Gaiam and The Conservation Fund Go Wild for Go Zero: Part 3

How Go Zero® has helped restore native forestlands: A Q&A with Tim Menard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist

In 2006, as part of efforts to improve the environment, build sustainable economies and promote healthy lifestyles, Gaiam, an eco-healthy lifestyle company, and The Conservation Fund, a top nonprofit, launched the world's first sustainable shipping program. Participating consumers can easily “zero out” the carbon emissions associated with shipping a Gaiam product by donating funds to plant trees in protected parks and wildlife refuges across the nation. The ground-breaking initiative has given Gaiam’s online customers the opportunity to add a small donation at checkout that goes directly to The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero® program.

Already, Gaiam and its customers have helped the Fund plant 120,000 trees across six National Wildlife Refuges. As the trees grow into healthy forests, they are expected to trap nearly 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. What’s more, they clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink and create new places for both people and wildlife to play. That means big returns for our climate, our forests and our peace of mind.

Jena Meredith

To better understand the on-the-ground benefit of Gaiam’s support, we sat down with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Tim Menard for part three of our series, to discuss the recent restoration of 775 acres of native forestland along the Marais des Cygnes River, near the borders of Kansas and Missouri, using funds from the Go Zero program. Menard oversees conservation efforts in this area — including biodiversity, wildlife research, land use planning and management, and wildlife habitat enhancement across 25,500 acres of forestland and tall-grass prairie.

Q. How did you get involved with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?

A. I worked for all four major federal land management agencies and determined this to be the best fit. I chose the Fish and Wildlife Service because of its focus and clear mission — wildlife first. It’s about implementation, habitat restoration and wildlife management.

How did Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge work with the Go Zero® program?

The Go Zero program helped us with two things. First, it enabled us to reforest more acres than we ever could have on our own in a single year — or even over a five-year period. Second, it gave us the freedom to determine the tree species composition that was best for the land and the wildlife. As a result, we can bring back a native ecosystem more quickly than would otherwise be possible. 

Why did the land need to be restored?

When we looked at the original land surveys from 1856, we could see that all of the area adjacent to the Marais des Cygnes River was forested. Over time, the land was cleared for agriculture, and then eventually those fields were taken out of production. More than 80 percent of the land that was restored in the spring of 2008 has been out of production since the refuge was established in 1992.

How will the region’s birds and wildlife benefit? How long will it take?

That’s the interesting part. An entire array of species will benefit throughout the life of the forest, beginning right now. We don’t have to wait 70 to 100 years to realize the benefits of replanting with native species. Even now, there are birds using the restored lands. In the early years, the restored parcels are used by field sparrows. In 20 years, we’ll see yellow breasted chat and indigo bunting. At the forest’s full maturity, our children will be able to spot prothonotary warbler nests, and in the winter months, red-headed woodpeckers.

We know that the trees will absorb carbon dioxide from the air, but what is happening to the water on the refuge?

By restoring these marginal agriculture fields back to their native habitat, we have established permanent vegetation. This will help stabilize the topsoil and slow the rate of runoff, reducing the effects of flooding along the Marais des Cygnes River.

What’s next for Marais des Cygnes NWR?

We’ll continue to manage the newly restored 775 acres for wildlife. But we’re already actively seeking funds for another project. There are thousands of acres just waiting to be restored on the Missouri side of the border.

Read parts one and two of Gaiam and The Conservation Fund Go Wild for Go Zero.

Watch this video to see how The Fund's partnership with Gaiam has helped address habitat loss and climate change.

Feature photo by Jean LeMunyon Photography. The Conservation Fund staff with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas.

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