U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Partners for Fish and Wildlife

Southeast Region

Bottomland Forest Ecosystem Fact Sheet

A Shrinking Resource

Once, about 24 million acres of bottomland forest spread throughout the floodplain of the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley from southern Illinois to coastal Louisiana. Today, fewer than 5 million acres remain. This represents over 80% of the loss of forested wetlands along the Mississippi River during the last 150 years. In fact, for states within the Lower Mississippi River Valley, the remaining bottomland forest ecosystem is considered to be either threatened (70-84% decline) or endangered (85-98% decline). For contrast, only about 10% of the Amazon tropical forests have been cut.

The majority of the remaining bottomland forests (~67%) are found along stream margins and drainage ways. Over the last 100 years the floodplain available for natural flood storage has been reduced about 90%, and the flood storage capacity of the delta has been reduced from about 60 to 12 days of mean daily discharge.

Total Acres Planted by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: 101,000

Total Acres Planted by U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service: 101,000


Although protection from flooding and land clearing for agriculture and other land uses was a logical action that has contributed significantly to the economy of the region, many natural resource values have been reduced or lost:

pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) Excessive logging of mature bottomland forests is believed to be the main reason for the extinction of the ivory-billed woodpecker.
pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) The black bear, once common, is now found only in a few remaining large forested bottomland areas such as the White River and Atchafalaya basin.
pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes)

Cypress, USFWS
Photo: Cypress, USFWS

Many other species of wildlife (e.g., waterfowl, neotropical migrant birds such as the Prothonotary Warbler, swamp rabbit, bobcat) have experienced population declines as the bottomland forests have been converted or fragmented into smaller patches.

pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) Water quality has also deteriorated with the loss of bottomland forest ecosystems:
Audubon's trip down the Mississippi River and up the Yazoo River in Mississippi described the Yazoo as a clear river that one could look down into the water and see fish. Today, erosion and sedimentation have resulted in muddy waters most of the time.


Valuable in Many Ways
Bottomland forests have many important values and functions:

pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) Provides essential habitat for many species of animals and plants. For example, nationally, about 80% of our breeding birds require bottomland forests for survival. North America's rarest songbird, the Bachmans Warbler, and the recently rediscovered Ivory-billed woodpecker, may still survive somewhere in the remaining bottomland forest areas of the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley.
pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) Provides spawning, nursery and feeding habitat for many warm-water fish.
pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) A source of many products for people, such as food, timber, and other forest products.
pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) Serves as a temporary storage area for floodwaters helping to protect nearby and downstream property.
pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) Provides water quality protection and improvement by reducing erosion and removing excess nutrients and pollutants.
pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) Provides outdoor recreation opportunities such as bird watching, camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, and photography.
pfwbuto.gif (284 bytes) A source of unique beauty.


What Can You Do to Help
Many people have come to appreciate the unique values of bottomland forest ecosystems and have recognized the significance of the tremendous losses over the years.

More and more private landowners have expressed their interest in protecting and restoring bottomland forests for themselves and future generations.

bottomland hardwood
Photo: Don Anderson, USFWS


Currently, planning, technical, and financial assistance are available from several Federal agencies and some state agencies and conservation groups.

Contact these groups for more information:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Partners for
Fish & Wildlife Program (Contact the nearest Fish and Wildlife Service Office)

Natural Resources Conservation Service
Wetland Reserve Program
All USDA Conservation Programs

U.S. Forest Service
Forest Stewardship Programs

Farm Service Agency
Debt reduction easements for conservation purposes

Cooperative Extension Service
Information and Coordination

State agencies:
The State Forestry Agency
State Soil and Water
Conservation Agency
State Game and Fish Agency

Local conservation groups:
Conservation Districts
The Nature Conservancy
Ducks Unlimited
Private consulting foresters
Forest industry
Forestry associations