On a bright Tuesday afternoon in late September, a group of Millsaps College students wandered into the woods along Panther Creek in Madison County, Mississippi. Led by Dr. Will Selman, assistant professor of biology and a 2003 Millsaps graduate, the students in his vertebrate zoology course were sampling and documenting the diversity and abundance of fish species in the creek.
The work of the students is a critical component in better understanding the land through which Panther Creek runs, especially now that the college has entered into an agreement with the landowner, Scott Gideon, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to serve as the conservation easement holder of the just over 200 acres called Panther Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank.
“The Panther Creek property has been used and abused over the past century,” Selman said. “Prior owners altered the creek’s hydrology by straightening a naturally curvy creek, and they cut the surrounding bottomland hardwood forest, all for agricultural uses.” However, Gideon, with approval of the Army Corps of Engineers, will be actively restoring the natural flow of Panther Creek on the property and will also be replanting bottomland hardwood trees in areas that were previously row agriculture.
Added Selman, “The goal of our classroom activities and future faculty/student research at the site is to learn more about the plant and animal communities in the area before the restoration activities commence and their response to restoration. If we sample these groups now, it will give us a baseline value for which we can compare. And if we continue to sample in the future, it will allow us to understand and measure the overall value of the restoration.”
For the students, the Panther Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank will offer a natural classroom with a broad diversity of plants, fish and animals. A simple walk onto the property provides a chance to encounter everything from to a cottonmouth snake to a fawn running through the high grass of the fields, things not usually found around the Millsaps campus.
Selman is looking forward to taking students out to Panther Creek for years to come.
“We are excited to be partners with Gideon and the Corps to research and monitor the restoration on the property and the response of plants and wildlife to this restoration. This will also allow Millsaps students to enjoy it as an outdoor laboratory and classroom. I think this property will be a game changer for our field programs and provide more “green time” for our students.”