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Southeastern Coastal Plain and Piedmont - More Information

Background information on DU's Southeastern Coastal Plain and Piedmont conservation priority area
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The coastal rivers, floodplains and marshes of South Carolina are collectively referred to as the Lowcountry and encompass 11,655 km2. The ACE Basin, which takes its name from the confluence of the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers, consists of the largest undeveloped coastal wetland on the Atlantic Coast. This basin is recognized as the flagship project for the ACJV of the NAWMP. An UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site are located within the project area along with two National Estuarine Research Reserve Systems and six National Wildlife Refuges.

Georgia has suffered loss of approximately 315,566 ha of wetlands from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s (Hefner et al. 1994). Nearly 202,344 ha of additional wetlands have been converted from forested to scrub-shrub types as a result of timber harvest. Some important forested and coastal wetlands occur in association with Savannah and Altamaha River estuaries and floodplains. Forestry and agriculture are the dominant land uses in this region, and most wetland loss in Georgia has occurred in association with agriculture, forestry, and navigation projects.

Important wetlands: Upper Southeastern Coastal Plain and Piedmont

This portion of the SCP and Piedmont take in higher elevation areas inland of traditional coastal habitats, including portions of the Gulf of Mexico coastal plain in northwestern Florida, Alabama, and eastern Mississippi, and extreme western Tennessee. The Piedmont Bird Conservation region is included in this conservation region.

Beaver ponds comprise important habitat in this region. Arner and Hepp (1989) suggested that the area of beaver ponds throughout the southeastern U.S. was increasing, and in the late 1980s, encompassed at least 288,000 ha of potential waterfowl habitat. Seasonally flooded minor alluvial plains occur along most rivers in this portion of the conservation region. Important seasonally flooded bottomland hardwood forest occurs in conjunction with the Savannah (GA, SC), Chattahoochee (AL, GA), Alabama (AL), Tombigbee (AL, MS), and Pearl (MS) and Big Black (MS) Rivers.

Alteration of hydrology for reservoir construction, flood control and subsequent clearing for agriculture on these and several other river systems has resulted in substantial loss of bottomland forested wetlands (Hodges 1998). However, many reservoirs have become important waterfowl habitat. Over 30 major reservoirs have been constructed for flood control, power generation, municipal water supply and navigation (Johnson and Montalbano 1989). Reservoirs provide over 300,000 ha of open water, an undetermined amount of which provides foraging habitat via production of submerged aquatic vegetation, and all of which provides open water areas for roosting/resting habitat. Eufaula NWR was created as mitigation for reservoir construction on the Chattahoochee River and has become a regionally important wintering area.

The Gulf Coast Region is relatively void of waterfowl habitat and only sparse, scattered concentrations of birds occur from St. Marks NWR, west through the coastal Florida panhandle, until the Mobile Bay and Delta. Within Mobile Bay, highway construction and reservoir construction have altered hydrology such that submerged aquatic vegetation beds are substantially reduced. Over 60,729 ha of bottomland forested wetlands occur in the northern reaches of the Mobile Delta. (Alabama Dept. Conserv. & Nat. Resour, unpubl. data). Farther west, the bays, sounds, and coastal marshes of Mississippi provide winter habitat, particularly for diving ducks (Barry Wilson, Gulf Coast Joint Venture (GCJV), pers. comm).

Overall, there has been a net loss of habitat throughout this conservation region. Generally, bottomland hardwood wetlands in North Carolina have sustained the greatest losses (Hefner et al. 1994). Approximately 50% of the original wetland base is gone in this region, lost to flood control, reservoir construction, development, agriculture, and navigation. From a continental perspective, importance of this conservation region relative to other areas of winter habitat such as the MAV, Gulf Coast and Coastal Prairies, and Southern Great Plains is considerably less. However, the importance, or potential importance, of this region to Atlantic Flyway waterfowl, particularly tundra swans, wood ducks, canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks, and lesser scaup should not be over-looked.

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