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Western North Carolina’s Pigeon River is home to the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel. Photo by Gary Peeples.

The Southeastern drought impedes efforts to recover the Pigeon River

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Greetings and welcome to the Southern Appalachian Creature Feature.

The Pigeon River flows across North Carolina’s Haywood County and into Tennessee, where it joins the French Broad River. The river is infamous for the historical levels of pollution from the Champion Paper mill in Canton, North Carolina - pollution which eliminated a lot of life from the river.

Although not yet to a point many people would like, the effluent from the mill, now Blue Ridge Paper, is a lot cleaner than it used to be and for several years the University of Tennessee has led a project to help restore some of the aquatic diversity to the Pigeon River. Biologists have raised fish in captivity for release into the river; they’ve collected fish from healthy populations and moved them into the Pigeon, and they’ve monitored the reintroduced species to make sure the effort is working.

However, during 2008 recovery work was slowed because of the drought. Fish collections were limited in both Tennessee and North Carolina, and fall collections on the North Carolina side had to be canceled altogether due to low flow. Biologists attempted to snorkel sites on the Tennessee side of the river to monitor previously-released fish, but that too had to be canceled due to low water. All this serves as a reminder that despite the lack of headlines, we’re still in a drought, affecting not only our ability to water lawns, but also our region’s natural heritage.

For WNCW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this is Gary Peeples.

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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