"As Flooding Increases on the Mississippi, Forests Are Drowning"

"Ever-worsening floods are killing trees at an increasing rate along the upper Mississippi River, and invasive grasses are taking over. The Army Corps of Engineers has launched a project to restore forest and boost tree diversity, and to improve habitat for fish and birds, too."

"Mike Valley saw 10 years ago that the trees were dying. A fourth-generation commercial fisherman on the upper Mississippi River, Valley, 63, had fished for half a century among the backwater channels, sloughs, oxbow lakes, islands, marshes, and floodplain forests that lie between the high sandstone bluffs on both sides of the river at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where he lives.

Come spring, Valley recalled, more and more trees failed to leaf out. In patches up and down the river, many floodplain species, mostly silver maple but also swamp white oak, cottonwood, green ash, and elm, were turning gaunt and lifeless. The die-off began to hurt his fishing. In high water he would fish for catfish on the flooded islands, but now there was too much downed wood to set his nets. And the danger of falling trees became a constant worry.

“It got progressively worse and worse,” he said. “It’s just devastating.”

In recent years scientists have been studying the causes of, and in some cases working to slow, a trend that today even the most casual observer can see: All along the upper Mississippi River, floodplain forests are dying. From St. Paul to St. Louis, trees are disappearing and in some places being replaced by thick stands of invasive reed canary grass. Since scientists began keeping track of the changes in the late 1980s, thousands of acres of floodplain forests have been lost. In recent years the rate of decline has only accelerated."

Richard Mertens reports for Yale Environment 360 March 7, 2024.

Source: YaleE360, 03/08/2024