Agencies cooperating to protect habitat along river

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

State, federal and not-for-profit nature conservation groups in Missouri and Illinois want to work together to better manage the habitat along the Mississippi River.

The Middle Mississippi River Partnership, a collection of 16 agencies and organizations including the Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service and the Missouri Conservation Department, first met in July 2002. Nearly three years later, the venture is still in its infancy.

The group plans to hold three public meetings this month in Illinois and Missouri, including one in Cape Girardeau, as it seeks to develop a plan for protecting and restoring flood-plain forests, wetlands and aquatic habitat along the Mississippi River from the confluence with the Missouri River near St. Louis to the confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Ill.

The area covers more than half a million acres, according to Southwestern Illinois Resource Conservation and Development Inc. in Mascoutah, Ill., which is helping to draw up the strategic plan and organizing the public meetings.

Meetings will be held in Waterloo, Ill., on May 23 and Murphysboro, Ill., on May 26. The Cape Girardeau meeting will be May 24 at the Missouri Department of Conservation nature center in the county park.

The open-house session at the nature center will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., organizers said.

The goal is to have a plan finalized by July, said Jenny Reiman of Southwestern Illinois RC&D Inc.

Much of the current wetlands on the river are on the Illinois side, Reiman said.

Nature conservation goals include providing hunting opportunities on public and private land and working with communities to develop wildlife tours.

Steve Widowski, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Jonesboro, Ill., said the partnership is trying to foster cooperation between the various agencies and private organizations that are focused on preserving wetlands habitat.

"Unfortunately in the past we haven't always talked to each other," Widowski said.

He said he hopes the partnership will allow agencies to pool their resources on habitat projects.

"Taxpayers ought to appreciate it," he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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WANT TO GO?

* Who: Middle Mississippi River Partnership

* What: Meeting to solicit public comment on Middle Mississippi River strategic plan

* When: 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. May 24

* Where: Missouri Department of Conservation nature center in Cape County Park North.

* More info: The plan is on the Net at www.swircd.org

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