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Seven Lakes Wetland Project

NRCS Restores Wetland and Associated Uplands, Protects Archeology-Rich Historical Site

Excavation crew removing compacted, dark sediment layer to expose house floor.

Excavation crew removing compacted, dark sediment layer to expose house floor.

By Patricia Hoeffken
NRCS Visual Information Specialist, Arkansas

A project designed to alleviate crop losses from flooding and restore wetlands along the Arkansas and Petit Jean rivers is also protecting the most significant archeological site in Yell County, Ark.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, archeologists and Native Americans came together to investigate and protect the site while at the same time enhancing wildlife habitat and protecting the environment.

“This project is a perfect example of people with a wide variety of interests and objectives working together for the good of the environment,” said Arkansas NRCS State Conservationist Mike Sullivan.

This work was made possible when the landowner enrolled 606.88 acres into a permanent easement through NRCS’ Emergency Watershed Protection Program – Floodplain Easement as an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project to restore approximately 200 acres of cropland to wetlands and associated uplands and permanently protect the property.

The purpose of the project is to permanently protect the land from development, provide wildlife habitat and restore ecological functions.  The restoration work includes establishment of native bottomland hardwood trees, native grass and de-leveling of precision-leveled fields in the 200 acres currently in the Conservation Reserve Program.  Also, 107.7 acres of moist-soil (herbaceous wetlands dominated by mass seed producing annuals) habitat were created, and 148.3 acres were reforested to bottomland hardwoods (forested wetland).

“Periodic flooding inundates 500 acres of the project area.  After the site is restored, the project will improve water quality, reduce flood damage to crops, filter runoff water returning to the Arkansas and Petit Jean rivers, and protect and preserve endangered species and migratory birds.  We excavated shallow water areas for moist-soil management, water control structures were installed to manage water levels within these impoundments, and bottomland hardwood trees were planted,” said Rich Johnson, NRCS program specialist for easements.

Through remote sensing, many critical features were identified on this major archeological site and the data was used to select “low risk” locations for tree planting.  In this field, 300 potted trees were planted in 16 acres to ensure survival and avoid impacting the site which in turn will provide a savanna type habitat, according to NRCS Archeologist John Riggs.

“Partners also worked together to identify the significance of the cultural resources and avoid impacting the site.  So far, the floors of two houses are fully excavated and a modest array of pottery shards, animal bone and stone tools were found.  The extensive use of remote sensing indicated the remnants of many more houses.  Numerous trash pits and other associated features were also excavated. 

In addition, a tremendous amount of information was gathered about the physical and cultural arrangement of these 500-year-old communities.  In cooperation with our Native American partners, a concerted effort was made to avoid all graves.  As more work continues, an exciting picture emerges of what a Native American community would have looked like just before European contact,” said Riggs. 

The following groups worked on the project’s archeological investigations:  Arkansas Archeological Survey, Arkansas Archeological Society, Oklahoma Archeological Survey, Osage Nation, Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma, Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, and NRCS. 

The estimated economic impact of the project is $870,278.75.  Floodplain easements restore, protect, maintain, and enhance the functions of the flood plain; conserve natural values including fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, flood water retention, ground water recharge, and open space; reduce long-term federal disaster assistance; and safeguard lives and property from floods, drought, and the products of erosion.  The restoration will also reduce forest fragmentation and offer a larger habitat base to support more wildlife such as waterfowl, deer and turkey.

During the summer of 2010 and projected through the summer of 2012, $606,880 dollars were used to purchase the conservation easement and approximately $248,000 will be used for restoration.

Arkansas originally had an estimated 9.8 million acres of wetland habitat which has been significantly reduced to an estimated 2.8 million acres.  Restoring these habitats is important to provide outdoor recreation as well as provide food, water and cover to wildlife, restore ecological functions such as nutrient cycling, store and slow floodwater, filter water during recharge of aquifers, and remove sediment and pollutants from riverine systems.