As the continents shifted and ocean waters moved south toward the present-day Gulf of Mexico, deep valleys became the natural conduit for swiftly moving waters that cascaded over rocky bottoms, falling toward the sea.An estimated 10 percent of the fresh water that flows through the 48 continental United States courses through Alabama.When the Tombigbee and Alabama river systems join in south Alabama, they create one of the largest and most ecologically complex deltas in the nation.

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Long before humankind disturbed Alabama's forests and streams, enormously powerful natural forces bent, broke, shaped, and reshaped its landscape.

Seismic convulsions and shifting tectonic plates shoved mountains above the waters of ancient seas that reached north of Montgomery.

Alabama conservationists fought an uphill battle to create the Forever Wild Program to purchase and restore endangered habitat and by 2008 had accumulated 667,000 acres of publicly owned land, mainly in the Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega, and Tuskegee national forests.

The most pristine areas, such as the Walls of Jericho at the upper end of Paint Rock Valley and Bee Branch in Bankhead Forest's Sipsey Wilderness (which contains one 500-year-old tulip poplar that rises 150 feet off the forest floor) can take away the breath of an intrepid hiker not only from the exertion necessary to reach the sights, but for the sheer beauty and grandeur of the landscape.

At one time, Alabama was home to 180 different species of mussels, accounting for two-thirds of all species found in North America, as well as 83 species of crayfish, the most of any state.

The Gulf sturgeon, one of the largest and most primitive fishes in the United States, was once abundant in Alabama's rivers before dams prevented these fish from reaching their spawning areas upriver.

In the hill country and mountain regions of eastern and northern Alabama, waters fall over rough limestone terrain, gouging caves and creating impressive falls. The Alabama River, the state's largest, is the fourth largest river system in the United States based on discharge, emptying 62,500 cubic feet per second into Mobile Bay.

Beneath the waters life thrives, supporting the most diverse array of mussels, snails, turtles, fish, and other aquatic life to be found anywhere in the nation.

Forests covered the entire state when humans first arrived.