportunity to recognize groups and individuals who go over and beyond their duties demonstrating their commitment to excellence and teamwork.
“We are extremely honored to receive this recognition for the Pascagoula River Conservation Lands Project,” said Russell Bozeman, MFC state forester. “This project will have tremendous impacts on the forests, wildlife and economy of the region.”
The Pascagoula River Conservation Lands Project is a Forest Legacy Project that protected three tracts of bottomland hardwoods, riparian forests and adjacent upland forests in the Pascagoula River Basin and connected and expanded large contiguous blocks of National Forest, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) preserves, state wildlife management areas (WMA) and coastal preserves.
“The Pascagoula River is the largest unimpeded river in the contiguous U.S.,” Bozeman said. “TNC, government and non-profit partners have been working since the early 1970s to conserve an 85-mile forested corridor of public and private conservation lands along this waterway.”
The three project areas in George, Greene and Jackson counties provide habitat for numerous threatened and endangered species, as well as provide timber and non-timber economic benefits to the region and state.
The endangered Yellow-blotched Sawback Turtle is native to the area and river sandbars are preferred nesting habitat. All project tracts include river stretches designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as a critical habitat for the turtle. The mature bottomland hardwoods on the Pascagoula River and its tributaries are preferred habitat for federally threatened Louisiana black bear and the endangered wood stork.
The project tracts are also designated by the USFWS as a critical habitat for the federally-listed Gulf Sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that spends its adult life in the Gulf of Mexico and swims up to 100 miles upstream to spawn in the Pascagoula and Leaf Rivers.
Mississippi’s outdoor recreation attractions are a huge draw for the state’s tourism industry. Adding protected lands along the Pascagoula River National Blueway will increase recreation and ecotourism opportunities and benefit local outdoor outfitters, bait shops, hotels, and license agents.
Additionally, protecting the bottomland hardwoods in the Pascagoula watershed will limit flooding in other areas where people live, protect the safety of well water supplies and allow continued viability of industrial water supply for industries in the area.
The three project tracts have been working forests for over 100 years. Future owners will preserve the tracts as working forests for public use, research, and demonstration. Loggers, mechanics, fuel distributors and other support businesses within George, Greene and Jackson counties will benefit from continued and increased working forest production.
“Whether it’s economic, recreational or wildlife, conserving these lands in George, Greene and Jackson counties will have a significant impact in Mississippi,” said Bozeman. “The MFC will continue to work on projects like this that will preserve Mississippi’s forest resources for future generations.”
The MFC partnered with TNC, Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Secretary of State, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and Mississippi Department of Marine Resources on the project.