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A small fish covered in small, colorful polka dots of red and black
Information icon The Bayou darter is only found in one small watershed in Mississippi, and is listed as threatened under the ESA. Photo by Matt Wagner, Mississippi Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife helps Mississippi landowners, threatened fish

The Bayou Pierre River meanders for 95 miles through southwestern Mississippi, where it eventually flows into the mighty Mississippi River. More than 60 different kinds of fish make their home in its watershed, and one of them, the Bayou darter, has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1975. It’s the only place in the world where the little 2-inch fish is found.

The darter likes shallow, fast-flowing streams with gravel streambeds, and those are plentiful in the Bayou Pierre watershed, although not as plentiful as they used to be. Agriculture, gravel mining and forestry have all contributed to pollution and increased sedimentation, which the darter definitely doesn’t like, and which also degrades the water quality for the people who live nearby. And some stream banks have serious problems with erosion, which also makes the water less clear.

Two biologists pull tight a seine used to catch fish.
Tamara Campbell, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jacob Whatley, a local high school student, use a net to survey for Bayou darters. Photo by James Austin, USFWS.

“We’re trying to improve water quality for the entire Bayou Pierre watershed, which is the only place this darter is found,” said James Austin, a private lands biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s field office in Jackson, Mississippi, who works for the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act allows the Service to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners to restore private land to improve fish and wildlife habitats.

A stream bank stabilized by large stones using heavy machinery.
The Service restored a stream bank on private property, which benefits both the property owner and the Bayou darter. Photo by James Austin, USFWS.

It benefits both landowners and many species, in this case Copiah County landowner Amanda Hall and the Bayou darter.

“On her property, Jackson Creek was a stream that came under a bridge and made a sharp bend,” Austin explained. “Where the water hit the stream bank at the turn, it was causing extreme erosion and collapsing that bank. The more that bank collapsed, the more land she was losing.”

And the more the bank collapsed, the more sediment poured into the stream, muddying the water and further endangering efforts to recover the darter.

In cooperation with the Copiah County Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Southeastern Aquatic Resources Partnership, the Service re-graded the problematic bank in the fall of 2017, giving it a much gentler slope, then covered it with large rocks. “The rocks stabilize the bank and hold it in place, which will prevent further erosion,” Austin said.

The Service has been working with other landowners in the area on other projects to improve water quality, and does outreach through a partnership called the Bayou Pierre Enhancement Group. The group includes the Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Copiah County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Representatives explain the benefits of watershed restoration to landowners and students at local schools.

Contact

Phil Kloer, Public affairs specialist
Philip_kloer@fws.gov, (404) 679-7299

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