Forest Resources of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley

The new FIA report finds that baldcypress-tupelo forest makes up 16 percent of Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley forest lands. Photo by Bill Lea, U.S. Forest Service.
The new FIA report finds that baldcypress-tupelo forest makes up 16 percent of Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley forest lands. Photo by Bill Lea, U.S. Forest Service.

A new report from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program provides the first comprehensive estimates of forest resources of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (LMAV) since 1986. Published by the Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) and authored by SRS forester Sonja Oswalt, Forest Resources of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley provides current resource information and analysis to professionals, landowners, and the general public with interests in the area.

Victor Rudis and Richard Birdsey, both research foresters with the Southern Forest Experiment Station that preceded SRS, used FIA data collected from 1932 to 1984 to publish the first comprehensive report on the forest resources of the LMAV in 1986. By that time, forest area had declined from 11.8 million acres in the 1930s to an estimated 6.6 million acres, mostly due to clearing for soybean fields.

“We defined the LMAV in the same manner as Rudis and Birdsey, including counties in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi,” says Oswalt. “We expanded on the 1986 report, adding statistics from the FIA database to their original data.”

The LMAV, as defined in both reports, encompasses about 26.7 million acres of total land area. Forests cover about 7.6 million acres, or 28 percent of the land area. All but 36,000 acres of forest land are considered available for timber production.

The bottomland hardwood forests of the area provide important habitat to migratory bird species and a host of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Over the last century, much of the LMAV forest has been lost to agriculture and development, although recent incentive programs have encouraged afforestation.

“We found that most deforestation took place between 1930 and 1980, when forest area declined by 45 percent,” says Oswalt. “The last three decades, from 1990 to 2010, have shown gradual increases, though the proportion of the oak-gum-cypress forest type seems to be lagging others such as loblolly-shortleaf and oak-hickory.”

Findings about the current status of forest resources include:

  • Bottomland hardwood forests (see the report for species lists) make up 70 percent, or 5.2 million acres, of the 7.6 million acres of LMAV forest area.
  • Eighty-two percent of LMAV forest area is privately owned.
  • Naturally regenerated stands make up 89 percent (6.7 million acres) of forest area. Almost half of loblolly-shortleaf pine forest area is planted; most (88 percent) of planted forests are privately owned.

Further analysis showed that while agricultural land is being converted to forest and contributing to forest area growth, diversions to agriculture are still the largest detractions from the overall gain.

“Though forest area has noticeably increased since the 1980s, there are still concerns about the future of bottomland forest resources in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley,” says Oswalt. “Continued inventory and monitoring of this these resources will help manage this important resource.” 

For more information, email Sonja Oswalt at soswalt@fs.fed.us.

Access the full text of Forest Resources of the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley.

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