Southeastern Fishes Council
Dedicated to the Conservation of Southeastern Fishes


2000 Report of Region 2 - Southeast
Conservation Notes

Paraphrasing a "Tale of Two Cities," the future conservation status of southeastern fishes teeters between: "the worst of times, the less worst of times." Looming before us are perhaps the most serious threats to southeastern fishes and stream habitats. Yet, seemingly poised to counteract at least some of effects of population growth is a remarkable document: "Strategy for the Conservation and Recovery of Southeastern Imperiled Fishes." The final version will be available by the publication time of this issue. This document, a true consensus strategy, is the product of an October 1999 workshop in Chattanooga among 11 southeastern states and eight federal agencies. Even more remarkable is the likely availability of funding (billions of dollars) through the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), which seems certain to pass both houses and be signed by President Clinton. Without the consensus document and funding, the future of many southeastern fishes and habitats would be bleak. These are discussed in detail.

1. Tri-State Water Project: Perhaps the apocalyptic predictions of the new millennium were true. Instead of famine and pestilence, instead of bizarre collection permit requirements, instead of data mongers, lapping at the door is water wars-eastern style. This project centers around the future water needs of three states, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, specifically involving interbasin transfer between the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint rivers (ACF,) and the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa rivers (ACT). Of the three states, Georgia has the most to gain relative to long-term water supply for Atlanta. The multiple agencies involved in the project are unable to agree on how much water should be withdrawn from what, to where, and when (allocation formulas). There also is no consensus on potential deleterious biological effects, and on where and when to conduct monitoring. A federal mediator may have to intervene and make decisions for all parties involved if no consensus is reached. From all non-Atlanta positions, the project appears to be a no-win situation. In fairness, the federal mediator seems cognizant of environmental concerns. However, given the hackneyed call-to-arms, "it's either the economy or the environment" (read my lips), well, we know who wins. A copy of the most recent draft agreement may be obtained from: Heather Hallows, Assistant to the Federal Commissioner, ACT/ACF River Basin Commissions, Atlanta office phone (404) 223-2264x307; Ft. Benning office phone (706) 689-2254, cell phone (706) 575-8435.

Whatever agreement is finally reached, it will set an uneasy precedent. Interbasin transfers will likely become a reoccurring theme as southeastern metropolises grow beyond their immediate carrying capacity and vie for neighboring resources. This phenomena is happening across the South. For example, Tampa, Florida, is hunting for additional sources of freshwater and has floated a proposition to pipe water south from the Suwannee River. To date, this proposal has been successfully opposed. Because coastal cities are rapidly expanding, urban planners will increasingly look to inland freshwater sources for future supply. Engineers will undoubtedly view every drop above the 7Q10 in flowing rivers as "excess water." For inland cities, off-river or headwater water-supply impoundments are the current cure for water shortages. Atlanta plans to encircle itself with a ring of such impoundments. Besides fragmenting rivers, these small impoundments could impact headwater species with limited ranges. In the case of Atlanta, small adjacent towns such as Canton are under pressure to plan their own off-river impoundments. The adjacent large-small city pattern could result in a cascade of river fragmentation and direct habitat loss for listed or imperiled fishes.

2. The 100-year Southeastern Timber Stand: Another large-scale, serious threat to fishes and habitats is the tremendous economic attractiveness of the hundred-year stand of southeastern forests. Eighty-nine percent of southeastern forests are in private ownership (20% owned by timber companies; 69% by individuals and non-timber companies). Only 11% of forests are on federal lands (6% national forests; 7% other federal ownership). Projected harvest rates predict logging in Tennessee alone will increase by 100% in the next decade. Although logging on private lands is supposed to follow established Best Management Practices, apparently that rarely happens. In fact, timber rustling (surreptitious logging of somebody else's land), is becoming more common due to the big bucks for lumber-grade timber, especially hardwoods. With so little southeastern forest land owned by the USDA National Forest Service, it does not seem very prudent to harvest timber from these lands.

