Date of Graduation

5-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Geography (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Geosciences

Advisor

David W. Stahle

Committee Member

Kenneth Kvamme

Second Committee Member

Jason Tullis

Keywords

Social sciences; Biological sciences; Earth sciences; Baldcypress; Forest conservation; GIS; Image analysis; North Carolina; Old growth; Southeastern wetlands

Abstract

A few ancient baldcypress-bottomland hardwood forests survive across the southeastern United States in a mosaic of remnant old-growth stands left untouched by extensive logging during the early 20th century. Uncut stands in the Southeast that survived centuries of disturbance following European settlement tended to be too senescent and non-commercial to justify logging. Remnant ancient baldcypress forests at Black River, North Carolina, appear to contain the oldest living trees in eastern North America and The Nature Conservancy has protected several of these stands. However, the full extent of ancient bottomland forests along Black River is not known and many valuable tracts may be vulnerable to destruction in the increasingly developed floodplain. Locating additional old-growth parcels along Black River could help conserve the treasured biodiversity and water quality associated with North Carolina's bottomland forest habitat. This project used interpretation of high-resolution aerial imagery to locate potential areas of old-growth baldcypress forest along Black River, North Carolina. Identification of new, unprotected areas of ancient forest was based on image interpretation of previously identified old-growth stands, especially their site, situation, association, color and texture. The ages of candidate forest areas were verified in the field using expert visual assessment, photographic documentation and tree-ring analysis of increment cores taken from selected trees. Approximately 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of previously unidentified old-growth baldcypress-bottomland hardwood forests were mapped and are recommended as high-priority areas for future conservation efforts at both Black River and Island Creek, a blackwater tributary of the Northeast Cape Fear River. Centuries- to millennium-old trees were identified in all of these previously undocumented old-growth forests. These results indicate that ancient baldcypress forests extend almost continuously for 21 river miles along the mid- to lower-Black River and only 13 of these miles are protected by The Nature Conservancy.