>>Saving the Mississippi/What You Can Do
There are many ways to help the Mississippi: call or write Washington, ditch your lawn chemicals, or go birding.
Restoring the ecosystems of the Mississippi River and its watershed will be among the most ambitious environmental projects ever undertaken. Through its Mississippi River Headwaters to Gulf Campaign (www.audubon.org/campaign), Audubon is working with 33 other conservation groups in the Mississippi River Restoration and Communication Collaborative to raise the profile of the entire river. For information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The Mississippi River Basin Alliance (www.mrba.org) and the Gulf Restoration Network (www.healthygulf.org) are asking Americans to “Flood Washington” with petitions demanding a commitment to the restoration of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and communities. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (www.crcl.org) is urging Category 5 hurricane protection in major population centers, as well as the shutdown of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a manmade navigation channel that connects New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org) has been the driving force behind the acquisition and permanent protection of nearly 45,000 acres in the Mississippi Valley. American Rivers (www.americanrivers.org) released a comprehensive restoration plan that advocates rebuilding in areas less vulnerable to flooding, judicious levee improvements, and smarter investments by the federal government in water projects that protect communities from flooding.
Many of these groups, including Audubon, support the Water Resources Development Act of 2006, a bill that would provide funding for vital ecosystem restoration projects in the Everglades, the Great Lakes region, coastal Louisiana, and the Upper Mississippi River. This bill, which has been passed by the House of Representatives but is being held up by the Senate, would enable the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restore more than 300,000 acres of wetlands around the country. Contact your senators (www.senate.gov, or go through the congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121) and the White House (202-456-1111). Ask them to press for action right now. For updates on this legislation, sign up for e-newsletters from the Natural Resources Defense Council (www.nrdc.org/action) or the National Wildlife Federation (www.nwf.org/action).
Give Birds a Chance
Audubon is working to identify Important Bird Areas (IBAs)—places that are critical for birds during some part of their life cycle (breeding, wintering, feeding, migrating). Along the Mississippi, there are currently 86 recognized IBAs and about 100 other potential ones. The ivory-billed woodpecker sighting reported last year occurred in Arkansas, in the Cache-Lower White Rivers IBA (www.ar.audubon.org/BirdSci.html), which encompasses two national wildlife refuges and is the largest continuous expanse of bottomland hardwood forest in the Lower Mississippi River valley. For a complete list of IBAs, go to http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/index.html.
Start at Home
No matter where you live, water conservation is key to protecting our nation’s rivers and streams. Keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap until the water gets cold, clean your driveway and sidewalk with a broom instead of a hose, and turn the water off between rinses when washing dishes by hand. For additional water-saving tips and products, visit www.americanwater.com/49ways.htm and www.watersavers.com. How you care for your lawn and garden can also have a huge impact. If you live near a river or a creek, don’t mow right to the water’s edge; instead allow the grasses to grow thick and tall, and plant additional flowers and native shrubbery along the shoreline to help reduce erosion. For more information on organic lawn-care practices, see “So Lawn,” and click on Audubon At Home at www.audubon.org.
Do your part to combat global warming, which possibly intensifies hurricanes, by curbing your carbon emissions (see “Storm Warnings,” Field Notes). Switch to low-energy light bulbs such as fluorescents and buy Energy Star appliances (see www.energystar.gov). Use public transportation instead of your car, buy recycled products, and compost your organic waste. For additional suggestions, visit www.cleanair-coolplanet.org.
See It for Yourself
Ecotourism provides financial support to local economies as well as another compelling argument for conservation to private companies and government officials. Birding trails—driving routes that highlight the best spots for birding—are a new type of ecotourism spiraling across the country. Explore the Great River Birding Trail (www.audubon.org/campaign/umr/birdmaps.html) and the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail (www.msaudubon.org), both of which provide full-color maps for hundreds of easily accessible sites, including parks, overlooks, and wildlife refuges. Check out www.audubon.org/campaign/umr/calofevents.html for upcoming field trips at selected sites along 1,366 miles of the river, or take a birding tour, led by Audubon staffers, through the backwaters of the Upper Mississippi in a flat-bottom boat (www.audubon.org/campaign/umr/about.html; 651-739-9332). Other places to visit include the Ingersoll Wetlands Learning Center near Thomson, Illinois (815-273-2732), which makes up a part of the nearly 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, and the five refuges that comprise the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge Complex (www.fws.gov/midwest/marktwain) in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri.