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Conservation Fisheres, Inc.   Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
International Paper  


Boulder Darter - one of the Rarest Fish in the U.S. - Reintroduced into Shoal Creek, Tennessee and Alabama


May 9, 2005

Timothy Merritt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 931-528-6481, x211
Rick Ouellette, International Paper, 912-655-8411


LAWRENCE COUNTY, Tenn. - May 10, 2005 -- A rare fish that has been on the federal endangered species list for 17 years is being given a new chance at survival in Tennessee River tributary where the fish has not been seen since the 1880s. Today, 217 young boulder darters, grown in a hatchery, are being released by professional foresters and scientists into Shoal Creek, which flows through Lawrence County, Tennessee, and Lauderdale County, Alabama.

“Our partnership of public and private organizations may save the rare boulder darter from extinction,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Before today, this fish only existed in the Elk River in Tennessee and Alabama. Now another population of boulder darters has a chance to gain a foothold in the wild, and perhaps eventually recover to the point that Endangered Species Act protection is no longer needed.”

The Service is joined in the effort by International Paper (IP), Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Conservation Fisheries Inc., (CFI), a non-profit fish conservation organization based in Knoxville, Tenn., that provided the young darters.

As part of reintroducing the darters to Shoal Creek, the fish were placed in bags and then floated in Shoal Creek so they could acclimate to their new environment before being released. CFI will tag each darter, monitor the fish population several times a year and document any spawning behavior.

The boulder darter was listed as endangered in 1988. The only known wild populations of the boulder darter exist in the Elk River, Giles and Lincoln Counties, Tenn., and Limestone County, Ala., and in the lower reaches of Richland Creek, an Elk River tributary. Only three inches in length, the fish is olive-to-gray-colored. There is evidence, based on historically available suitable habitat, that boulder darter fish once inhabited fast-water, rocky habitat in the Tennessee River and its larger tributaries from the Paint Rock River in Madison County, Ala., downstream to at least Shoal Creek.

Boulder darter populations originally disappeared from the Tennessee River system because of poor water quality and the construction of Wilson Dam. However, as a result of the Clean Water Act and environmental control measures by public and private organizations, industries and individuals, the creek’s water quality has greatly improved.

A portion of Shoal Creek adjacent to International Paper forests was identified as the best site for reintroduction of the fish.

“Since 2001, International Paper has been an active partner in preparing to reintroduce the boulder darter into Shoal Creek. While conducting a survey of Shoal Creek, CFI identified a shoal adjacent to an area of our forestlands in southeastern Tennessee as the best habitat for the initial reintroduction, said David A. Liebetreu, International Paper’s vice president, Forest Resources. “Our IP professional foresters and scientists were already involved in the propagation effort, so it was a natural step to reintroduce the fish from the banks of our forestland into the waters that we help to protect. This is a tribute to our protection of water quality and an example of our continuing efforts to protect aquatic biodiversity.”

The reintroduced fish are designated as “nonessential experimental populations under the Endangered Species Act. This classification precludes anyone who accidentally kills or harms the fish from being in violation of the law, provided that the “take” occurs as part of an otherwise lawful activity. Similarly, federal or federally funded projects will not be required to be altered or stopped to protect these darters.

“Non-essential experimental populations are valuable management tools in the recovery of rare species. Because of the reduced regulatory restrictions on these populations, this designation on a portion of Shoal Creek provides a recovery opportunity for the boulder darter that might not otherwise be realized,” said Gary Myers, executive director, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “It is also providing a partnership opportunity for state and federal agencies, conservation organizations and industry to work together toward the common goal of species recovery.”

The boulder darter reintroduction is part of a major, cooperative effort to restore and recover native species in the Tennessee River system. Other projects have included reintroducing the spotfin chub and three other fish species into Abrams Creek in Blount County; augmenting boulder darter populations in the Elk River; and reintroducing the spotfin chub and three other federally-listed species into the Tellico River.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ( is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 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 Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

International Paper ( businesses include paper, packaging and forest products. As one of the largest private landowners in the world, IP professional foresters and wildlife biologists manage the woods with great care in compliance with the rigorous standards of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® program. The SFI® program is an independent certification system that ensures the perpetual planting, growing and harvesting of trees while protecting biodiversity, wildlife, plants, soil, water and air quality. In the U.S. alone, IP protects more than 1.5 million acres of unique and environmentally important habitat on its forestlands through conservation agreements and land sales to environmental groups. And, the company has a long-standing policy of using no wood from endangered forests. Headquartered in the United States , IP has operations in over 40 countries and sells its products in more than 120 nations .

Conservation Fisheries, Inc. is dedicated to the preservation of aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems in the southeastern United States concentrating on the conservation and recovery of rare freshwater fishes using captive propagation, habitat assessment, and low impact monitoring techniques to achieve these goals.

The mission of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is to preserve, conserve, protect, and enhance the fish and wildlife of the state and their habitats for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the citizens of Tennessee and its visitors. The Agency will foster the safe use of the state's waters through a program of law enforcement, education, and access.

Boulder darter --
Boulder darter

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