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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Preserving an Ancient Stand of Cypress and an Ecosystem Too:
The Governor's Office and the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation Work Together to Create Sky Lake Wildlife Management Area

First Lady Marsha Barbour pictured with ancient bald cypress tree

If there is a parcel of land in the State of Mississippi worth preserving, it is the 773 acre Sky Lake. According to Leila C. Wynn, Treasurer of the Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation, "When I went to Sky Lake, it was if I was stepping back into a prehistoric time - what a thrill!"

The Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation's involvement in the preservation of Sky Lake began when the organization was founded. The Foundation worked with the Office of the Governor and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to acquire the property so that it would be preserved, not only for its fish and wildlife values, but for scenic, ecological and scientific values.

Mississippi First Lady Marsha Barbour with ancient bald
cypress in newly-created Sky Lake Wildlife Management Area

Sky Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is near Belzoni in Humphreys County, located in a strategic area of the Mississippi Flyway. For years, local citizens have been familiar with the area they call Sky Lake. The area's greatest asset is the magnificent stand of cypress trees that are scattered throughout the property.

Significance Of Sky Lake

Dr. David Stahle, the Director of the Tree Ring Laboratory at the University of Arkansas, is a dendrochronologist who has specialized in the analysis of tree-ring records from ancient baldcypress forests in the United States and Mexico to determine past weather patterns. He and his colleague, Malcolm Cleaveland, discovered the oldest known living trees in eastern North America, the ancient baldcypress at Black River North Carolina. The oldest of these are 1,500 to 2,000 years old.

Dr. Stahle says, "Based on our field inspections and core samplings, I can state with certainty that Sky Lake contains some of the largest and oldest baldcypress trees that remain on earth, and they have international scientific significance." Even before the Foundation began working on this important acquisition, Stahle stated, "The record size and age of the Sky Lake baldcypress are a unique natural and scientific resource, and in my opinion they should be preserved for future generations."

Peyton Self, President of the Foundation agrees. "Early on, I had the opportunity view the Sky Lake property. Aside from the obvious need to protect the area for its scientific and scenic beauty, it will provide valuable habitat for a diversity of bird life, especially neotropical migratory birds such as the Roseate Spoonbill."

"Here at Sky Lake one can see what native Mississippi was truly like in the heart of her forested wetlands, an ecosystem of such diversity and productivity that it was rivaled only by the tropical rainforests of Amazonia," said Stahle.

Baldcypress has been heavily exploited for timber so that very few examples of these primeval swamp forests remain. There are only two other sites in Mississippi with relatively undisturbed ancient baldcypress. They are located on the Pearl River near Philadelphia and on the Pascagoula Rive near Wade.

A Diversity Of Fish And Wildlife

Sky Lake WMA provides overwintering habitat for a variety of migrating birds including shorebirds and neotropical migrant songbirds. It is an important link in the chain of WMAs, refuges and national forests for migrating ducks and geese in this flyway.

The protection of this area will continue the effort of Mark Simmons, the former private landowner, to provide for the habitat needs of threatened and endangered species like the bald eagle and least tern, migratory bird species such as the prothonotary warbler and mallard ducks, and resident wildlife species to include turkey, squirrel and white-tailed deer.

Recreational Opportunities At Sky Lake

In the future Sky Lake will offer a variety of recreational opportunities to the public. Visitors may view and photograph birds and other wildlife. No camping is permitted on Sky Lake WMA as of yet, however, Leroy Percy State Park is located nearby and offers facilities for camping and RVs.

Limited permit hunting is currently allowed for deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, dove and raccoon. This hunting is an important management tool for keeping certain wildlife populations within the carrying capacity of the habitat on the WMA.

We encourage you to show your appreciation for these efforts by visiting Sky Lake WMA and enjoying what it has to offer.

Note: Information for this release was taken from an article provided by the Wildlife Foundation's website. Please visit there for more information!

See the expanded article at:

Or visit www.wildlifemiss.org for general information.

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