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Photograph by Joe Mac Hudspeth, Jr. · www.southernfocus.com

Magazine


Building the Delta’s Wildlife

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Over the past 28 years, Delta Wildlife has helped thousands of landowners in the Mississippi Delta improve their properties for wildlife. In many cases, these landowner members of Delta Wildlife simply want advice from our team of professionals that includes Certified Wildlife Biologists, Registered Foresters and GIS Specialists. Other times, they want Delta Wildlife to help “get it done.”

Delta Wildlife does do some limited contract work, but in no way has the equipment or expertise necessary to perform every task that is needed to maximize wildlife habitat conditions on private properties. For that, Delta Wildlife does what everyone else does, find reputable, experienced contractors to help Delta Wildlife, and its members, get the job done.

There are many contractors in the Delta who have worked on wildlife habitat projects and each one needs to be recognized for helping to enhance wildlife habitat in the region and improving our natural resources. But in this article, Delta Wildlife chose to feature some of the contractors that we lean on the most, as we could not do what we do without them.

Shredco – Clearing the Way

In order to get farmland into a Wetland Reserve Program, sometimes the way has to be cleared. Trees and brush can be a hinderance to enhancing an area for more wildlife use. Ricky Twiner, owner of Shredco, has the tools necessary to help farmers see the potential of their WRP. With heavy machinery that “chews” up trees and stingy brush areas, Twiner and his crew clear the way.

“We have a lot of hunting clubs and we go in and chew up duck brush and such in the sloughs, so they will have open water,” Twiner said. “For deer hunters, we go out and clear food plot areas in the woods. We will also go out in standing timber and clear it before they flood it. That way they can have open water to hunt in the timber.”

In addition, Twiner helps clear and build roads and works with Delta Wildlife in helping with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) projects.

Twiner has one “on the ground machine” and a trackhoe with a power unit and a mulching head that “we can take down 20-inch diameter trees with. It works really well on ditch banks.”

His initial equipment was two Bobcats with 90 horsepower but now he has a machine with an eight-foot head and 250 horsepower with 30-inch wide rubber tracks that makes easy going in soft ground and easy work of the nuisance trees and brush.

“We’ve actually done some work in lakes when the water level gets way down, getting rid of buck brush and small willows,” he said.

Form Tunica to Vicksburg to Grenada, Twiner has helped clear trees and brush on “some of the most absolutely beautiful hunting property.” He works with his son, Walker, who works the mulchers, and he has one other helper at his shop in Inverness.”

Fratesi Nursery – Bottomland Hardwood Restoration

Trees are a vital part of the Delta landscape and are needed to re-establish land as a CRP or WRP. Torrey Fratesi of Fratesi Nursery in Leland has been planting and growing hardwood trees for the past 25 years. He first joined the family business with his dad, Lewis, but now Torrey handles a majority of day-to-day routines.

“All we grew for 20-something years was bare-root, hardwood seedlings,” Fratesi said. “We do all the reforestation on all the WRPs and all of the CRPs.”

These days the Fratesis supply another company with the seedlings and then pick up the mature trees when it’s time to plant. Working with Delta Wildlife, the Fratesis follow the plans laid out for each CRP and WRP site.

“We come in during the early fall and bushhog where the trees are going to be planted and we perform eco-till ripping in August and September. Then we let it rain on it all through the winter. Then we come back in January and plant the trees in the eco-till rows.”

The reclaimed agricultural land that become CRPs and WRPs are populated with bottom land hardwoods that include several varieties of Oak trees – Nuttall Oak, Willow Oak, Water Oak, Overcup Oak, as well as Persimmon, Sycamore and Cypress.

“There’s kind of a prescription that the government does. It has to have some soft mass and some hard mass and they try to put it – as close as they can – back to the way nature had it – with several varieties of oak trees and Persimmon, some Sycamore, some Cypress, some Hackberry - put it back the way the Lord made it.”

He also includes native and Bitter Pecan but the prescription takes in account the soil type as well. Fratesi works the nursery business around his soybean farm. He enjoys both because he “loves being out in the country. I’m a big hunter and I like to be outside and not in the middle of town. I love seeing all this hunting ground even though we’re not allowed to hunt them. Some of the finest hunting land in Mississippi I’ve been on.”

