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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

The Long Term Resource Monitoring Program

An element of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration - Environmental Management Program

Development of a floodplain forest restoration database for the UMRS: a tool for future coordinated forest management planning

Upper Mississippi River Restoration - Environmental Management Program U. S. Army Corps of Enineers


The UMR is a highly altered and used system. Not only have the forests along the UMR endured logging and agricultural and urban development, but the river also has a long history of habitat alteration to aid in navigation (Yin et al. 1997). The most recent and ongoing chapter in this development, was the installation of a system of 27 locks and dams on the Mississippi River from Minneapolis, Minnesota to St. Louis, Missouri (finished in 1941) and operation and maintenance of the 3-m deep navigation channel, which continues to affect aquatic and terrestrial habitats (Fremling and Claflin 1984). Development of the navigation system, and the building of levees with agricultural conversion behind levees, resulted in the loss of thousands of acres of floodplain forest (UMRS Habitat Needs Assessment 2000).
The remaining floodplain forest is undergoing changes as a result of altered river hydrology. Tree diversity is declining (Yin 1999, Urich et al. 2002). The silver maple community is considered late successional in this system, and often includes green ash (Fraxinus pennsyvanica), elm (Ulmus spp.), river birch (Betula nigra), and cottonwood as codominants or part of the subcanopy and understory. However, many trees, particularly mast producing species, which formerly were more common, either cannot become established naturally or they cannot grow where they used to because of raised water tables (Yin et al. 1997, Yin 1999). Communities of pioneering species (cottonwood [Populus deltoides] and willow [Salix spp.]) are becoming less common because the bare substrate they require for germination is rarely deposited or exposed (Yin and Nelson 1995, Knutson and Klaas 1997). Silver maple (Acer saccharinum), although dominant in the 1800's, has increased in dominance and the trend is towards a monoculture (Knutson and Klaas 1998).

Furthermore, severe reduction in forest area and conversion to more grassland/savannah habitat is possible (Yin et al. 1997, Knutson and Klaas 1998, Yin 1999, Urich et al. 2002). Much of the forest canopy is composed of even aged silver maple trees 55-75 years old and there are few saplings and seedlings of silver maple and other species in the understory (Yin 1999, Urich et al. 2002). The life expectancy of silver maple is 125 years. In some areas, large silver maples and cottonwoods have been blown down or have died leaving gaps in the canopy (Fox et al. 2000, Urich et al. 2002). Without management intervention an aggressive grass, reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea, hereafter Phalaris), often colonizes these gaps preventing germination and growth of any tree seedlings (Knutson and Klaas 1998, Urich et al. 2002). As the even aged silver maple forest senesces, Phalaris may take over the understory, further retarding tree regeneration, which would result in a savannah-like habitat and eventually to losses of large areas of forest.

Relevance of research:

Three COE districts, 2 National Wildlife Refuge Complexes, 5 states and several NGOs are interested in maintaining the ecological integrity of floodplain forest and the its critical role in overall UMRS ecosystem health. The COE has been asked to develop a systemic forest management plan through the Navigation and Environmental Sustainability Program (NESP), which should be authorized by Congress for 2006. USFWS Refuges are very interested in forest management to maintain wildlife habitat and in development of a forest management plan that focuses on restoring, monitoring and managing floodplain forest to fulfill habitat goals set out in their Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCP). Many forest management, restoration, and or monitoring projects by federal, state, and private landowners have been undertaken or are on-going all along the UMRS. And, many of these projects were made possible through the Habitat Rehabilitation Program (HREP). Although these efforts are typically a coordinated effort involving many partners, information on locations, management undertaken, and follow-up monitoring is not available in a central location and common format so that it is easily accessible to river managers and biologists who must develop future forest management plans and management actions. A necessary first step in a systemic forest management plan is to draw together all the available information on what work has been done, where, and what effects the management has had on habitat and wildlife. The COE has extensive geo-referenced forest inventory data and several sources including UMESC, UMRNW&F Refuge Complex, Mark Twain Refuge Complex, and COE have information on breeding and migrating landbirds in forest and other terrestrial habitats. These data sets will also be included to provide a comprehensive view of current conditions of the forest and associated wildlife. Such a comprehensive database can inform future management decisions and form the seed of an adaptive management plan that will involve many partners.


All data on forest management projects available within the UMRS will be compiled and referenced spatially. Such data will include agency identifier, locations, dates, size of project areas, treatments, pre treatment conditions, management goals, and any auxiliary site information available (soils, elevation, etc.). Monitoring data collected from project sites will also be included. Data will be stored in GIS and Access databases. A web-based interface will be developed so that partners can view and query the data.

Special needs/considerations:

This work will be conducted in coordination with the USFWS's Biological Monitoring Team located in La Crosse, WI.

Literature Cited:

Fremling, C. R. and T. O. Claflin. 1984. Ecological history of the Upper Mississippi River. Pp. 5-24 In: Contaminants in the Upper Mississippi River, Proceedings of the 15th Annual Meeting of the Mississippi River Research Consortium. (J. G. Wiener, R. V. Anderson, and D. R. McConville, eds.). Butterworth Press, Boston, Massachusetts.

Knutson, M. G., and E. E. Klaas. 1997. Declines in abundance and species richness of birds following a major flood on the Upper Mississippi River. Auk 114: 367-380.

Knutson, M. G., and E. E. Klaas. 1998. Floodplain forest loss and changes in forest community composition and structure in the Upper Mississippi River: a wildlife habitat at risk. Natural Areas Journal 18:138-150.

Urich, R., G. Swanson, and E. Nelson (editors). 2002. Upper Mississippi and Illinois River floodplain forests: desired future and recommended actions. Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee, Rock Island, Illinois.

Yin, Y., J. C. Nelson, and K. S. Lubinski. 1997. Bottomland hardwood forests along the Upper Mississippi River. Natural Areas Journal 17:164-173.

Yin, Y. 1999. Floodplain forests, p 9.1 to 9.9. In U.S. Geological Survey, Ecological status and trends of the Upper Mississippi River System 1998: A report of the Long Term Resource Monitoring Program. U.S. Geological Survey, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, La Crosse, Wisconsin. April 1999. LTRMP 99-T001.

Principle investigators:

Dr. Eileen Kirsch

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