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Big Thicket National Preserve

small state map showing location

Beaumont, Texas

People have called the Big Thicket an American ark and the biological crossroads of North America. The preserve was established to protect the remnant of it complex biological diversity. What is extraordinary is not the rarity or abundance of its life forms, but how many species coexist here. Once vast, this combination of pine and cypress forest, hardwood forest, meadow, and blackwater swamp is but a remnant. With such varied habitats, "Big Thicket" is a misnomer, but it seems appropriate. An exhausted settler wrote in 1835: "This day passed through the thickest woods I ever saw. It...surpasses any country for brush."

Major North American biological influences bump up against each other here: southeastern swamps, eastern forests, central plains, and southwest deserts. Bogs sit near arid sandhills. Eastern bluebirds nest near roadrunners. There are 85 tree species, more than 60 shrubs, and nearly 1000 other flowering plants, including 26 ferns and allies, 20 orchids, and four of North America's five types of insect-eating plants. Nearly 186 kinds of birds live here or migrate through. Fifty reptile species include a small, rarely seen population of alligators. Amphibious frogs and toads abound.

Although Alabama-Coushatta Indians hunted the Big Thicket, they did not generally penetrate its deepest reaches, and the area was settled by whites relatively late. In the 1850's economic exploitation began with the cutting of pine and cypress. Sawmills followed, using railroads to move out large volumes of wood. Ancient forests were felled and replanted with non-native slash pine. Oil strikes around 1900 brought further forest encroachment. Nearby rice farmers flooded some forest; others were cleared for housing developments.

Designation of Big Thicket as a national preserve created a new management concept for the National Park Service. Preserve status prevents further timber harvesting but allows oil and gas exploration, hunting, and trapping to continue. Only low-impact visitor facilities will be built. The preserve is composed of 12 units comprising 86,000 acres. It was designated an international Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in 1981. The protected area will provide a standard for measuring human impact on the environment.

This resource is based on the following source:

National Park Service.  1997.  Big Thicket official map and guide.  
     National Park Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
National Park Service.  1997.  Big Thicket official map and guide.  
     National Park Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, ND: Northern 
     Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online. 
     (Version 22MAY98).

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