Bald cypress and bottomland hardwood forests have become exceedingly rare in the southeastern United States during the last century. Logging and land cover changes have converted approximately 90% of our original bottomland forests and wetlands to agriculture in the lower Mississippi valley of eastern Arkansas. Agricultural conversion promoted local economic development, but this came at the cost of declining water quality, widespread habitat destruction, and reduced wildlife populations. The Ancient Bald Cypress Consortium (ABCC) seeks to identify and promote conservation management of old-growth forests still lining scenic bayous and oxbow lakes in eastern and southern Arkansas and the wildlife and water quality they support. Ancient bald cypress forests with trees from 500 to 1,000 years old survive on some federal, state, and private property, but most of these ancient forests are not accurately mapped or fully protected. The Cache River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Dagmar Wildlife Management Area (WMA) contain at least 5,000 acres of these old-growth forests, but thousands of additional acres of ancient bald cypress and bottomland hardwood forests remain to be protected. These ancient bayou and oxbow lakes include pristine uncut old growth stands and selectively logged forests that still contain thousands of old-growth trees and forest habitat with high ecological integrity. The ancient bald cypress and bottomland hardwood forests that do remain in eastern and southern Arkansas need to be identified, mapped, and included in effective public and private conservation management.
The Ancient Bayou and Oxbow Forest Project (OXBOW) is a research activity of the Consortium that may help focus limited conservation dollars on the highest quality old growth bottomland forest habitat left in Arkansas. The OXBOW Project is being conducted by students and faculty at the University of Arkansas and elsewhere who hope to identify all remaining old-growth bald cypress and tupelo forests on public and private property in Arkansas. We are using a predictive modeling scheme involving remote sensing data to carefully map cypress-tupelo forests and the largest and oldest trees in these wetlands. Many ancient cypress-tupelo forests have already been found and this mapping can help identify other high priority properties for potential conservation. Accurate mapping and best management practices can help preserve the habitat and water quality values found in these remaining ancient bottomland forests for the future citizens of Arkansas.