Erika Nortemann

Mississippi Bottomland Hardwood

Replanting and Protecting Forested Wetlands

Forests once blanketed 24 million acres along the Mississippi River—forming the largest expanse of forested wetlands in North America. Cypress trees many hundreds of years old towered over bayous, swamps and rivers that teemed with life. Today, after centuries of clearing for agriculture, fewer than five million forested acres remain in the Delta, mostly in small, degraded patches.

The Nature Conservancy has worked for more than 30 years to protect and restore bottomland forests in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Now innovative stream and forest restoration projects are returning more natural flow to rivers and re-establishing wetland forests on retired or unproductive farmlands.

From Forests to Farmland and Back

The last two hundred years have seen the large-scale transformation of forests in the Mississippi River Valley to farmland. Fertile bottomland soils were used to grow cotton rice and soybeans. At the same time, rivers and streams were channelized and harnessed for flood control, navigation and irrigation, altering the natural cycle of flooding and depriving wetland forests of water and nutrients. But even after these alterations were made, continued flooding kept much of these lowland farms from being ideal for agriculture. Restoring these lands provides benefits to people and nature by creating more habitat for recreationally important waterfowl and improving water quality in the Mississippi and its tributaries.

For the Birds (and Everyone Else)

Healthy bottomland forests provide extraordinary habitat for waterfowl, migratory songbirds and more. Protected wetland forests along Bayou DeView in Arkansas were the location of one confirmed sighting of an Ivory-billed woodpecker  in 2004, after the bird had been presumed extinct for decades. Healthy forests and wetlands also help absorb the load of sediment, fertilizer and other pollutants in the Mississippi watershed—contributing to healthier water for communities all along the river and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Replanting Forests, Restoring Rivers

The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 120,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests in Arkansas’ Big Woods since the 1980’s. Also, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we are working to replant hardwoods like oak, ash and cypress on bottomland easements throughout Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. These wetland easements have accounted for over 400,000 acres of restoration in the Delta since the mid ‘80’s. Restoring bottomland forests often requires working closely with private landowners to encourage restoration of former agricultural lands. In addition, large scale floodplain restoration projects in Arkansas on the Cache River and in Louisiana along the Ouachita River are returning more natural flow patterns to these rivers and reconnecting them with floodplain forests—leading to cleaner water and healthier forests.

Help us plant hardwoods along the rivers and streams of the Mississippi River Basin and restore these forests for nature and people.