Forestry BMPs and At-Risk Aquatic Species in the Southeast

Are Conservation Practices Protecting Aquatic Communites?

RBC researchers Dr. Seth Wenger and Dr. Duncan Elkins are teaming up with USGS Co-op investigators Dr. Cecil Jennings and Dr. Brian Irwin to achieve a better understanding of the effectiveness of the current best management practices (BMPs) in place in public and private forests at protecting sensitive aquatic species and their habitats.  This project, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, focuses on the Southeastern U.S., roughly east of the Mississippi River and south of the Ohio River.  The goal is to provide assessments and information for conservation planning, paying close attention to areas that are subject to active timberland uses that could pose a potential threat to aquatic species.

While forestry is the primary land use over much of the Southeast, freshwater systems are arguably just as important ecologically and economically. Almost 200 species of freshwater fishes, mussels, and crayfishes are currently considered sensitive or “at-risk” in the region. Forestry BMPs are designed to preserve water quality in the waters that support these aquatic species.   However, while BMPs are implemented at high rates, there is a lack of solid information on their efficiency in supporting at-risk aquatic species.  This information gap is especially prevalent in the Southeastern U.S., where work by the RBC and Tennessee Aquarium has documented high levels of imperilment in several major river systems.

Efficient forestry BMPs are extremely important not only for improving habitats for already at-risk species but for maintaining the ideal habitat for common species alike.  This project hopes to use historical database observations to evaluate the effect of recent forestry management activities on aquatic organisms. Through analyzing forest cover, land use, and forestry BMP implementations, this project is meant to provide the protection and improvement of freshwater habitats for aquatic organisms in the Southeast.

Image: USDA
Image: USDA