What is the White Oak Bayou Wetland Management Plan?
The White Oak Bayou watershed is located in north central Pulaski County. About half of the watershed incorporates parts of the cities of Maumelle and North Little Rock; the other half is mostly unincorporated rural parts of Pulaski County. A large part of the bayou flows through areas of high urban development, or areas that are indirectly affected by urban development. With a 9% increase in urban land cover in the watershed between 1999 and 2006 (http://watersheds.cast.uark.edu/), the time has come for local planners to join forces and create a comprehensive plan to manage wetland resources within the watershed, ensuring the ecological integrity of the wetlands is preserved while allowing for continued smart, sustainable urban growth. This comprehensive plan is known as the White Oak Bayou Wetland Management Plan. Several communities around the United States have developed management plans and strategies for wetland resource management in the past, but none have been developed in the state of Arkansas. In fact, very few have been done in non-coastal areas in the southeastern United States.
Most wetland management plans have similar components, though they may look very different or have very different management strategies. Key to any wetland management plan is to identify the wetlands within the area of concern; in this case, the entire White Oak Bayou watershed. Once the wetlands are identified, it is important to determine how those wetlands are functioning in the ecosystem. Wetland function, in addition to a variety of social and economic factors such as proximity to schools, amount of forested buffer surrounding a wetland, and capacity to store floodwaters, for example, will be important factors in determining how the wetlands will be managed in the future. For example, wetlands that are highly functional and located near a school may be protected from future development, while lower functioning wetlands near an existing road may be candidates for restoration, stormwater treatment, or development. The management categories are developed based on a series of goals and objectives set for the management plan. These goals and objectives are usually set by the stakeholders who will be affected most by the management plan. The stakeholders can include government officials, landowners, state and federal agencies, business owners, developers, concerned citizens, and others who are interested in the management of the resource at stake. Other components of wetland management plans often include educating the public and gathering public feedback about the plan. The final stage of developing a wetland management plan is developing the management tools to be used to implement the plan. These tools can include city ordinances, a refined regulatory process, a wetland mitigation bank, and a whole suite of other options to be developed by the stakeholders.
History of the Wetland Management Plan to date.
The project began in 2008 with the task of mapping the wetlands within the White Oak Bayou watershed. The mapping was completed through the use of existing wetland delineation boundaries and aerial photo interpretation. As a result of the direct mapping, nearly 1500 acres of wetlands have been mapped in the following categories: delineated wetlands, wetlands with visually obvious boundaries, and wetlands whose boundaries are not visually obvious. The city of Maumelle received a $60,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2007, which was used to develop a guidance document that will be followed during the development of the Wetland Management Plan. In 2009, the city received a $100,000 EPA grant for a pilot study to perform Hydrogeomorphic (HGM) functional wetland assessments. Several other components of the project have developed in 2010: a Technical Advisory Committee was formed to provide scientific assistance; a Steering Committee of stakeholders was formed to guide the development of the wetland management plan;a newsletter is published with updates about the management plan and general wetland education; a graduate student from the University of Central Arkansas is doing her masters’ thesis work in the watershed; wetland talks and tours have educated the public on the importance of wetlands; and the senior-level environmental science majors at the University of Central Arkansas are using the watershed as the focus of their capstone environmental science course, with 6 research projects focused on topics ranging from invasive species in the watershed to public outreach at Maumelle Middle School.
What kinds of wetlands are present in the White Oak Bayou watershed?
There are several types of wetlands in the White Oak Bayou watershed, and each wetland type supports different wetland functions. The bayou itself is considered to be a riverine wetland in places because it is shallow enough to support bald cypress and water tupelo trees in the channel and along the banks. Low-lying areas next to the bayou store flood waters when the bayou spills over its banks during storm events. Willow oak flats are very common throughout the watershed. They may be found in low-lying areas near the bayou, but perhaps more frequently they are often found perched on terraces above the bayou. These wetland flats are fed primarily by precipitation; therefore, they are often dry in the summer time and may not look like a typical wetland at all. They provide wildlife habitat for a variety of animals, but particularly for the white-tailed deer, which loves to feed on the tiny acorns of willow oaks. Many Beaver ponds make up a large proportion of wetlands in the White Oak Bayou watershed. The city of Maumelle owns a large wetland complex that is influenced by beaver activity. Large beaver impoundments often have areas of open water that support herons, ducks, and other waterfowl. Buttonbush shrubs, sedges, cattails, and lizard’s tail often dominate the plant community of beaver impoundments. Butterflies feast on the nectar of the snow-white balls of flowers on buttonbush shrubs in the summer. In addition to supporting a diverse plant community, which in turn supports a diverse animal community, beaver impoundments aid in storing floodwaters, store carbon, and cycle nutrients between living and non-living components of the ecosystem.
Want to learn more about the White Oak Bayou Wetland Management Plan?
If you are interested in learning more about the White Oak Bayou Wetland Management Plan or if you would like to get involved the following individuals will be able to answer your questions: