By: Arnold Wyrick
THEBES, IL --There are some parts of the Heartland that flood when it rains heavily. One of those areas is in Alexander County, just North of Thebes, along Illinois Route 3. The area covers more then 39,000 square acres, and for years farmers have planted soybeans there. But after the '93 floods many landowners decided it was time to do something else with the land instead of farming it. So they turned to the United States Department of Agriculture for a solution, to the flooding problems. "A few came to us trying to get out of farming, but didn't want to get out of farming, unless they were given some sort of incentives," says Dave Huitt with the USDA.
So the USDA teamed up with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and offered the farmers $160,000,000 for their land, and began restoring the area to it's natural state, which is a wetlands. "It got a lot of farmers out of dire straits as far as their economic stand point in the farming community. And also put quite a bit of money back into the community," said Huitt.
But the area is also going to provide a wealth of knowledge and research capabilities to the SIU campus in Carbondale. They've signed an agreement with the IDNR and the USDA to manage the wetlands. "It gives our researchers on our campus, from fisheries, and our aqua culture center, to our wildlife labs and plant biology, along with our agricultural scientist a really unique opportunity,"says John Koropchak Ph. D. and Vice Chancellor for Research at SIU.
American Land Conservancy Company also played a major role in helping acquire the acreage and establishing the area back into a wetlands protected area. "This is probably ground zero in terms of developing a more diversified local economy, with other recreational opportunities, tourism, hunting, fishing, and bird watching," says Director Glenn Williams. " Getting a piece of public lands like this along the Midway Mississippi corridor that has more then 1,400 acres of shoreline included in it, will allow migrating birds a natural stopping off point. And for people to reacquaint themselves with the river, and it's flooding effects on nature," said Williams.
Some researchers say that the new wetlands could also play a part in reducing global warming. "Wetlands are one place that carbon dioxide can be captured, is by plants. And it's possible that wetlands might serve a very important role in that," said Koropchak.