Massive logging across the southeast is very likely in the next two decades. The size of the operations will range from immense chip mills to individual operations. Proposals to develop several large chip mill plants in Tennessee and north Alabama were recently denied, but it is just a matter of time before permits are given. We know logging the last 100-year stand in the southeast caused tremendous erosional problems in creeks and rivers, but at that time there was no such thing as Best Management Practices. The ensuing erosion was tremendous, particularly in the upper Piedmont where soils are generally very erodible (actually, channelization was, in part, a "solution" to the "sediment" problem). While modern operations do not use splash dams or cut down every tree, the sheer scope of operations and rate of timber removal will create tremendous stressors on fishes and habitats.

Given the array of threats that are reasonably anticipated, levels of imperilment in southeastern fishes will significantly increase without significant efforts to recover habitats and establish connected river refugia. The cumulative effects of human population growth may push many southeastern fishes to levels of imperilment currently experienced by freshwater mussels. Southeastern fishes have endured previous episodes of persistence-threatening, large scale events (e.g.,pervasive water pollution prior to the Clean Water Act, era of high dam construction). It is remarkable that some species have even persisted this long. However, the rate, magnitude, and permanence of change across the southeastern landscape has never been greater: more change will occur in the next two decades than during the entire history of European colonization. That unprecedented level of pervasive stressors will undoubtedly force marginally persisting fishes closer to extinction.

The good news is there is the chance for an equally unprecedented level of conservation work on southeastern fishes and habitats. In October 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought together three representatives from 11 southeastern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia), representatives from eight federal agencies (Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service), U.S. Geological Survey, and the Tennessee Valley Authority), and representatives from academia. The goal of the three-day facilitated workshop was to produce a consensus agreement on what actions were needed to address, slow, abate, and correct the increasing levels of imperilment in southeastern freshwater fishes. For the 60+ participants, the workshop was a wringing, exhaustive experience. The document resulting from the workshop, "Strategy for the Conservation and Recovery of Southeastern Imperiled Fishes" by Dick Biggins and Vince Mudrak, is in the third draft at this writing. This document was modeled after the strategic plan for the recovery of mussels, which already has fostered a significant increase in the conservation research and stream restoration work.

I believe this document may be the single most important effort to date towards the conservation and restoration of southeastern imperiled fishes. Researchers from academia and governments will be able to use the document to support need and justification of proposed work on southeastern imperiled fishes. No longer will protection of brook trout habitat be the primary objective in studies of upland, nongame fishes. While many have talked and written about the cooperation needed to effect change in patterns of decline, this document is an example of, and a vehicle for cooperative efforts. As bleak as the potential future is for imperiled southeastern fishes, this document offers a mechanism to begin counteracting the forces of degradation.

The strategic plan also has the support of conservation organizations, the Tennessee Aquarium, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. While the strategic plan alone is just another unfunded federal mandate, serendipity strikes: the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA, H.R. 701), a bipartisan bill with strong support, may literally bring billions of new dollars to states for a variety of conservation and environmental projects. In my opinion, this is a bona fide miracle! Areas and levels of funding that could benefit southeastern freshwater fishes are: 1) Impact Assistance and Coastal Conservation - $1 billion; 2) Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Fund - $350 million; 3) Conservation Easements and Species Recovery - $150 million. This act is supported by diverse, multiple groups who recognize the economic importance of viable natural resources. Some of these groups are: U.S. Conference of Mayors, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, The Wildlife Society, Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation, The Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, National Recreation and Park Association, Izaak Walton League of America, Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, The National Wild Turkey Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wildlife Management Institute, Association for Biodiversity Information, Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, and many more.

Research Notes

Georgia: Steve Vives (Georgia Southern University), and his student William Tate are looking at the effect of pH on habitat choice in sunfishes. A new student, Joel Fleming, is interested in the study of movements by shortnose sturgeon. This work is sponsored by Ft. Stewart Military Reservation.

