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Sustainable Development e-News


Calling for Cooperative Conservation in the Mississippi River Basin

By Ruth McWilliams, National Sustainable Development Coordinator
USDA Forest Service, Washington, D.C.

"Sustainable development begins at home." This is the key idea in the U.S. Government's vision, as conveyed in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. A major outcome of the Summit was a commitment to implementation through voluntary and practical partnerships of the public and private sectors aimed at achieving "triple bottom line" solutions--that is, solutions that foster integrated environmental, social, and economic benefits.

In keeping with this vision and approach, the U.S. Government launched in Johannesburg the White Water to Blue Water (WW2BW) Partnership Initiative to stimulate partnerships that promote integrated watershed and marine ecosystem-based management in support of sustainable development, with an initial focus on the Wider Caribbean Region. The Wider Caribbean Region includes the Gulf of Mexico, which is affected by land-based activities--from both point and non-point sources--throughout the Mississippi River Basin. In March 2004, more than 700 people from the Caribbean and elsewhere attended a partnership conference in Miami. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including the Forest Service, is helping advance partnership activities in support of the overall effort both internationally and domestically.

In September 2004, with the release of An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy heightened our awareness about the decline of the Nation's oceans and coasts. Then in December the Administration responded with its U.S. Ocean Action Plan, which emphasizes collaboration, as expressed in the Cooperative Conservation Executive Order signed by President Bush on August 26, 2004. It points to ways in which Federal agencies can help improve the management of coasts and watersheds; and it makes an international link to the WW2BW Partnership Initiative. The credibility of the United States depends, in part, upon our resolve to take actions here "at home" in ways that improve coastal and watershed conditions.

Mississippi River Basin  The Mississippi River Basin is huge--and a challenge, given all the human alterations and activities in the basin. The Mississippi River has the third-largest drainage basin in the world, including all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces.

We know healthy forests are vital to clean water, functioning watersheds, and ecosystem services. Agency and other forestry professionals are already contributing to many positive efforts, including improving forest habitat for migratory birds via the Upper Mississippi River Forestry Partnership; managing storm water run-off through green infrastructure in Topeka, Kansas; restoring riparian areas along the Red River in North Dakota; planting bottomland hardwoods in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley; and teaching about agroforestry and Working Trees practices to natural resource professionals who work with landowners and communities in the basin.

Realizing long-term measurable improvements on a large scale, however, necessitates doing a better job of linking science and practice, strategically engaging people and places throughout the basin, and achieving greater coordination within and among agencies. Rural and urban places must be reconnected, including the agriculture, forest, and community interests within them, through more integrated community-, watershed-, and landscape-based approaches. In doing so, we'll help link the many disparate conservation activities under way by landowners, homeowners, businesses, organizations, and government agencies.

Ruth McWilliams
Ruth McWilliams

Ruth McWilliams serves as a National Sustainable Development Coordinator in the USDA Forest Service in Washington, D.C. In this capacity she helps facilitate agencywide involvement in multi-stakeholder efforts, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Forests, and in interagency work through USDA's Council on Sustainable Development. She helped the United States prepare for the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002, and continues to coordinate follow-on partnership activities.

Return to SDe-News Summer 2005

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    Last Modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2005