In the state popularized by "The Wizard of Oz," conservation partners aren't just dreaming about a better world over the rainbow. They're joining forces to fight climate change and provide a home for wildlife — now and into the future.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Conservation Fund (TCF) have teamed up to restore 775 acres of native forestland along the Marais des Cygnes River located on the border of Kansas and Missouri.  

The effort is part of The Conservation Fund's Go Zero program, which helps address climate change by providing ways for individuals, organizations and even entire communities to reduce their carbon footprint, and then offset emissions by planting trees.

Tim Menard, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who splits his time between Kansas' Flint Hills and Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuges, says the trees not only will trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they will also help control flooding and enhance water quality along the Marais des Cygnes River.

It's also a win for wildlife.

"The Go Zero program enabled us to reforest more acres than we could ever have done on our own over the course of a single year — or even over a five-year period," Menard says. "Plus, they gave us the freedom to determine the species composition that was best for the land and the wildlife. So the end result was the establishment of a native ecosystem — but in an accelerated fashion."

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, deforestation accounts for 12-17 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. "And in the United States alone, we have lost more than 20 million acres of forest during the last century," says Jena Thompson Meredith, Director of the Go Zero program. "Thanks to the generosity of our donors and supporters like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Fund has been able to help parks and wildlife refuges across the nation fulfill their conservation and restoration objectives."

Already, the Fund and the Service have restored more than 6,000 acres across 15 national wildlife refuges using Go Zero donations.

Menard says land surveys from 1856 show 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. Menard says more than 80 percent of the land restored through the Go Zero project has been out of production since the Marais des Cygnes NWR was established in 1992.

birdBecause of the replanting effort, he says an entire array of species will benefit throughout the life of the forest — beginning right now.

"We don't have to wait 70-100 years to realize the benefits of replanting with native species," Menard says. "Even now, there are birds using the restored lands. In the early years, the restored parcels are used by field sparrows. Twenty years from now, 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."

Even for the birds, there's no place like home.

This story was written by Diane Katzenberger and Jena Thompson Meredith for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and is reprinted with permission here.

Photo: dominic sherony/Flickr