Shrouded in a cool early morning mist, the rising sun stirs this Red Slough rookery into flight. Here in McCurtain County in southeast Oklahoma, some 7800 acres have been successfully reclaimed from the farmer's plow.
During the 1960s, the Red Slough area, covering nearly eight square miles, was methodically drained, Push Creek dredged, and most seasonal flooding stopped. The new farmland was planted in rice, soybeans, corn and milo. This land, once one of the largest wetland complexes in Oklahoma, was lost for a period of 40 years.
Purely voluntary, the Wetlands Reserve Program received its initial 5800 acres of the Push Creek farm in 1996. The natural resources conservation service went into action kicking off their master plan to reestablish these lost wetlands. With the installation of 25 miles of dikes and 18 water control stations, Red Slough began its slow return to a wetlands habitat. Now, the entire Hogan Farm has been placed into public ownership, forming the heart of Red Slough Wetlands Reserve. With the return of mudflats, marshes, bottomland hardwoods and wet prairies, Red Slough has become the premier site for bird watchers. Sightings of 292 bird species, including unique species of yellow rail, wood stork, black-bellied whistling duck and roseate spoonbills, have encouraged thousands of visitors every month.
With the increase of native plants and invertebrates, and plantings of Japanese millet, the area has become a unique waterfowl refuge. Five viewing platforms have been placed in some of the best wildlife viewing areas. In addition to bird sightings, the preserve also supports beaver, mink, nutria, eastern turkey, white-tailed deer and black bear, adding another success story to the wildlife preservation journals of American.