Fratesi partnered with Delta Wildlife more than 20 years ago when the WRP was a new program with the NRCS.

“If you qualified then it was your job to go find someone to plant trees on it but there was abuse in that program. NCRS figured out it would a lot easier for them to pay Delta Wildlife to basically oversee the program for them. Then when they needed someone to plant trees, they approached me to do that for them. I was happy to do that and jumped on it and have been doing it ever since,” he said.

Fratesi has planted trees from New Orleans to Kentucky and all across the Delta.

“We go wherever the work is, but Delta Wildlife keeps us busy right here in the Mississippi Delta,” he said. “They tell us where the land is, send us maps and then we hit it and plant it and move on.”

Twiner Trackhoe Service – Digging for Conservation

Any farmer can appreciate the importance of a well-designed and maintained ditch. For Pete Twiner, it’s his job. The owner of Twiner Trackhoe Service has been digging ditches and much more on his own for 25 years. Before that he lent his heavy equipment expertise to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company and worked all over the country.

“I dig ditches, design all types of drainage for Delta Wildlife – aquatic plants grow in the very bottom stage and catch the nitrites,” he said. “It’s a two-stage ditch. You dig a ditch and then put a bench about a foot or foot and half off the bottom – that would be actual drainage grade. The ditch holds the water and the plants grow in it and catch the nitrites. And it doesn’t restrict the drainage flow where it catches the nitrites.”

Twiner helps build drainage systems that keep erosion at bay, so farmers and land owners can keep their Delta soil where it’s needed most – in their fields.

“We have probably put in more than 800 pipe structures to keep down erosion. The weir takes energy out of the water – it slows it down. And the nitrites settle out before they go over the weir.”

For the better part of two decades, Twiner has partnered with Delta Wildlife to help build some CRP wetlands, but mostly focuses on erosion control with agriculture land.

“We’ve tried a lot of different things over the years. We work to keep the silt from going from the fields into recreational lakes and bayous. I’ve worked on Steel Bayou, Harris Bayou and a lot of different places where we’ve put structures in.”

His handiwork stretches from Tunica to Vicksburg covering the entire Delta.

“I enjoy meeting different people and trying to solve some of their problems,” Twiner said.

A good ditch digger is worth his day’s pay rate. A great one is worth his trackhoe’s weight in gold as their experience and workmanship will pay off for years to come.

J. Sartain Construction and Development – Designing and Developing Wildlife Properties

Across the Delta businessmen wear quite a few hats. Jacob Sartain may have a haberdashery of sorts in his entrepreneurial life. The agricultural and recreational land broker and developer has to separate his businesses. Working as a real estate broker – Sartain Heritage – he can’t develop land under real estate law but does so under his development company – J. Sartain Construction and Development.

“Whether it’s growing custom crops for wildlife or doing dirt work and development and then I’ve got a management division as well and they manage agricultural land for investment clients or an absentee owner from out of state,” he said. “They would take care of day to day matters and legal matters – executing contracts for leases, paying taxes, looking for subsidy programs beneficial to the farm – I have to keep all of those divided and each faction needs to do its own thing. But they are tied together but our goal as a company is to be able to take a landowner from start to finish.”

Sartain is the third-generation owner of the real estate family business dating back 64 years. The land development and management pieces are only 15 years old. Working out of Madison, Sartain serves as strong advocate for Delta Wildlife and Delta Waterfowl and works closely with Delta Wildlife on local projects in the Mississippi Delta to improve wildlife habitat on private lands.

Sartain manages 10,000 acres of wildlife land that stretches across the Delta.

“A whole lot of conservation work. We implement programs for private land owners – designing and implementing CRP projects and WRP restoration projects,” he said. “We own our own equipment to do the work but sometimes we contract some things just so we can get it done faster.”

No matter the hat, Sartain wears it well to help with conservation, land ownership and land management across the Delta and beyond.

