their lifeblood. In other areas, bottomland forests and swamps often receive more water than they can handle as runoff from urbanization and channelization of streams has created more intensive and prolonged flooding.
In both instances, the makeup of trees and other species in these bottomland communities has changed. Pollutants carried by water, such as pesticide runoff and excessive sediment, also affect the health of bottomland forests and swamp species.
For example, the western chicken turtle is a sight predator, meaning it has to see its prey. But increased sedimentation has made swamp water murky, instead of its natural clear, tannin-stained color, making it hard for this swamp reptile to feed. Populations of swamp fish such as the bantam sunfish and flier are also vulnerable because the clear, quiet, heavily vegetated water they need is rare.
Conserving our Lowland Treasures
In the Mingo Basin COA, Andy West and his colleagues make use of many tools to plan restoration of the area’s bottomland communities. Technology such as remote sensing is used to compare present land contours with maps of pre-drainage topography.
Flying over the area helps as well. “There is still a fingerprint on the land,” said West. “From the air, you can see differences in soil color and texture that provide clues to the original configuration of water and land.
“Eventually, we’ll use some of the same tools that were used to drain and clear the area—like bulldozers and other heavy machinery—to reshape parts of the land to favor natural water flows,” said West. Restoring natural conditions will help with other conservation efforts in the COA, like improving plant species diversity and reestablishing alligator gar.
“Our most important tools, however,” said West, “are cooperation and communication with our partners in this area, including our neighbors in agriculture. It is always easier to work with nature rather than against it, and I think by working with nature, we can find restoration solutions that benefit everyone here.”
Low, Wet Bottomland Hardwood Forests
Swales and very wet forests are often cut off from rivers and streams by natural levees created from gravel and silt deposits. Here is where the true hardwoods begin, with trees and other plants that can tolerate frequent, low-energy, backwater flooding and saturated soils. Pin, willow and overcup oaks in the canopy can reach 110 feet, and due to frequent standing water, there isn’t much of an understory or plant layer on the ground. In the southeastern lowlands,