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During the mid 19th century up until the 1940’s the bottomlands of the United States were under direct attack from draining schemes and ripping chainsaws. The price of the naturally bug-repellent and rot-resistant wood of these ancient forests made them irresistible to loggers and landowners looking to turn their tannic water into liquid cash. Bottomlands across the southeast were clear-cut and drained, disrupting wildlife corridors, water quality and sending many species into perilous decline and driving at least one species to extinction. By the mid 20th century, only a handful of these unique ecosystems remained; mere thousands of acres out of millions that once dominated and defined the southeast.

This project explores three old growth bottomland hardwood swamps left: Beidler Forest, Congaree Swamp and Corkscrew Swamp.

It is these virgin forests untouched by chainsaws and unaltered by the hand of man, where we don’t have to use our imagination to conjure how it would have looked 500 or 1,000 years ago. More importantly, however, these areas offer scientists a chance to study the ancient rhythms and ecology of southern swamps. Incredible stories of adaptation and habitat specialists unfurl in these landscapes: a yellow warbler the size of a baseball flies 10,000 miles and returns to the same tree from where it left; endangered orchids grow and can only be pollinated by a moth with a tongue twice the size of its body; panthers search the sloughs and uplands for prey— there are only 140 left in the world; tens of thousands of fireflies synchronize and pulse as the sun goes down; wildflowers bloom en masse as far as the eye can see for only a week out of the year. The swamp is full of colorful narratives and intriguing stories that need to be told.

These three old growth swamps are the poster children for what the southeastern United States once looked like, a critical link to our past and the framework for conservation efforts moving forward.