The folks from the Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experimental Station, Vicksburg - Jan Hoover (JJH), Jack Killgore (KJK), Jan Hoover, Phil Kirk (JPK), Steven George (SGG), and Bradley Lewis (BRL) - are working on multiple projects in the southeast. In addition, the ardent collector, Neil Douglas (NHD), Professor Emeritus, University of Louisiana (Monroe) and William Lancaster (WEL), a commercial fisherman, are working on some of the projects. Distilled from the 17-page list sent by Jan are notes on the following projects. Savannah River Drainage - Faunal survey of streams on military lands (JJH, KJK, SGG, BRL, NHD)- Streams in Fort Gordon (Georgia) were sampled for invertebrates and fishes to identify nursery and feeding grounds. Noteworthy was the discovery of several populations of Bluebarred Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma okatie). In a previous study (18 stations sampled quarterly), the bluebarred pygmy sunfish was documented only at a single location at one stream: Boggy Gut Creek. In this study, it was observed at several locations and is now documented from four of the five principal streams on the army installation. Habitat models are being developed for this and other aquatic species.

Ogeeche River System - Shortnose sturgeon study (JPK) - The portion of the Ogeeche River in Fort Stewart (Georgia) was sampled last year for shortnose sturgeon. Fish are being tagged (externally and with PIT tags) and fin clips are taken for aging. Mark/recapture and age/growth data will be used to create population models, assess population status, and develop management protocols.

Three of four symposia, conferences, or workshops on stream restoration and conservation of southeastern imperiled aquatic species have occurred, and the fourth (EEEF, see below) will be held in May, all within one year. A conference on "Stream Restoration and Protection was held in Asheville, NC on 17-20 August 1999. Like so many workshops, biologists, hydrologists, and urban planners were in different concurrent sessions. At the conference I heard new terms: "training"or "re-training" streams. Immediately one thinks, "Bad creek, how many times have I told you not to jump your banks?" Seriously, consulting firms see restoration as the next economic bandwagon, but what they view as restoration is a different concept than that of most aquatic ecologists.

The Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society and the Southeastern Fishes Council had a joint meeting in Savannah on 3 to 6 February 2000. The SDAFS/SFC Symposium on "Conservation of Freshwater Nongame Aquatic Fauna in the Southeast - Challenges for a New Millennium", was the most-attended symposium or session at the meeting. SFC members were the majority of speakers. Peggy Shute, (TVA) winner of the first ASIH Carter Gilbert Decorum award, retook her claim to the award barely one minute into her talk.

A symposium, hosted by Gene Helfman (University of Georgia) and Steve Vives, entitled "Ethology, Evolutionary Ecology, and Conservation of Fishes (EEEF?) will be held at the University of Georgia, Athens during 20-24 May 2000. DarterFest will be held in conjunction with the symposium on 24-25 May. For further information, see the meeting website: http://sparc.ecology.uga.edu/~helfman/eeef.html.

Mark Scott, a Ph.D. student working with Gene, plans to conduct a study of (as part of the Coweeta LTER site) the relation of stream physical and chemical habitats, and an analysis of spatial and temporal scale influences of landscape use on fish assemblages in 36 subbasins in the upper Tennessee drainage of western NC.

Bud Freeman (also UGA) is his usual frenzied self, simultaneously handling multiple Section Six contracts on listed fishes, while being an active member of Robust Redhorse recovery team. Bud is one of the authors contributing to the comprehensive list and conservation status of southern fishes, an effort led by Mel Warren (USDA Forest Service Hydrology Research Laboratory, Oxford, Mississippi) and other SFC members. The list probably will be published in a forthcoming issue of Fisheries. Also, Bud is part of the Jenkinsonian redhorse saga, now spanning decades, and only two decades to go before eclipsing the pre-publication wait for the Fishes of Virginia. Mary Freeman (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Athens Laboratory) has been active in the study of the effects of regulated river reaches on fish community persistence and composition. Some of Mary's work suggest that the general philosophy of mediating for the highest possible discharges (as run-of-river flows) from high dams may not be the best long term approach. She has interesting data showing the "little fishes" benefit from periods of low flow, possibly due to increased spawning success. Mary has been plugging away at the Halloween Darter description; this spring I will assist Mary in photographing the cryptic darter. Mary and Bud were participants in the aforementioned U.S. Fish and Wildlife Workshop on imperiled fishes. Dean Fletcher (Savannah River Ecological Laboratory) published several interesting contributions to the life history of Pteronotropis hypselopterus (with David Wilins and P. welaka in Copeia (1999 Number 2).

