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MSU professor puts teaching to practice with backyard wetland


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Posted: 12/19/2001


Eric Dibble's backyard doesn't include an expanse of Bermuda grass, a sprinkler system and manicured hedges.

Instead, the Mississippi State University associate professor of wildlife and fisheries has returned his 80-acre "backyard" in western Oktibbeha County to the way it was before becoming pasture land in the 1920s. Ducks and other wildlife now make their homes among a natural wetland and hardwood forest where beef cattle once grazed.

Dibble said he uses the restored land as a laboratory for the classes he teaches in the College of Forest Resources. In addition to classroom education, his backyard hobby has two other objectives-conservation and long-term research.

"Wetlands provide benefits such as improved water quality and enhanced habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds, " Dibble said. "They also help reduce soil erosion and flooding, as well as improving the water supply."

Basically, Dibble's restoration effort involved the planting of bottomland hardwoods, such as oaks, cypress and sweet gum on about 30 acres.

"During the last century, bottomland hardwoods decreased as agricultural and pasture land increased," he explained. "By reestablishing this wetland, I can practice my hobby and have an educational tool, laboratory, and long-term research project."

Dibble also has enrolled part of his land in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetland Reserve Program. Through that program, about 30 acres are flooded each fall to provide a winter habitat for ducks and other wildlife.

"Plants native to the area did not have to be reintroduced," he said. "Once the wetland was created, cattails and other wetland plants emerged from seed dormant since the pasture was created in the early part of the last century."

In recognition of his wetland laboratory, Dibble was named as Oktibbeha County's 2000 Outstanding Wetland Conservationist. The local office of the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service gave the award.

Located just a few miles from the Starkville campus, the wetland is easily accessible to MSU students. At present, various ones are gathering information for a long-term study Dibble designed to measure and evaluate the federal wetland reserve program.

The study is necessary because scant data is available on long-term studies of ecological changes resulting from wetland reserve programs, Dibble said.

Though others may not have developed so complex a project as Dibble's, he is not alone in converting private property to its former state. Since 1992, Mississippi landowners have enrolled approximately 100,000 acres in the wetland reserve program--so much, in fact, that the state ranks second nationally in this category.

"The students enjoy working in the wetland laboratory," Dibble said. "It changes their perspectives on how information gathered during field exercises is applied to actual problems.

"The experience also seems to give them a new respect for a professor who practices what he preaches," he added.

Wildlife and Fisheries