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By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
Jared Nance, wildlife refuse manager for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, showed Ste. Genevieve County commissioners a map of the proposed Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge area in Ste. Genevieve County last Thursday.
Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Martha Williams has accepted the Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge Final Land Protection Plan last month.
Williams’ approval marked the beginning of the implementation of the recommended expanded acquisition boundary within the Middle Mississippi River Corridor, which includes an acquisition limit of 90,000 acres within this new boundary.
“That starts our process,” Nance told the commissioners. “There’s still more to do, a little bit, but we can start acquiring grounds inside.”
This will include, when conveyed, property on the east side of the Ste. Genevieve Urban Design Levee.
The Service has released the Final Environmental Assessment with its FONSI and Land Protection Plan to interested tribes, local and state government contacts, conservation partners, and the general public, which, with the Director’s approval, now authorizes land purchases from willing sellers within the expanded boundary.
Nance had met with Second District Commissioner Mark Marberry in January, to go over the topic.
One thing Nance wanted to stress was that all land would be obtained from willing sellers.
“We only buy from willing sellers,” Nance said. “The eminent domain stopped in the 1950s or 1960s with us, so it’s been a long time since that happened. So only willing sellers, and we play market value.”
He said that very little of the land they purchase would be levee-protected farm land, because the market rate for such land would be cost prohibitive.
Nance thinks the FWS will eventually be able to get the needed land, since so many farmers are retiring and children are not taking over family farms.
“I tell everybody we’re playing the long game,” Nance said. “This [project] is going to last well beyond me. You know, we went big, it’s a big area, and it’s up to 90,000 acres inside of that big area.”
The Ste. Genevieve area is expected to be between the Urban Design Levee and the river.
“There’s just a handful in the Ste. Gen. area,” Nance said. “But, you know, we’re gonna go where opportunity presents itself, where there’s willing sellers, where, you know, we can make a difference.”
He listed some benefits as “Connectivity, bottomland hardwood restoration, bottomland hardwood forest.”
Nance said they have a budget of $1 million annually and that none of it comes from taxes. It instead comes from fees collected, such as the one for duck hunting.
Presiding Commissioner Randy Ruzicka asked whether the project might help prevent flooding, as well.
“Yeah, it’ll slow the water,” Nance said. “If you put trees out there, it slows the water down. Sediment will drop off. Right. That is very true.”
He also stressed that none of the refuse projects will have any negative effects on existing levees.
On Aug. 13, 2021, a dedication ceremony was held for the Ste. Genevieve Wildlife Refuge, which was dedicated to the late Walter “Stormy” Crawford, founder of the World Bird Sanctuary.
The road leading to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuse between the Urban Design Levee and the Mississippi River, meanwhile, was named Stormy Crawford Way.