Mingo NWR

Region 3 of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ranges from Ohio in the east, to Minnesota in the north, to Missouri in the south, and it is there that our grand tour of refuge success stories stops next, at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge sits on 21,592 acres of lush bottomland forest and swamp in the bootheel region of Missouri, an hour's drive from Cape Girardeau. Drowned forests of water tupelo and bald cypress thrive in the Mingo Basin, an abandoned channel of the Mississippi River. The core of the refuge is 7,730 acres of Wilderness Area, the largest remaining tract of bottomland hardwoods in the state. And almost all of this land, 99.5% of it, was acquired through MBCF/Stamp funds.

In the late 1800s, lumbering in southeastern Missouri was big business. Once the trees were logged out, drainage districts were set up with the goal of converting the land to agriculture. One such was the Mingo Drainage District (whose boundaries almost exactly match those of today's refuge). Unfortunately for developers and farmers, keeping the basin drained was never quite successful; the soils were less productive than elsewhere; and the stress of the Great Depression forced the district into insolvency. USFWS purchased the land in 1944 and set about restoring it to something like a pristine state.

Now, wildlife and forest are once again abundant. In the bottomlands can be found seven species of oak, including a champion overcup oak 72 feet tall. Efforts to reintroduce alligator gar, a sharp-toothed freshwater fish that can grow to nearly 10 feet long and 300 pounds, began in 2009 in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation. The swamp rabbit, the larger swimming relative of the eastern cottontail (and Jimmy Carter's nemesis), makes its home here.

The refuge provides regular wintering grounds for almost two dozen species of waterfowl and other species of waterbids, numbering in the tens of thousands. A count of Mallards in early January, for example, alone totaled 34,364 birds.

Not all wildlife that prospers at Mingo NWR is desirable, however. Feral hogs, a non-native and aggressive species, are a particular management concern.

One project of interest at the refuge is that of forest restoration, an ongoing process. Mingo NWR is one of the sites where The Conservation Fund is planting trees to sequester carbon under its Go Zero program; the program's millionth tree was planted at Mingo.

The Mingo Swamp Friends is a key partner organization; see their photo gallery for some stunning images made in the refuge. A new LEED certified visitor center has recently opened. The annual Eagle Days, in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation, took place last month, when the NWR was host to more than 1,000 visiting students. Peter Rea of USFWS introduces Mingo in a short film produced by Dakota Counts and Greg Jackson.

This National Wildlife Refuge profile first appeared in the 4 March 2015 issue of Wingtips.