Bald cypress swamps used to be as vast and diverse as the Amazon in North America 120 years ago, covering around 40 million acres. They were home to various bird species and aquatic life. However, swamps have always been difficult to protect and have even been purposely destroyed by the government.
The Swamp Land Act of 1850 and a similar act gave southern states unclaimed federal wetlands and required them to use the money from selling the land to drain it. None other than the great orator Daniel Webster summed up the general sentiment in 1851: “Nothing beautiful or useful grows in it.”
Even though bald cypresses are among the most resilient trees on Earth—able to withstand some of the worst conditions nature can muster—cypress forests are now dying leaving bone white skeletons in their wake.
Ghost forests are a strong indication of the unstoppable rise in sea levels, which is causing saltwater to infiltrate freshwater ecosystems. While bald cypresses are more adaptable to saltwater compared to other species in their habitat, but even they cannot survive in water with a salt concentration exceeding two parts per thousand.
Bald cypresses did not have any organized group advocating for their protection, unlike redwoods and giant sequoias. There were no picturesque landscapes or renowned photographers drawing attention to their preservation.
Once loggers had the necessary equipment, they quickly began logging cypresses in the swamps, using the wood for various purposes. As a result, only a few isolated areas of these ancient trees remain.
Many of these bald cypress have survived for 2,600 years, and are adorned with resurrection ferns, which can withstand drought and spring back to life, good as new, at the first rain. The trees, known as “the wood everlasting,” have the potential to assist us in adjusting to a changing climate if it is properly preserved and protected.
Reference- National Geographic, Discovery, BBC