Habitat Restoration, Appalachian Style

Article excerpt

A high level of biodiversity, particularly one encompassing the rarer components of riverine and mountain bog ecosystems, is the chief criterion in selecting areas for restoration efforts. The primary goals of Asheville's habitat restoration program are the reduction of nonpoint source pollution and the elimination of other threats to aquatic and bog communities. Habitat enhancement efforts will ultimately benefit nearly 50 federally-listed species (including 32 mussels, 10 fishes, and several plants) as well as dozens of other rare riverine and bog organisms.

Our Asheville office also has initiated bog restoration projects in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. One of the most endangered ecosystems in the southeast, mountain bogs harbor unique plant and animal communities, including five federally listed plants and animals, and one species currently proposed for listing. Stakeholders, which include TNC, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Zoo Atlanta, North Carolina Herpetological Society, North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, NCWRC, University of North Carolina at Asheville, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NRCS, and bog owners, have banded together to protect and rehabilitate bog habitats. Specific restoration activities include restoring hydrology by plugging drain tiles once installed to convert bogs to agricultural lands, controlling nuisance invasive woody vegetation by practicing limited controlled burning (see photo at left) and other methods, and erecting riparian fencing. Rare plants and animals that had disappeared are being reintroduced into historically occupied bog sites where suitable habitat conditions have been restored.

A herd of Herefords mosey along after a lazy summer morning grazing the floodplain pasture. The cattle follow the familiar path leading to the thirst-quenching river they have relied on since birth. Suddenly, the lead animal gets a jolt, causing the rest of them to stop in their tracks. This herd has not yet adapted to the farmer's newly-installed electric fence that protects severely eroding stream banks from their hooves, nor to the alternate watering source, both provided through the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. But the cows will learn.

The Partners program was established to provide private landowners with funds to restore fish and wildlife habitats. At the same time, Partners projects such as stream bank restoration reduce significant non-point sources of water quality degradation. In fact, Partners funding has played an instrumental role in jump-starting the aquatic habitat restoration program of the FWS Asheville, North Carolina, Field Office. Working in an area that encompasses Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, northern Alabama, and northern Georgia, the Asheville office currently coordinates 10 watershed-based riparian and 7 mountain bog habitat restoration projects. These restoration projects, now in various stages of implementation, are cooperative efforts among dozens of stakeholders, including several other FWS field offices and teams from three FWS ecosystems (Southern Appalachian, Lower Tennessee-Cumberland, and Ohio River Valley).

Asheville's habitat restoration initiatives have used Partners funds as seed money to help conservation organizations initiate specific projects. At the top of our long list of partners is The Nature Conservancy (TNC). With similar biodiversity protection goals, Asheville and TNC have formed a longstanding partnership in riparian habitat and mountain bog restoration projects.

The Clinch River Community Project (CRCP), initiated in 1993, is a classic example of building upon the expertise of several agencies and organizations to bring a major habitat restoration project to fruition. According to TNC, the upper Clinch River, located in the species-rich Tennessee River system, has more at-risk mussel and fish species (48) than any other small watershed in the country. …