East Gulf Coastal Plain
Although the facilities vary from first class to primitive, there are numerous areas open to the public that afford visitors an opportunity to experience this unique region. The nearby Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area (located in the Upper East Gulf Coastal Plain) is only minimally developed and the spectacular scenery is worth some previsit planning (a Wild Louisiana Stamp or a hunting or fishing license is required.) The East Gulf Coastal Plain has many Wildlife Management Areas and State Parks, including Sandy Hollow WMA, Lake Ramsay WMA, Bogue Chitto State Park and Fountainbleau State Parks.
When Samuel Lockett traveled by mule-drawn carriage around the Florida Parishes in 1871 documenting the natural conditions of the region and commenting upon its development potential, he fell in love with the beauty of the region.
In the central and eastern Florida Parishes (essentially equivalent to the range of the EGCP Ecoregion in LA) longleaf pine woodlands in the hilly uplands and longleaf pine savannas in the flatwoods were by far the most common habitats in the region. Describing much of Washington, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, St. Helena and Livingston parishes as unbroken expenses of longleaf pine, Lockett wrote of "the most beautiful, limpid streams imaginable... The transparency can scarcely be realized from a mere description," he noted.
In addition to the longleaf pine-dominated uplands and wetlands, Lockett mentioned encountering a wide variety of plant community types including:
- expansive bottomland hardwood forest in the Pearl River Basin
- slash pine-pond cypress/hardwood forest in the southern wetlands
- hardwood slope forest along some of the steeper slopes in the north
- mixed hardwood forest on the loess soils near Baton Rouge
- live oak-pine-magnolia forests along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain
- small prairies in East Baton Rouge and East Feliciana parishes.
One of the greatest forces influencing the composition of these regions has been glacial movements in the north over the last two million years. With each glacial advance, a tremendous quantity of water is tied up in glaciers and sea levels concomitantly decline. As glaciers melt during the warmer periods, sea levels rise again, rivers are forced over their banks and sediments are deposited on the adjacent uplands. In the Florida Parishes, the result of these changes in sea level has been the creation of a series of well-drained terraces and rolling hills in the north, grading into a broad region of poorly drained flatlands to the south.
A second major force operating throughout the uplands and flatwoods of the EGCP was fire. Frequent fires, started by both lightning and American Indians, played a major role in shaping the composition, structure and distribution of the major natural habitat types of the region, especially longleaf pine forests.
In the eastern Florida Parishes, formerly subjected to frequent fire, longleaf pine dominated. In the western Florida Parishes, loess-influenced soils in the uplands and frequent flooding along streams greatly reduced the frequency of fire, leading to forests dominated by many species of hardwoods, or forests of hardwoods mixed with loblolly, shortleaf or spruce pine.
Historically, open longleaf pine forest, woodlands and savannas dominated much of the EGCP Ecoregion. The growing demand for timber and turpentine changed that. By the turn of the 20th century the tremendous pine stands of the Northeast and Great Lakes states had been depleted, leaving the expansive longleaf pine region of the southeastern U. S. to meet the needs of a growing country.
By the early 1930’s, nearly all of the virgin longleaf pine and pine-hardwood forests in southeastern Louisiana had been cleared for timber.
From the late 1940’s until the 1980’s, many of the remaining natural longleaf pine and pine-hardwood forests were converted to pine plantations to maximize timber production. In the 1940’s and 50’s, much of the area was cleared of forest for dairy farming. Urban expansion in St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes has added to the loss of longleaf pine habitats. The practice of using fire in land management has dramatically declined in the region in recent decades, further adding to habitat loss and a dramatic decline in populations of fire-dependent species.
The loss has been so great that the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program contends that the fire-adapted longleaf pine and associated habitats in this ecoregion are among the most threatened in Louisiana and the Southeast. For example, the Heritage Program estimates that less than 5% of the original longleaf pine flatwood savannas in this ecoregion remains in relatively natural condition.
Habitat loss, combined with the fact that many eastern species reach the western limit of their range in the Florida Parishes, finds this region supporting more rare, threatened or endangered species of animals and plants than any other Louisiana region.
Approximately 50 species of animals and 90 species of plants require conservation attention in this region. Some of the animals considered imperiled include the inflated heelspittter mussel, Gulf of Mexico sturgeon, ringed sawback turtle, gopher tortoise, Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Louisiana black bear, all of which are listed as threatened or endangered in Louisiana.
Some of the globally imperiled plants found in this region are the Louisiana quillwort, bog spicebush and wild coco orchid. State rare plants in this region include showy flowers such as the pinewoods lily, pink coreopsis, yellow fringeless orchid and bog flame flower, all of which are found on TNC preserves in St. Tammany Parish. Many of these rare plant species are only found in Louisiana in this ecoregion.
One of the earliest land acquisition projects attempted by the Conservancy in Louisiana was the purchase of over 20,000 acres of bottomland forest in the Pearl River Basin, which served to link Pearl River Wildlife Management Area with Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge. These two sites protect a significant portion of one of the South's last relatively natural bottomland systems and provide habitat for many rare species, including the Louisiana black bear, ringed sawback turtle, and Swallow-tailed Kite.
Additional Conservancy acquisitions in Pearl River Drainage Basin include the 586-acre White Kitchen Preserve, adjacent to the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, which supports a Bald Eagle nest site that has been active for over 90 years. The 145-acre Charter Oak Preserve protects an old-growth bayhead swamp, an unusual "floating pond cypress savanna" and several rare plants.
The 22-acre Pushepatapa Preserve, borders the beautiful Pushepatapa Creek and is the only protected site in Louisiana for the spectacular mountain laurel.
Lake Ramsay, Abita Creek Flatwoods, and Talisheek Pine Wetlands Preserves, all owned and operated by TNC as wetland mitigation banks, protect one of the natural habitats most representative of this region and most imperiled by current and historic land use changes: wet longleaf pine savanna and flatwoods. Together these preserves protect nearly 5,000 acres of longleaf-dominated habitats and more than 40 species of rare plants and animals. Lake Ramsay savanna, owned jointly by TNC and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is arguably the highest quality wet longleaf pine savanna remaining in southeast LA.
Public agencies also have aggressively worked to protect and manage significant portions of this region. Some of the more important public conservation projects in the Florida Parishes include the 38,000-acre Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge, the 7,000-acre Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge, both owned and operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also include the 35,000-acre Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, the 3,500-acre Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area, and the 800-acre Lake Ramsay Wildlife Management Area (adjacent to our Lake Ramsay Preserve) owned and operated by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Opportunities for Public Visitation
Interpretive hiking trails can be found on our Lake Ramsay and Abita Creek Flatwoods preserves, and both provide the public with access to high-quality pine savanna wetlands. Thousands of people use the Chevron boardwalk on our White Kitchen Preserve during the nesting season of Bald Eagles (October through April). Additionally, developed nature trails are available on Pearl River Wildlife Management Area and Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge, both of which are in southeastern St. Tammany Parish.