Panther Swamp NWR was established in 1978 with the initial purchase of the 12,022 acre Curran Tract from The Nature Conservancy. It has one of the largest remaining contiguous blocks of bottomland hardwood forest in the state, at over 28,000 acres. This forest is interspersed with numerous wooded sloughs, cypress-tupelo brakes and bayous, moist soil areas and wetlands.
Prior to European settlement, the Lower Mississippi Valley was covered with over 24 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest that supported a rich diversity of fish and wildlife species. Historically, the dominant forest type was oak-gum-cypress. Canebrakes covered the broader flats on slightly higher ground, forming extensive nearly pure stands beneath huge bottomland hardwood trees. Settlers began clearing the forest in the early 1800’s. Today more than 75 percent of the forest coverage has been lost to land clearing operations for agriculture, transportation, industrialization, and urbanization. The remaining 4.8 million acres of forest are isolated islands of habitat surrounded by cotton, corn, rice, and bean fields. Most of the surviving forests now occupy low ground dominated by water tolerant species.
Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge has an active forest management program. Refuge staff periodically conduct timber harvests to improve the forest composition and increase wildlife habitat values. Each timber harvest operation generates revenues that are returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Extensive flats on Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge support scattered deciduous holly in the mid-story, while higher elevations are dominated by extensive stands of dwarf palmetto. Hardwoods on higher sites include willow oak, sweetgum, black locust, water oak and sweet pecan. Although willow oak is a predominant tree species on Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, water oak and sweet pecan are not as abundant as on the other refuges. Prominent vines include poison ivy, crossvine, Virginia creeper, muscadine grape and false grape in forested areas, and ladies’ eardrops, peppervine and trumpet creeper in more open situations.