Jack Branning
Vicksburg, Mississippi

Jack Branning and two partners purchased a 3,498-acre farm in Sharkey County, Mississippi, with hopes of establishing a row crop operation. However, the property, which borders the only bottomland hardwood forest in the U.S. Forest Service system, Delta National Forest, was plagued by backwater flooding. The owners were forced to replant frequently and could not harvest in two out of four years. Realizing that the land should not have been cleared and was better suited for wildlife than agriculture, Mr. Branning enrolled the entire property in the permanent protection of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program.

Enrollment required Mr. Branning to implement some wetland restoration activities, but as he learned about wetland management and wildlife, he quickly realized he wanted to do more. With help from the NRCS, he developed an intensive restoration plan that maximizes habitat for migratory birds and other wetland-dependent species by providing a diversity of wetland types. Mr. Branning and part-time help now devote more than 900 hours annually to wetland management. The property boasts 2,675 acres of naturally flooded bottomland hardwoods and 757 acres of manageable wetlands. The managed wetlands include seasonally flooded bottomland hardwoods, moist-soil wetlands, emergent marshes, shrub/scrub wetlands, and deepwater habitat. Mr. Branning’s committed wetland management has fostered habitat for at least 43 different species of waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds, including threatened wood storks and bald eagles. His actions also significantly increased the effective habitat of the Delta National Forest.

Mr. Branning says that restoration and management have become his passions. He has become a wetland restoration advocate and frequently hosts groups on tours of his restored wetlands. Mr. Branning hopes his stewardship will leave a wetland legacy that his kids, grandkids, and society can learn from and enjoy.

— Kevin Nelms, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Greenwood, Mississippi