A band of renegades struggles to bring back the Mississippi Hood forest
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Dispatches, November 1998
More than 45 years ago, when John Price was a Southern boy pursuing squirrels, deer, and ducks with his L.C. Smith shotgun, the Arkansas lowlands where he hunted were little different from the primeval forests that William Faulkner once described — in words as jungly as the landscape itself — as an “impassable density of briar and cane
Alas, by the early 1970s most of those holdouts were gone too: Bullish crop prices and bounteous farm subsidies had goaded landowners to clear most of the remaining bottomlands for soybeans — an ecological transformation made possible only by the vast flood-control and drainage projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, long hailed as the guardian angels of southern
“This is land that should have never been anything but timber,” declares Price, 58, who unwittingly finds himself in the front ranks of a budding insurrection. Last winter, when a 1,000-acre section of his farm in Arkansas’s Drew County flooded, he opted to let nature take its course by abandoning his soybeans and planting more than 300,000 oak, pecan, and ash seedlings. In 10
Price’s decision reflects a pattern repeating itself in pockets all across the Delta — a change that ecologists welcome as a first step toward restoring a portion of the nearly 20 million acres of Southern flood-forest lost since 1780. “The Delta is a bottomland hardwood floodplain, and that is all it ever can be,” says T. Logan Russell, head of the Delta Land Trust, a
What is remarkable about Russell’s crusade is that he and his cohorts preach their heresy in an area where the Corps has spent tens of billions of tax dollars over the last 50 years on massive flood-control projects designed to do exactly the reverse — programs Russell now castigates, in the fiery tones of a backwoods Bible-thumper, as “jury-rigged hocus-pocus.” Although
Though the Corps dismisses the effort as quixotic, Russell and his allies seem to be having an impact. This month, for example, the Corps is expected to issue a revised plan for its immensely controversial $250 million hydraulic-lift pumping station, the largest of its kind in the country, in Steele Bayou, Mississippi. Russell et al say this is only a token concession, however.