Bottomland Hardwood Forests

Bottomland hardwood forest

Ninety percent of St. Catherine Creek NWR is located within the annual floodplain of the Mississippi River and is considered bottomland hardwood forest habitat.  Historically, the entire refuge was forested, however, nearly two-thirds of the refuge was cleared in the 1960's for row-crop agriculture.  Since the establishment of a refuge, much of the lands have been planted back to bottomland hardwood tree species.  Today, few areas within the Lower Mississippi River Valley exist without levees, thus flood "naturally.”  St. Catherine Creek NWR is greatly influenced by the annual inundation of floodwaters from the Mississippi and Homochitto Rivers, creating important backwater habitat with landscape features such as ridges and swales, sloughs and drains, and oxbow lakes. Some of the oxbow lakes are dominated by the bald cypress-water tupelo forest community.   

Many species depend on the flooding by the Mississippi River.  Alligator gar utilize the shallowly flooded fields to spawn during spring floods but will seek refuge during the dry periods in permanent wetlands such as oxbow lakes during the summer and fall.  The abundance of oxbow lakes with connections to open areas that are inundated during spring floods are critical to the success of alligator gar.  Many fish species have evolved with the dynamic water level fluctuations by the Mississippi River.  Wood storks along with many species of herons and egrets will travel long distances to the refuge to take advantage of the abundant food resources provided by the receding Mississippi River, as it recharges and restocks the lakes, ditches, impoundments with fish.  As the water recedes, smaller wetland dependent birds called shorebirds utilize the exposed mudflat created by the prolonged flooding.  When the waters recede, the refuge may provide as much as 2,000-3,000 acres of shallowly flooded wetlands and mudflat habitat available for shorebirds to forage. Because many other areas along the Mississippi River Valley during this time of year are typically dry, St. Catherine Creek NWR is an important shorebird migration stopover during the fall migration south. Waterfowl utilize the moist-soil wetlands, cropland areas, and flooded forests during the winter months for food resources, cover, rest, and pair bonding.  These habitats provide a tremendous food sources that refuel energy demands for waterfowl during the winter and for the migration northward in the spring.