Asheville Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America





October 2008 Asheville Field Office press releases, story ideas, and media advisories

October 22, 2008

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Gives $115,000 to Help Mitchell and Yancey County Streams

Anita Goetz, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 828/258-3939, ext. 228
Cliff Vinson, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council, 828/765-4701
Starli McDowell, Toe River Valley Watch, 828/675-4311

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently announced it’s awarding $115,000 in grants to improve water and stream quality and help ensure fish and other aquatic life can freely move up and downstream in the Upper Nolichucky River Basin,

“The Upper Nolichucky River is a priority focus area for conservation and the Fish & Wildlife Service remains committed to helping local people and local organizations restore and protect it,” said Anita Goetz, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

$75,000 will go to the Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council (Blue Ridge RC&D), while $40,000 will go to Toe River Valley Watch.

Each organization will use the funds to work with willing private landowners to remove barriers to fish movement, such as collapsed culverts, and implement soil and water conservation projects on private lands, such as stabilizing eroding stream banks, establishing streamside forests, keeping agricultural runoff out of streams, and eradicating invasive plants.

The organizations have sought to match the grants with funds or in-kind services, with a target of at least a 50% cost share, meaning up to $230,000 going to soil and water conservation in the area.

“TRVW is very thankful for this grant. We plan to work closely with local landowners, local governments, industries and agencies to use these funds to protect and improve the water quality and other natural resources in the Upper Nolichucky Watershed,” said Starli McDowell, president of Toe River Valley Watch.

This is the second year in a row the two organizations have received grants from the Service, which considers the Upper Nolichucky River a priority conservation area due to the presence of the federally protected Appalachian elktoe mussel, Virginia spiraea plant, and bog turtle.

The funds come from the Service’s Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program, designed to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners who want to improve fish and wildlife habitat on their property.



October 14, 2008

Mars Hill College Students Help Conserve Endangered Plant

Carolyn Wells, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 828/258-3939, ext. 231
Scott Pearson, Mars Hill College, 828/689-1402

A group of Mars Hill College students are working with professor Scott Pearson to bring the power of the school’s computers to bear in an effort to help the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service protect the endangered Roan Mountain bluet.

Roan Mountain bluet is found at only a handful of high elevation sites in five western North Carolina counties. With such a limited distribution, knowing where every plant is found is critical to scientists working to save the plant. This information was collected in the 1990s, however it sits, of limited use, as a stack of topographic maps with dots on them and a pile of data collection forms.  Students from Pearson’s Introduction to Geographic Information Systems class are going make this data more useful and more accessible by converting it into an electronic format detailing the location and attributes of each bluet site.

“It’s really helpful to me, as a botanist, to have the students engaged on this project, and I truly believe that they’re contributing to the recovery of this plant,” said Carolyn Wells, a botanist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “It’s exciting when something in the classroom has real-world applications.”

Pearson’s class teaches students how to use geographic information systems, or GIS. GIS is a powerful tool in conservation, allowing scientists to build electronic maps and to manipulate and use place-based information linked to specific locations.  It can be used to build models predicting where certain species are likely to be found or what areas of the landscape are likely to be developed; or it can simply be used to make custom maps.

On October 7, the students joined Wells on a field visit to a Roan Mountain bluet site and discussed some of the conservation issues surrounding the plant and that particular site. From there, they’ll take the paper files – all the topographic maps and the accompanying data sheets - and turn them into a digital GIS file, enabling scientists to project on their computers a map showing the locations of all the sites, and call up information for each site, such as habitat type, elevation, amount of area occupied by the plants, and number of plants.

Having it in a digital format will also let scientists overlay those data with other spatial-information, for example maps of the Forest Service’s proposed prescribed fires or maps predicting where development is likely to occur. This helps land managers determine their conservation priorities. Further, the electronic format will facilitate sharing data with the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, a repository for location information on rare and imperiled species like Roan Mountain bluet.

The partnership between the college and the Service resulted from the Asheville Field Office’s web site, which posts projects that would help the Service conserve rare species while giving students a chance to meet course requirements with a real-world application of what they’re learning.







Media contact:

Gary Peeples
office - 828/258-3939, ext 234
cell - 828/216-4970
fax - 828/258-5330
160 Zillicoa St.
Asheville, NC 28801

If you can't reach Gary Peeples, please contact:

Janet Mizzi
office - 828/258-3939, ext. 223
cell - 828/215-1741
fax - 828/258-5330
160 Zillicoa St.
Asheville, NC 28801

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Last Updated: May 15, 2008