Animal Problems

Nutria, the large rodent introduced from South America in the 1930s to control water plants in the region' lakes, has become a nuisance. The animal pulls seedlings out of the ground to eat roots. Greatest damage occurs near flooded sites, for nutria prefer to carry their food to feed in the relative safety of the water.

Piney-woods' rooters, progeny of once-domestic pigs, consume the mast of several species of trees growing in the bottoms. Lean and long-snouted razorback hogs, sows, and pigs leave the wetlands to visit drier-site conifer stands to feast on seedling roots only after acorns and hickory nuts are gone from the lowlands. The mean (foresters are sometimes treed by them) hogs also dig up young, nutritionally fertilized cottonwood seedlings, perhaps for the more succulent and nutri-

Figure 4.18 New land forms along river banks throughout the South, forming sites for establishing willow and cottonwood trees. The latter species had seeded-in earlier on the left bank.

tious roots or perhaps for the salty savor of the chemical. Fried down, these razorback boars hardly yield a pound of lard, as some suggest. The meat tastes of the diet; turpentine if of pine roots and more hickory-flavored otherwise.

Cattle escape to river bottoms, there to trample some reproduction, browse advanced regeneration, and cause streambank erosion. On the other hand, the small indentations in the ground made by cattle hooves provide favorable microsites for seed germination and early seedling vigor. Moisture necessary for seeds to sprout collects in the footprints, while the weight and movement of the animals shred competing ground cover. Sometimes cattle get trapped in the soft soil— especially so in border areas of reed swamps where man and beast quickly sink to the knees in soft, loose organic matter or clayey mineral soil. Quick sands, occurring here and there in the South, support no trees; these grassy marshes holding in their grasp animal intruders.

Beaver damage in bottoms is an increasing source of butt log decay, as well as contributing to changing land hydrology. Partial girdling results in a wound subject to attack by decay-causing fungi. Such decay may be as deep as 2 inches after 6 years. The damage is most severe in ash and sweetgum. Heavy beaver activity may significantly alter land hydrology over significant acreages.

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