Hooker Engineering – Precision Conservation

The Delta is home to farmers and wildlife that run the gamut. Working to keep both in unison and co-existing, Hooker Engineering Services creates plans to benefit each. Marcus Hooker, vice president and principal engineer, oversees plenty of work that fine tunes Delta soil to keep farmers moving ahead and enjoys helping them conserve land to supplement the state’s wealth of hunting species.

“We work as a partner with Delta Wildlife to develop Wetland Restoration Plans for out of production agricultural fields,” Hooker said. “We perform topographic surveys and come back and determine what areas capacity to hold water, what kind of piping system they need to put in. We develop a plan from that.”

The plans that are developed are put in the hands of other contractors who bring them to life for the landowners.

“If they have ideas for the property, we try to incorporate them,” Hooker said. “But we work with them from the original implementation.”

For the past two decades, Hooker Engineering has helped preserve the Delta through its partnership with Delta Wildlife. In providing technical, engineering and surveying services, the Greenville resident works within the Natural Resources Conservation Program and with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP).

The WRP is now the Wetland Reserve Easements Program or WRE. Once the topographic survey is made, a plan is made that may include levees, water control structures, microtopography or other features to get the land back to the pre-farming condition for waterfowl and other wildlife species.

“The easements we start with can be anything from old catfish ponds to current farming acreage,” he said. “And they can be as small as 20 acres up to more than 1,500.”

Leland Land Formers - Moving Dirt

The foundation for any CRP or WRP is the dirt. To make either one a success, a great land former is needed. That’s where Joel Smith and Leland Land Formers LLC comes in. Leland Land Formers first started moving dirt 50 years ago.

“We work on the WRP program restoring wetlands, building low levees and installing water control structures to create moist soil areas for waterfowl,” Smith said. “We did microtopography – we make basically a slough out there for permanent water and put a shoreline on it so when it dries up there’s a receding shoreline for crustaceans and other animals.”

In addition, Smith creates mounds for terrestrial wildlife as well as erosion control.

“We’ve done some bank stabilization. We’ve done work on the Sunflower River stabilizing the bank. We install spillways that help with erosion and controls water levels,” he said.

Smith has been part of wetland restoration projects for the past 15 years but has been part of conservation projects since 1968. With a crew of eight working Delta Wildlife projects, Leland Land Formers stays busy across the Delta area and beyond.

“We do some seeding and we’ve worked with Wildlife Mississippi and Ducks Unlimited also. We have a full range of land forming that includes land leveling, site prep, wetland construction and more,” he said.

Smith doesn’t find much time to hunt and fish due to his “day job.”

“I’m usually too busy fixing up hunting spots for everybody else,” he said with a laugh. “I’m too busy building habitats.”

Partnering with Delta Wildlife, Leland Land Formers bring the foundation to create the best WRP.

Twiner Metalworks – Keeping Duck Hunters in High Water

Each winter when ducks are on their southern migration, Delta land is high on their rest stop location. Ricky Twiner has been helping those ducks “enjoy” their stay with plenty of man-made water holes that benefit local hunters as well.

The owner of Twiner Metalworks, Twiner creates specialized metal pipes that help farmers control the level of water in their fields. He partnered with Delta Wildlife in 2000.

“I built water control structures – the pipes with the flashboard risers on to regulate water in the duck holes,” Twiner said. “And for WRP lands, I build their piping as well. We’ve built them all the way to 10-feet tall to hold 10-feet of water.”

Twiner builds slotted pipe systems and drainage systems for farmers along with “upwards of 5,000 water control structures” with specialized risers.

“This is a square box that sits in front of the pipes and you stack boards in there to hold six inches or more of water in there. They use these in rice fields,” he said. “For the WRPs, we build according to blueprints that come from Delta Wildlife’s engineer.”

Each one is hand built and designed specifically for the land it’s going to benefit.

“We’re not that sophisticated yet we use CNC type technology. We’ve got pipes as far east as Louisville over to Vicksburg and up to Tunica. The pipes we’ve built are pretty much scattered all over the Delta,” Twiner said.

Controlling water is crucial in conservation work and Twiner continues to help Delta Wildlife control as much as possible.