A new report summarizes the many values that freshwater forested wetlands and other forest types provide to the coastal ecology and economy of states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Dominated by bald cypress-water tupelo swamps and hardwood wetlands, these forests provide numerous ecological, economic, and human benefits. Most notably, these forests: reduce the amount of nutrients and sediments in surface water that ultimately flows into the Gulf; provide wildlife habitat; protect coastal urban areas from storm surge; retain storm water; recharge groundwater; support timber, fish, fur, and alligator harvests; offer opportunities for recreation; and sequester carbon.
The report authors note that Costanza et al. (1997) determined that swamps and floodplains had the second highest economic value for ecosystem services worldwide ($7,927 per acre per year), trailing only coastal estuaries ($9,248 per acre per year). The Coastal Forests report was prepared by Dr. John W. Day, Jr., and Dr. Rachael G. Hunter, of Baton Rouge, LA, and may be found on the Endowment’s website.
“This report emphasizes that forests are an important part of the solution for Gulf restoration and resiliency,” said Carlton Owen, President and CEO of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, which commissioned the report, along with the USDA Forest Service. “From water quality to wildlife habitat to storm protection, healthy forests can deliver many of the results desired by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and others responsible for implementing projects associated with the Deepwater Horizon settlement,” he added.
The report focuses on the Coastal Management Zone Area plus 25 miles, as described in the RESTORE Act. Bald cypress-water tupelo swamps and bottomland hardwood wetlands predominate in this area, but wet pine savannah and pine flatwoods are also prevalent in the Gulf States. Many of these forests are threatened by changes in hydrology, urbanization, rising sea levels, saltwater intrusion, invasive species, improper management, and fire suppression.
Lead author John W. Day, Ph.D., notes that “Coastal forests provide many benefits to the Gulf and its residents and visitors. To maintain and enhance these benefits, it will be critical to protect these forests from urban sprawl and fragmentation, implement forest management plans and Best Management Practices, and remove invasive species and impediments to surface water flow.”
In addition to summarizing the ecosystem services and other benefits provided by coastal forests, the report provides state-by-state characterizations and recommendations.