For Immediate Release
October 9, 1998

Contact: Tom MacKenzie
404/679-7291
Diana M. Hawkins
404/679-7293

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE TO PRESENT CONSERVATION AWARD TO   CHAMPION INTERNATIONAL

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will present Champion International Corporation, with a special conservation award in recognition of the Stamford, Connecticut, paper and forest products company's contributions to the conservation of the natural resources of the upper Tar River system in North Carolina.

The award, being presented October 13, 1998, by the Service's Southeast Regional Director, Sam Hamilton, at an 11:45 a.m. ceremony at Camp Moratock Boy Scout Camp, Halifax County, NC, recognizes the corporation's commitment to conserve on company lands, 200-foot-wide stream buffers, encompassing more than 32 miles of streams within the Tar system.

According to Hamilton, this effort represents one of the most significant private conservation activities focusing on North Carolina's remaining areas of high aquatic biodiversity. He noted that the numerous benefits it provides to local landowners and communities are invaluable to North Carolina's and the Nation's biodiversity. "Champion is to be highly commended for their corporate leadership and initiative toward the conservation of this globally significant river system," he said.

This commitment was made by means of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Champion International signed February 1998 with the Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, and North Carolina Partners in Flight. All parties to this MOU have agreed to work together towards the conservation and protection of aquatic diversity, water quality, and wildlife habitat within the upper Tar River system.

The upper Tar River system in north-central North Carolina provides habitat for reproducing populations of at least ten rare freshwater mussels, including two federally-endangered species and three other species that are potential candidates for federal listing.

In recognizing the importance of Champion International's contribution, Hamilton pointed out that freshwater mussels are extremely important to the health of aquatic ecosystems. Because mussels are filter feeders, he said, they serve as natural water filters removing large quantities of suspended solids (and contaminants) from the water. Native freshwater mussels are one of the most reliable indicators of the health of aquatic ecosystems. Streams that still support a diversity and abundance of freshwater mussels also generally support the richest diversity and healthiest remaining populations of other sensitive aquatic faunal groups. The loss or decline of freshwater mussel communities provides an early warning that other aquatic species and biological integrity of the ecosystem are at risk. They also serve as a food source for a number of invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammal species and their shells help to stabilize the stream bottom and provide substratum and habitat for numerous other invertebrates as well as spawning and cover habitat for darters, madtoms, and other bottom dwelling fishes.

The Tar River system is one of the last and best remaining strongholds among the rivers that drain into the Atlantic Ocean for this extremely important group of animals. The world's greatest diversity of mussels occurs in the continental United States, with 94 percent of the nation's freshwater mussel taxa inhabiting the Southeast. The southeastern United States has been characterized as the world's "rain forest" of freshwater mollusk diversity. However, during the last century, mussels have suffered a decline greater than that documented for any other wide ranging animal group in the Continental United States. Approximately two-thirds of the Nation's native mussel species are considered to be either extinct, endangered, threatened with extinction or of special concern and in need of conservation.

The width of these stream buffers and the way in which Champion will manage these riparian habitats will contribute to the conservation of not only aquatic resources, but declining bird species, amphibians, and other terrestrial wildlife. Forested stream buffers purify water by removing sediment, excessive nutrients, and other pollutants from storm water runoff. They maintain the integrity and stability of streambanks and channels and help reduce flood damage, thereby protecting downstream habitats and properties. They provide important nesting, feeding, and roosting habitats and travel corridors for neotropical migratory birds, waterfowl, amphibians, fur-bearing mammals and numerous other game and non-game wildlife. Not only do these benefits contribute to the recovery of endangered species and help reduce the likelihood of more species becoming endangered, they contribute to public well-being by maintaining and enhancing human health and economic, recreational, and aesthetic values of the region.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprising more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

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Release #: R98-093


1998 News Releases

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