Florida: I'll state it right out front: Jim Williams (USGS Florida Caribbean Science Center) out-published everybody in the state. The single fish paper of significance (with George Burgess, Florida Museum of Natural History), is the description the shoal bass Micropterus cataractae, a fish so well-known that it may not have needed formal description (long known common name and binomen). In fact, the shoal bass has been known since Carl Hubb's time and would have been described by Rafinesque, had he visited the area. Jim also published a name correction for the pygmy sculpin, Cottus palus [seems pygmaeus was occupied by a Russian sculpin]. Additionally, Jim published several clam papers, which I correctly noted would be of little interest to SFC members.

Other ichthyologists at the FCSC did not fair as well as Jim (except Bill Smith-Vaniz, who published a book on Bermuda fishes, but that doesn't count because it covers marine species). Steve Walsh and I will try to complete the ms on patterns of imperilment in southern Appalachian fishes this year, and Howard Jelks and I have completed revision of a manuscript examining the effects of suspended sediment on the reproductive success of the Tricolor Shiner Cyprinella trichroistia. Steve Walsh is also one of the authors on the Warren et al. manuscript on the conservation status of southern fishes. Steve is the liaison between the FCSC and the Mobile River National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) study (Montgomery, AL office of USGS Water Resources Division). Leo Nico and Jeff Herod are working on several aspects of nonindigenous fish biology in South Florida (community interactions, age and growth, and dietary studies). The Asian swamp eel (Monopterus albus) has caught the public's attention, most recently by Life magazine. Howard Jelks and Frank Jordan (Loyola University, New Orleans) are in the sixth year of monitoring the endangered Okaloosa darter on Eglin Air Force Base, western Florida. Howard and Frank are reviewing the first five years of data to determine if any changes are needed in the protocol. Howard and I are also working on a handbook of the fishes of Eglin Air Force Base. Each of the 63 species found on the base will have a species account with a color picture, a dot distribution map, and biological information. Howard, Steve Walsh, and myself are funded to examine the spread of the introduced red shiner (Cyprinella lutrensis) in the upper Coosa River system, Georgia. If the red shiner is spreading, we plan to conduct experiments examining the reproductive interactions between the threatened blues shiner (C. caerulea) and the red shiner. Pam Fuller indicated that the Nonindigenous Database for fishes now has 17,000+ records. Please contact Pam (352.378.8181, ex312; pam_fuller@usgs.gov) if you have any records of nonindigenous fishes from your areas of study. The database is at the center's website: http://nas.er.usgs.gov/fishes/fishes.htm.

Carter Gilbert, University of Florida (ret.) emeritus professor, who shies away from me for some reason, admitted he was only retired in stature, not in activity. Work on the Macrhybopsis aestivalis complex continues as is the gestating Florida fishes book. Indeed, I've observed Carter at our lab visiting Jim Williams more times this year than all previous years of my tenure. Perhaps he is learning clams or is subconsciously drawn by some sort of glabrous cephalic synapamorphy. Gray Bass, Florida Department of Conservation, is nearing completion of a fishes of Florida book that will be oriented towards anglers and amateur naturalists. Steve Bortone, now at Florida Center for Environmental Studies, Ft. Myers, is working on the life history of Pteronotropis signipinnis and P. welaka. Steve received funding from the nongame program of the Florida Department of Conservation to conduct this work.

If you wish to have your conservation or research activities for Region II published in a future issue, please contact me (noel_burkhead@usgs.gov).

Noel Burkhead