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Confluence restoration included among 11 'model' river projects

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 23, 2012 - WASHINGTON — The ongoing campaign to restore wetlands and wildlife habitat at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers was named Tuesday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as one of 11 “model projects” in the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers program to conserve and restore key rivers.

While the impact for funding was unclear, a fact sheet for the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers Confluence Restoration project says its main goals this year are restoring about 120 acres of wetland and conserving another 1,000 acres of habitat easements for wildlife near the confluence.

The confluence restoration project is a partnership of more than 40 organizations and agencies – including, at the federal level, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Corps of Engineers. The groups and agencies have been working for years in the confluence region – with a focus on “voluntary habitat conservation through conservation easements, private land habitat restoration, public land acquisition, education, and outreach, which will benefit migratory birds and other wildlife.”

The confluence project – one of 11 such efforts that Salazar identified in Midwestern and Southern states, with the eventual goal of naming a project in every state – provides an example of how communities can restore and reconnect with the rivers.

“These ongoing projects demonstrate how the federal family can be an effective conservation partner for community-led efforts to improve our rivers, which are the lifeblood of our communities and our economies,” Salazar said in a statement.

Other river projects were named in neighboring states. In northern Illinois, a water trail project along thePecatonica River involves the National Park Service and various groups in expanding recreational access and restoring wetlands along 58 miles of the river. This year, the main goals are to complete a river access site at Atten’s Landing, including two fishing docks and a floating dock, and also to restore an acre of wetland and riparian habitat.

In Arkansas, the Cache River restoration project involves the Army Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service in restoring wetlands of national importance – including areas of ancient cypress trees – adjacent to the current Cache River National Wildlife Refuge.

Salazar announced the America’s Great Outdoors Rivers in January as part of a wider program to reconnect people to the outdoors. The project’s goals include protecting and restoring parts of U.S. rivers and enhancing river recreation that supports jobs in tourism and outdoor recreation.

The Interior Department points out that rivers are economic engines for many local communities, providing opportunities for boating, fishing and hunting, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities. The outdoor industry accounts for about 6.5 million jobs in the United States and pumps an estimated $730 billion a year into the economy.

In February, Salazar ordered the creation of a National Water Trails System that creates a network of water trails, mostly within easy reach of urban areas.

“America has more than 3.6 million miles of rivers and streams, and nearly every American lives within a mile of a river or stream, making them some of the nation’s most important recreational and ecological assets,” Salazar said.

A map and descriptions of the river initiatives announced by Salazar can be accessed on the Interior Department’s website.