Declining Forests

Bottomland and Longleaf Pine Forests

Bottomland forest and longleaf pine forests are two forest types that are declining in Southeastern North Carolina.  These forests are priority habitats for conservation and restoration as they provide multiple benefits to the people, plants, and wildlife of North Carolina.

Photo of trees in various stages of growth


Can landowners harvest declining tree species?

While forests like longleaf pine and bottomlands are special resources, there are no regulations or protections specifically for these trees. In fact, we promote active management of declining forests, which often includes selective harvests and prescribed burning to promote forest health.


When implementing forest management activities, it is important to consider the forest's wildlife, protect the water resources, and have a plan for regeneration (by leaving seed trees or replanting).  There may be special financial incentives available to support the management of these forests.

Where did the longleaf pines go?

Once occurring on over 9 million acres in the eastern half of North Carolina, only 4% of longleaf forests remain in our state today.  Longleaf forests declined across the southeast due to conversion to non-forest uses, replacement of longleaf pine with other tree species, and exclusion of frequent, low-intensity fires from the forest landscape.

Why are bottomland forests in decline?

Many of bottomland forests were cutover in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The forests we see today are the result of these, and subsequent, harvests.  In more recent times, many of these forests have been converted to other uses, such as agriculture, due to their productive soils.  In addition, changes to the drainages astride which many of these areas lie has altered the hydrology on which these forests depend. In North Carolina, bottomland forest cover types occupy about 13 percent of our state. 

Bottomland Forests Key Resources

Bottomland and swamp forests are rich in ecological, cultural, and commercial benefits. These benefits include protection and maintenance of water quality, floodwater storage, wildlife habitat for a variety of species, visual and recreational values, and various forest products obtained from the diversity of tree species present in these forest stands.

Not all bottomland swamps are the same. Differences in hydrology, terrain, soils and position on the landscape create a mosaic of different swamp forests across North Carolina.

Bottomland Hardwood Forests

(NC Forest Service)

Why Bottomland Hardwoods Forests Matter to Landbird Migration

(Audubon North Carolina)

Understanding North Carolina's Bottomland Swamp Forests

(NC Forest Service)

Ecological Forestry Practices for Bottomland Hardwood Forests of the Southeastern U.S.

(Forest Guild)


Longleaf Pine Key Resources

Longleaf pine forests are highly diverse, fire-dependent ecosystems that historically dominated the Southeastern U.S. North Carolina's early economy was shaped by longleaf through its many uses in naval stores.  Today, longleaf forest continue to provide valuable wood products including timer and pine straw.


Longleaf pine habitats are recognized as one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.  Natural fires promote a healthy, diverse understory of grasses and forbs, providing excellent food and habitat for wildlife.  Many rare and endemic species, like the Carolinas' Venus fly-trap, call longleaf forests home.

Bringing Back Longleaf to NC

(NC Forest Service)

Landowner Assistance for Longleaf

(North Carolina Longleaf Coalition)

Longleaf Resources for Landowners

(North Carolina Longleaf Coalition)