Impacts of harvesting in wetlands; results from studies at Auburn University
Bottomland hardwoods have long been considered a highly valued resource among forest companies and non-industrial private forest landowners in the Southern United States. Unfortunately, over the past century in particular, approximately 27 million acres of bottomland hardwoods have been converted to other land uses (principally agriculture). Consequently, only about one-third of the original acreage of these highly productive ecosystems remain forested. In addition to their potential for timber, wildlife, and other on-site uses, bottomland or "riparian" hardwood forests have the capacity to influence the quality of surface and subsurface waters associated with large areas of the southern landscape. This attribute has been referred to as the "kidney" function; waters that drain watersheds encompassing thousands of acres pass through and are influenced by processes within the riparian forests. For example, nitrates coming from non-point pollution in subsurface and surface drainage are greatly reduced when the water passes through a riparian forest. This reduction occurs through conversion of nitrate to gaseous N and uptake in vegetation, two fates that produce much more environmentally stable forms of nitrogen compared to waterborne nitrates. Consequently, society’s benefits due to the presence of bottomland hardwood forests extend well beyond their geographic boundaries. Bottomland forests are like a valuable antique auto; while the car is attractive to look at, the owner cannot realize the full rewards of ownership without driving it. Since it is a complex, high-performance vehicle, the owner wants to ensure that it is driven without causing any damage. Many of the values of bottomland hardwood forests come from active management and use. But it is critical to ensure that use does not compromise function. Fortunately, these goals are not mutually exclusive for either the car or bottomland hardwood manager.