Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

Mississippi Department of Transportation

Deaton Ecological Preserve

Flooded forest land with trees in standing water. Some open water areas in foreground.
Swamp typical in the area of bottomland hardwood forests. (Mississippi DOT)
Landscape with Dry scrubland in foreground and oaks with Spanish moss in background.
Upland savannah (Mississippi DOT)
A setting sun shinning through the trees of a bottomland hardwood swamp along a river.
The riverine wetlands at sunset (Mississippi DOT)

A few years ago, cooperation literally saved the day at the Deaton Ecological Preserve in George and Greene Counties, Mississippi. It paved the way for an ecosystems approach to preserving the State's ecologically priceless Pascagoula River Basin.

When 3,200 acres of bottomland hardwoods in the upper Pascagoula River basin were threatened by plans to harvest the timber, The Nature Conservancy borrowed money to buy the land. The Conservancy then approached the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) to see if MDOT would repay the purchase loan. The MDOT (with FHWA support) paid back the loan and paid the costs of restoring and perpetually managing the preserve-a total cost of $8.7 million.

The MDOT also purchased 200 acres of credits from the Conservancy's 1,850-acre Old Fort Bayou Mitigation Bank in Jackson County. More than 97 percent of the Old Fort Bayou's pine savannas, wet prairies, and other typical southeastern-gulf habitats have been lost to clearcutting, drainage, development, and fire suppression. The Old Fort Bayou Mitigation Bank is one of the few areas where wetlands can be restored to compensate for losses of this kind of coastal habitat.

Although the Deaton and Old Fort Bayou preserves are separated geographically by approximately 35 miles, both are within the same contiguous ecological system--the Pascagoula River Basin. (see map)

The MDOT's purchase of the Deaton tract and part of the Old Fort Bayou tract will enable the perpetual protection of one of the most pristine ecosystems in North America. The Pascagoula River Basin is one of the largest undammed and unchannelized river drainages in the lower 48 States, and it nourishes a vast expanse of salt marsh bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

The Deaton Preserve at the northern reaches of the Pascagoula River system is a picturesque landscape of sweeping bottomland hardwood and cypress forests. (Few comparable-sized tracts of bottomland hardwood forests remain in the southeastern United States). Eleven miles of the preserve follow the Leaf and Chickasawhay Rivers where they converge to form the Pascagoula. Thanks to its location along these rivers and its proximity to Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area, the Deaton Preserve is a crucial part of a 47,000-acre riverside public lands corridor. The diverse natural areas range from sandbars to pitcher plant flats to "oxbow" lakes (lakes formed when a river changes its course) to the river channel itself. And the tract is home to federally- threatened and endangered species such as the gopher tortoise, the Mississippi sandhill crane, the gulf sturgeon, the least tern, the southern bald eagle, and the yellow-blotched saw back turtle.

The Deaton tract purchase has benefited everyone. The MDOT has gained valuable coastal-wetland mitigation credits that will offset transportation impacts and reduce project delays . . . The Conservancy now has the resources to restore and preserve one of Mississippi's "last great places" . . . and the area's natural ecosystems get a new lease on life.

For more information, contact Claiborne Barnwell at cbarnwell@mdot.state.ms.us.

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