Release: New maps reveal wetland forests of the Southern U.S. that urgently need conservation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 26, 2019, 8:00 AM EST
CONTACT: Sam Davis, Dogwood Alliance, [email protected] , 828-251-2525 ext. 19

The Wetland Forest Initiative unveils new maps that show the biological and social importance of wetland forests alongside the current and future threats to their sustainability. 

Asheville, NC — Today, the Wetland Forest Initiative (WFI), a unique coalition of conservation groups, advocacy organizations, landowner groups, and forestry and wildlife agencies, released the first version of their Conservation Priority Maps for Wetland Forests. The groups highlighted fourteen potential watersheds to prioritize for conservation work in wetland forests, including:

  1. The Lower Pee Dee Watershed in coastal South Carolina and North Carolina
  2. The Apalachicola Watershed in the panhandle of Florida and inland Georgia
  3. The Atchafalaya Watershed in southern Louisiana

The others are: Roanoke, Santee, Savannah, Suwannee, Ochlockonee, Mobile Bay, Central Louisiana Coastal, Lower Mississippi Greeneville, Lower Mississippi Helena, Lake Maurepas, and the Neches Watersheds.

The WFI Priority Maps identify the most important watersheds as defined by biodiversity (e.g., presence of reptiles and amphibians found nowhere else on earth), surrounding human communities (e.g., percent unemployment), and stressors (e.g., projected sea level rise). Watersheds along the coastal plain were repeatedly identified as among the most important to protect due in part to their high concentrations of unique species.

“These maps will help researchers, government agencies and nonprofits across the region determine what to target in their own local or regional conservation work to protect our threatened wetland forests,” said Sam Davis, Conservation Scientist at Dogwood Alliance.

Previous reports have found that restoring and conserving wetland forests in the U.S. South will provide extensive financial, social, and environmental benefits. One of these, released by the Dogwood Alliance in 2018, revealed that restoring and conserving wetland forests could increase their value by over $45 billion USD.

“Wetland forests are some of our most critical natural resources. They help prevent flooding, preserve wildlife habitats, and produce clean water for our households,” said J.J. Apodaca, report author and Lead Scientist at Tangled Bank Conservation.

Steadily declining wetland forests have triggered worries about the future of this forest type for flood control, water quality and wildlife habitat. The Wetland Forest Initiative maps will provide critical information to conservation organizations in the United States about where to focus their limited resources to save this declining forest type before it’s too late.

“Ducks Unlimited is very encouraged by the breadth of partners working on science-based prioritization tools for southeastern wetland conservation.  This work by WFI advances regional efforts to conserve and restore habitats for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species, and it supports efforts across different sectors to conserve these areas for mutually-beneficial environmental and social goals.” Justin Park, Manager of Land Conservation, Southern Region, Ducks Unlimited

To view the maps, please visit:

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The Wetland Forest Initiative’s mission is to conserve, restore, and improve Southern wetland forests to strengthen our communities through science-based actions, diverse partnerships, and citizen and landowner engagement. To see the list of steering committee members and learn more, visit:

Supporting quotes from WFI members:

“In addition to the beauty of our wetland forests, they provide many essential services to mankind in terms of improved water quality, flood control, habitat diversity, timber, etc. These maps will help in our efforts to better manage and preserve these valuable lands.” William Conner, Professor, Clemson’s Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science.

“The protection and restoration of wetland forests is a large-scale conservation challenge. With these maps we are able to set priorities to focus our work and direct our resources to where they are most needed and where we can make the biggest impact for wildlife, water quality and local communities.” Ben Prater, Southeast Director, Defenders of Wildlife.

“Wetland forests rank among the most important in the nation for carbon sequestration and biodiversity. These maps will inform a bold conservation and community resilience agenda to protect and fund the restoration of these critical ecosystems, supporting local economic activity, decreasing the impact and recovery costs from natural disasters and contributing to national climate mitigation goals.” Debbie Hammel, Deputy Director Land Division, Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Wetland forests are critical to the wellbeing of humans. The ecosystem services they provide to people and communities are essential. Their ability to store carbon, protect against flooding. Increase our water quality are important to building our resiliency to adapt to the climate crisis. Their protection is greater now than ever. These maps will be important to help in this effort and to better manage these valuable resources.” Rick Savage, President, Carolina Wetlands Association.

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