Red-bellied Woodpecker, with hen Cardinals and a Cedar Waxwing in the background, part of a bird wave at Crawfish Springs. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Red-bellied Woodpecker, with hen Cardinals and a Cedar Waxwing in the background, part of a bird wave at Crawfish Springs which is an area of mixed pine and hardwood forest with an open meadow and a series of natural seeps and springs. C.Paxton image and copyright.

Expert botanist Chris Doffit exploring species at Crawfish Springs with us.

Expert botanist Chris Doffit exploring species at Crawfish Springs with us.

On Thursday we welcomed U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Dept. Field Botanist Chris Doffit to Crawfish Springs to initiate the process of registering our land as part of the US Wildlife and Fisheries protected area program, part of the wider Louisiana Natural Heritage Program.  What is this all about? According to the official webpage  “The registry is designed to honor and recognize owners of outstanding natural areas for their commitment to the protection of our state’s natural heritage. The program relies on citizen-based conservation and the willingness of landowners to safeguard the best that remains of our natural world.”

Our estate is only 4.75 acres in area, so we were a bit shy about offering it for registry, but it does have springs connected to the Spartan aquifer (the same as supplies Elgin Springs) and we’ve seen a lot of wildlife here.

Chris very kindly traveled up from Natchitoches and spent over three hours with us, assessing the habitat and identifying the plants that we encountered here. For us it felt wonderful to be informed about many of the things that live here. I saw some things for the first time, and other things that I had encountered before, but had not known their names and character. Trees and shrubs, grasses,  herbaceous plants and mosses were now formally introduced and can be researched and better understood by us. It is January, so we aren’t seeing the area in full leaf, nor with its usual compliment of insects and reptiles, but at this time of year it is very light and you can get a clear view of the lie of the land. As it happened there was plenty to see.

Who knew that we had Partridge berry? Musclewood trees (American Hornbeam) ? Short-leaf pines, wild black cherries and Rabbit tobacco? Who knew that the Nandina bushes planted around our pond had put forth young in our woods? Not I. But now we do, and that is one point of registering – improved knowledge of the ecological community. In addition to benefitting from Chris’s botanical expertise we were able to exchange our noted wildlife observations in the form of a species list that details fungi, arthropods, resident and migrant birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. We now also know  a good course of action for land management here will be to gradually swap out the prevalent Loblolly pines with Short-leaf pine trees, Hickories, Post-oaks, Red bay, White oaks and more fruiting trees like the Black cherries and to replace some of our non-native plants with the native equivalents as these provide natural homes and food for wildlife. So that is worth knowing. Out with the Bahia grass, in with the native grasses and wildflowers, much less work for the lawn-mower!   We went to the Extension office for a list of Tree nurseries.

The other point is that the land is joining a state-wide registry of studied habitat within Louisiana and as land-owners we are committing to protect it for the future and to update the representative about the prevalent conditions, whether they have changed or if new threats have emerged.

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Key aspects of the program are that participation is utterly voluntary and registration of any site is only publicized with the landowner’s consent. No directions to the site are published nor does registration provide public rights of access.

In order to qualify for the registry a property must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • It offers habitat for native plants or animals with rare or declining populations in Louisiana

  • It contains plant communities characteristic of the native vegetation of Louisiana

  • It has remarkable natural features like old growth forests or wetlands.

Prospective registrants agree to “protect the area and its unique natural elements to the best of their abilities, to notify the program representative of any threats to the area or the plants and animals within it.
They agree to notify the program representative if they wish to sell the area or transfer its ownership to another person.

Juvenile Box turtle. C . Paxton image and copyright.

Juvenile Box turtle. C . Paxton image and copyright.

This agreement expresses a landowner’s earnest desire to protect certain natural elements of state and national significance, but it isn’t legally binding nor does it subject the area to any new regulatory authority. The agreement can be cancelled by either party at any time that they may wish, although 30 days notice is requested. The status is dependent upon the maintenance of the qualities that qualified the site in the first place, if the site’s ecological value decreases it may be removed from the Register.

We don’t know whether our land has qualified for the register or not yet, but either way we have learned a lot more about where we live and how to manage the property going forward.

So in short the program is a means for landowners within Louisiana to establish private protected areas for the conservation of native wildlife heritage, to learn more about the ecological community within the habitat and to liaise with a program representative on an ongoing basis.

If this sounds like something that you’d be interested in yourself, then please don’t hesitate to contact Chris Doffitt.

Chris Doffitt