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Wealth in wetlands
Beginning in 2005, the landowner entered 7,200 acres into a permanent easement with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. The wetland, now known as the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, has become a dramatic demonstration of the power of wetlands to attract wildlife, offer public benefits, and provide revenue to landowners.
Ray McCormick, a Vincennes, Indiana, farmer, was a leading force in organizing the Goose Pond project. On a hot summer day in August, McCormick gave a tour of the area, which is comprised of a poorly drain soil, a Zipp soil type. "For a hundred years, they tried to farm it," he said. "They call it Zipp because that's what it grew for crops," he said with a laugh.
Farming in the Flyways
In 1990, McCormick was cited by Successful Farming magazine's program, Farming in the Flyways, for conservation work on his Indiana farm. Practices he used then, and does still today, include flooding of cropland after harvest for wildlife use, wetlands restorations, cover crops and no-till. McCormick was the top winner in a program that cited 168 farmers nationwide for their exemplary conservation work.
Restoring America's wetlands
The Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area has nearly 5,000 acres of shallow water wetlands and more than 30 miles of levees. McCormick helped convince the previous landowner to support the idea of restoring the area to wetlands. He also played a big part in rallying local and political support for the state's purchase of the land.
A bird magnet
Some 240 species of birds have been documented at the Goose Pond wetlands. Managing for shorebirds has been an important goal of the project, but marsh birds and grassland birds are seen in abundance, too.
The pollinators thrive
In McCormick's tour of the wetlands area, he constantly pointed out examples of the rich variety of plant and animal life fostered by the restoration project. "Wetlands help the pollinators," he said, "which contribute to seventy percent of our food."
'All about soil health'
Agriculture should be all about soil health, McCormick says. On his own farm he tries to put every acre to its best use, using cover crops, no-till and nutrient management on the cropland. His farm includes 2,000 acres of tillable land, 1,000 acres of woodlands, and 1,000 acres of wetlands.
Plants and politics
While pointing out various beneficial wetlands plants, McCormick talked about the challenge of gaining landowner and public support for the many wetlands restorations he has championed. "Politics is the name of the game in conservation," he said.
The federal Wetland Reserve Program, used to fund the Goose Pond project, has involved more than 11,000 landowners, who have enrolled some 2.3 million acres in the program over the past 20 years. "The WRP is the greatest conservation program I've been involved with," McCormick said.