Future of Illinois Farm May Lie in Swampy Past
(Note: Which is it, Nature Conservancy? Are you going to flood it or "allow it" to flood? Where do you intend for food to be raised? Will you LEASE some of the land that YOU OWN to farmers that once owned their own farms? Do you really think that 'nature tourism' will be the 'in thing' nation- and worldwide? Yeah ... right ... why doesn't the New York Times reporter mention the LANDSCAPE SCALE FLOODPLAIN RESTORATION ALONG THE ILLINOIS RIVER AT SPUNKY BOTTOMS AND EMIQUON that is part of the 'Plan' to remove all people -- except the few power players that intend to run the world -- from vast landscapes? See here for proof: http://22.214.171.124/03conference/NAA_ABSTRACTS.pdf There was a four-day event called a "Natural Areas Conference" held in Madison, Wisconsin, September 24-27, 2003. The Nature Conservancy is combining adjacent lands owned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to control "...bluff to bluff habitats..." that are more than 13,000 acres in size ... and growing. Such control plans NEVER shrink.)
September 27, 2004
By Stephen Kinzer
Doug Blodgett -- firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com TNC (The Nature Conservancy) 220 West Main St., Havana, IL 62644. 309-543-6502 -- of the Nature Conservancy is directing the Emiquon project, near Havana, Illinois. The land will be flooded after a last major harvest of corn this month. - Aynsley Floyd for The New York Times
Havana, Illinois (September 20) - Every autumn for more than 80 years, a sprawling farm beside the Illinois River has yielded a rich bounty of corn and other crops.
Now it is being turned back into a swamp.
Four years ago an environmental group bought the 7,000-acre farm, which for generations has been one of the largest in Illinois.
Over the next few months, ecologists will begin allowing it to flood.
Based on their experience in smaller projects, the ecologists think that within just a year or two, they can return this farm to its natural state as a thriving wetland.
And they believe they can do it without planting a single seed.
All they need to do, they say, is to stop sowing corn and to allow water levels to rise, and soon the seeds of wetland plants that have lain dormant in the soil for 80 years will spring to life.
This suggests that the century during which food was grown along the banks of America's great rivers may one day be seen as an aberration, a brief parenthesis in the life of rich swamps that thrived along these rivers for thousands of years.
If the project here, about 165 miles southwest of Chicago at a farm called Emiquon, works as expected, planners would like to see it duplicated around the United States and beyond. They dream of the day when there will be fewer farms along riverbanks and more swamps.
This month at Emiquon, high-wheeled combines are harvesting corn and soybeans, just as they are at thousands of farms across the Midwest.
Soon, however, this place will begin to change.
The half-dozen farm buildings, including barns, homes and a towering grain elevator, are to be moved or demolished in the next few months.
On about one-third of the farm, the amount of water being pumped off will be sharply reduced.
Then Doug Blodgett, an ecologist who is directing this project for the Nature Conservancy, will wait and watch.
"Hopefully, by this time next year there will be water over that field, with all kinds of natural vegetation and wildlife," Mr. Blodgett said as he pointed across the cornfield. "Wetlands are amazingly resilient. Once you get the water levels right, they come right back."
The Nature Conservancy bought most of Emiquon from a real estate and farming company in 2000, paying $18.5 million.
Mr. Blodgett said it would be flooded in stages over the next three years.
"There was a time when the country was growing so fast and we were so dependent on our own farming that it may have made sense to use land like this to grow crops," he said. "We don't need these flood plains for farming anymore, and in fact, keeping them in use as farms causes a whole range of negative environmental effects."
Waters around the Illinois River towns of Havana and Liverpool were once among the most productive freshwater fishing grounds in North America, producing a reported 24 million pounds of fish in 1908 alone.
The region was also teeming with waterfowl.
After the swamps were drained and turned into farms, fish and wildlife all but disappeared.
Levees built to protect the farms created conditions that have led to periodic floods.
The levees also prevent chemicals from being spread evenly across large wetlands, where they can be naturally absorbed and processed.
Instead, these chemicals flow downstream into the Mississippi River and then into the Gulf of Mexico, creating "dead spots" where little marine life can survive.
"We turned a huge flood plain over to uses that it really can't support," Mr. Blodgett said. "If we can go back to letting Nature do its work, the benefits will be huge."
His optimism is based in part on a pilot project that the Nature Conservancy started in 1999.
It bought a 1,700-acre farm 40 miles from here, at a place called Spunky Bottom, and stopped draining it.
Now, where rows of corn once stood, people canoe lazily through shallow lakes as otters, muskrat and mink scamper through tall grass, ospreys and herons fly overhead, turtles and frogs lounge on muddy shoals, and fish jump among yellow lotus blossoms that sprout among lily pads.
"This place was dry for 70 years, but after just one year without planting it looked amazing," said Tharran Hobson, director of the project at Spunky Bottom. "We were quite surprised at how quickly it happened."
News of what is happening here has spread through the world environmental community, and scientists from Brazil and Japan have come to visit.
"Developing countries are looking at doing the same things with their flood plains that we did 100 years ago: levees, flood-control districts and agriculture," Mr. Hobson said. "We're trying to suggest other approaches they might want to look at. The value of what we're doing is almost nothing if these projects don't become models."
A similar experiment is under way near the town of Hennepin, Illinois, 85 miles upriver from here. The Wetlands Initiative bought and flooded a 2,600-acre farm there four years ago. It is now a lush wetland.
"There have been a lot of wetland restorations over the last years, but it's mostly been on small plots of 50 or 100 acres," said Donald Hey, a senior vice president of the Wetlands Initiative. "We're showing that it can be done on a wide scale. This is a strategy that would have application in river basins from the Chesapeake to the Sacramento."
"This is really a great opportunity for us," said Keith Arnold, president of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Emiquon will be a wonderful wildlife habitat, and we'll have interpretive centers, hiking, biking, and opportunities for fishing and hunting. There's a tremendous demand at the national and international level for nature tourism. Within a year from now, we'll be making Emiquon the centerpiece of our leisure travel marketing. It'll be the focal point to everything we do."