Restoration of the Lower Mississippi Delta bottomland hardwood forest : economic and policy considerations

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Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Historically, water and related land resources management has been accomplished by engineering controls over rivers and adjacent lands in order to advance the material prosperity of the nation. One result desired from these projects was that wetlands could be drained and cleared so that their fertile and cultivable soils would add to the nation's agricultural base. Today we recognize that these activities necessarily disrupted the existing ecosystems, often diminishing their capacity to provide environmental services (terrestrial and aquatic wildlife habitat, sediment and nutrient trapping, mediation of hydro logic extremes of flood and drought). Recent recognition of these environmental consequences of our water management history has resulted in calls for ecological "restoration" as a new objective for water management (National Research Council 1993).

At some scales restoration may be quite costly and disruptive of current land and water management regimes. In the Lower Mississippi River delta states, however, an opportunity exists for wetlands restoration on flood prone agricultural lands that will not be disruptive of the economic conditions in the area. The return of frequently flooded agricultural lands in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain (the Delta) to their original condition as forested wetlands has the potential to be a wetlands restoration option that can provide significant environmental gains at low cost.