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Southeast Celebrates Banner Year for Species Recovery
By Kelly Ann Bibb
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Southeast Region had a number of reasons to celebrate this past year. Significant progress has been made in conserving and restoring some of the region’s rarest species, including the Tennessee purple coneflower (Echinacea tennessensis) , the Okaloosa darter (Etheostoma okaloosae) , the Tulotoma snail (Tulotoma magnifica) , and the Alabama lampmussel (Lampsilis virescens) .
Photo Credit: © Steven J. Baskauf, Ph.D.
More than three decades of conservation and protection has paid off well for the Tennessee purple coneflower , a distinctive plant once in danger of extinction. In August 2011, the Service recognized the wildflower’s recovery by removing it from the federal list of endangered and threatened species.
When the coneflower was listed as endangered in 1979, it was found only in small populations in Davidson, Rutherford, and Wilson counties. The plant currently exists in 19 secure colonies distributed across six populations in Davidson, Rutherford, and Wilson counties. This remarkable success story is the result of conservation efforts by many partners that worked more than 30 years to revive the species. Partners include Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and Division of Forestry, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, and private landowners. TDEC was especially instrumental in recovering this wildflower by purchasing and securing sites through the Service’s Recovery Land Acquisition grant program and establishing Designated State Natural Areas to protect the species.
“Recovering a species to the point it can be removed from the endangered species list is a success by anyone’s measure,” says Geoff Call, a fish and wildlife biologist at the Service’s Cooksville, Tennessee Ecological Services Office. “What this demonstrates is the amount of sustained effort, over time and across organizations that it takes to fully reverse the slide toward extinction.”
This past year also brought a first for the Southeast: the reclassification of two aquatic species, the Okaloosa darter and Tulotoma snail , from endangered to the less critical threatened status. The Okaloosa darter has made significant strides toward recovery since it was added to the endangered species list in 1973. Habitat loss and degradation caused by road and dam construction, siltation from land clearing, and the species’ limited range were principal factors behind the darter's decline.
The small fish makes its home in only six stream systems draining into two Choctawhatchee Bay bayous in Walton and Okaloosa counties in northwest Florida. Most of this watershed drainage area is under the management of Eglin Air Force Base, as is most of the darter's present range. Over 97 percent of the habitat occupied by the darter is located on the base. Eglin has worked in partnership with the Service to restore stream habitat for the darter for more than 15 years. In this time, natural resource managers at Eglin have successfully eliminated over 95 percent of the erosion occurring in darter watersheds, significantly reducing the amount of sediment entering into the darter streams. Artificial impoundments have also been removed and stream connectivity restored, which has opened up additional stream habitat. The population of darters on the base has improved dramatically in response to these habitat improvement efforts.
Photo Credit: Paul Johnson, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Shortly after recognizing the Okaloosa darter’s improved status, the Service announced the reclassification of the Tulotoma snail. This ornate river snail was listed as endangered in 1991 after it disappeared from 98 percent of its range. The species was only known to occur in five localized areas in Alabama at that time. The improved status of the snail is the result of coordinated efforts by Service recovery biologists and a score of partners, including the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Alabama Power Company, and the Alabama Clean Water Partnership. Recovery actions benefitting the species have led to the discovery of additional populations and improved habitat conditions below dams for the snail.
Last year also offered a ray of hope for the critically endangered Alabama lampmussel , when it was discovered in the Emory River, a tributary to the lower Clinch River in Tennessee. This was an exciting discovery for the Service and state partners in Tennessee and Alabama, since the species’ range was thought to have been reduced to an 8-mile (13-kilometer) stretch of Alabama’s Paint Rock River system. Later in the year, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Center for Aquatic Biodiversity, with support from Tennessee Valley Authority and the National Park Service, released over 1,000 cultured Alabama lampmussels into Bear Creek in northern Alabama to help bolster the species in this location. Similar augmentations will continue throughout 2012 at the 3 sites in Alabama where extant populations remain.
The many successes of 2011 came from the persistence, dedication, and passion of those working to conserve and restore the region’s endangered and threatened plant and animal species. With continued support from its many conservation partners, the Service’s Southeast Region is optimistic that 2012 may serve as another banner year for species recovery.
Kelly Ann Bibb, Recovery Coordinator of the Service’s Southeast Region, can be contacted at email@example.com or 404-679-7132.
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