Turning back time at Great Cypress Swamp

Atlantic white cedar is a rare, important, cone-bearing tree, valued for its rot-resistant wood, the habitat it provides for unique wildlife and its role in water quality. Photo from Flickr Creative Commons, user John B./Dendroica cerulea.
A close-up of Atlantic white cedar. Photo from Flickr creative commons, user cyanocorax.

A close-up of Atlantic white cedar. Photo from Flickr creative commons, user cyanocorax.

A shot of Atlantic white cedar at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts. Photo from Flickr creative commons, user michaelcobballen. http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelcobballen/3380710484/

A shot of Atlantic white cedar at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts. Photo from Flickr creative commons, user michaelcobballen.

Before the colonists arrived, the evergreen Atlantic white cedar covered as many as 500,000 acres of swamps and bogs in the East Coast. That acreage dropped by more than 75 percent over the following centuries, following extensive timbering and drainage.

Foresters, biologists and others have dedicated efforts to restoring this rare, important, cone-bearing tree, valued for its rot-resistant wood, the habitat it provides for unique wildlife and its role in water quality.

A recent example of this restoration is underway in southern Delaware on the largest remaining area of connected forest on the Delmarva Peninsula, the 10,500-acre Great Cypress Swamp.

“The swamp used to cover at least 50,000 acres, before it was heavily ditched and drained for silviculture,” says fish and wildlife biologist Richard McCorkle.

“The drainage also led to cutting of huge Atlantic white cedars that were hundreds, possibly thousands, of years old; mining of old cedar logs from anoxic waters of the swamp, which preserved the wood; and massive wildfires, exacerbated by the drier conditions created by the drainage, which burned away thousands of years of accumulated organic peat.”

One of the six water control structures added as part of the project. This allows for re-hydration of adjacent, previously drained forested wetlands. Credit: USFWS

One of the six water control structures added as part of the project. This allows for re-hydration of adjacent, previously drained forested wetlands. Credit: USFWS

A crew of conservation experts secured funding and collaborated to tackle restoration of the Atlantic white cedar on about 400 acres of the swamp. Since 2008, our agency, Delaware Wild Lands, The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, Ducks Unlimited and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service have designed and carried out the effort.

By 2015, the partnership will have planted 65,000 trees.

Another element of the project, the installation of six water control structures, benefited more than 1,000 acres of formerly ditched and drained wooded wetlands.

As the stands of Atlantic white cedar age, they and the water control structures will help the swamp filter and absorb pollutants, control flood water and retain water in droughts. See project map.

Not only that, but these wildlife will love it:


   

Partnership takes on another wetlands restoration effort
The same team is restoring 15 acres of freshwater wetlands in New Castle County on Betts Farm.

The project will respect the needs of surrounding agriculture while enhancing wetland habitat for various waterfowl, including American black duck and green-winged teal, as well as great blue herons, great and snowy egrets and other wading birds from the nearby Pea Patch Island heron rookery.

When the water naturally draws down in late spring, reptiles, amphibians and shorebirds like greater yellow-legs and willet will likely use it.

Also, Hessel’s hairstreak, a butterfly listed as endangered by Delaware, uses Atlantic white cedar exclusively to lay eggs. The work might even benefit Kings hairstreak, another butterfly listed as endangered in the state, which uses the sweetleaf that can be found in the Great Cypress Swamp.

Learn more about the Atlantic white cedar at:

2 Comments on “Turning back time at Great Cypress Swamp

  1. This sounds awesome! I am just glad there is such a large area of forest left

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