Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Tennessee

The State of Tennessee extends from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the east to the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain in the west, encompassing parts of ten physiographic provinces within its borders. Historically, hardwood forests dominated the landscape across Tennessee. Bottomland hardwood forests predominately occurred in the Coastal Plain and Mississippi River Alluvial Plain regions in west Tennessee. Tennessee has over 60,000 miles of streams that occur within 13 major basins. The State’s streams support over 300 species of fish. Additionally, over 40 percent of the 300 species of freshwater mussels known to occur within the United States, occur (or occurred) within the State. The large number of aquatic species in the State’s waters result in the most diverse assemblage of aquatic fauna in the country. Human population growth and associated development, along with changes in land use practices, have resulted in significant changes in the State’s natural resources. Over 50 percent of the State’s wetlands have been lost, most streams in west Tennessee have been channelized, and 20 percent of the streams across the State have been impounded. Also, over 30 percent of the river miles within the State are either partially or not supporting their designated uses with only 50 percent having been assessed. In addition, approximately 155 miles of rivers are posted due to high bacterial levels hazardous to humans, and 120 miles are posted due to contaminated fish.

Habitats of Special Concern
Although the streams of Tennessee support a high diversity of aquatic fauna, many species of freshwater mussels and fish inhabiting the streams are considered rare or are federally listed as threatened or endangered. Tennessee streams harbor 70 species of fish and mussels that are listed as either federally threatened or endangered or are considered at risk. Many of these species occur within the middle and upper reaches of watersheds that are influenced directly by surface runoff from various land use practices.

Habitat loss from stream and riparian (streamside) habitat alteration and water quality degradation from non-point sources are the greatest threats to aquatic resources within the upper reaches of many watersheds. As you move downstream in the watersheds, point source and multiple-use issues increase the complexity of efforts needed to maintain healthy communities of native aquatic organisms.

Conservation Strategies
The conservation activities of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are concentrated in Tennessee within watersheds that have federally listed aquatic species. The headwaters of tributary streams are priorities because small changes to land use practices can create great benefits for aquatic resources. Because of the land ownership patterns, use of natural resources, and the landowners’ desire to manage their lands in an environmentally sensitive manner, the greatest opportunities to benefit fish and wildlife resources occur on agricultural lands. Additionally, due to the availability of various agricultural programs and incentives, funds expended by the Partners Program can be leveraged to accomplish more restoration work. Typical activities include fencing to exclude livestock from streams, providing offstream water supplies, streambank stabilization, riparian reforestation, and restoration of in-stream habitats. Removing livestock from a stream, providing alternative water supplies, and reforestation of riparian habitat costs approximately $18,000 per mile in these headwater reaches. Streambank stabilization and restoration of instream habitats are significantly more expensive and can exceed $50,000 per mile. The Partners Program also restores bottomland hardwood forest wetlands within these priority watersheds. Restorations are done on lands previously converted to agricultural crop use. Drainage tiles are removed, ditches are plugged, and the site is replanted with bottomland hardwood tree seedlings. The cost of wetland restoration averages $500 per acre.

In order to better achieve the program goals, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program will work with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to use the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS) to help guide its restoration efforts. One aspect of the CWCS’s mission, which is similar to the Partners program, emphasizes identifying, protecting, and managing habitat for rare species. The CWCS will provide much needed information on species location and will assist in locating target areas for future Partners Program funds. With the help of the CWCS, the Partners Program will continue to work with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and other partners in addressing conservation needs throughout Tennessee. For more information about the CWCS, reference the internet link wcs/cwcsindex.html.

The Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program started in Tennessee in 1997. From 1998 through 2006:

  • Wildlife habitat on private lands has been restored, enhanced, or protected on over 130 Partners for Fish and Wildlife projects
  • 64 miles of riparian habitat have been restored
  • Over 233 acres of riparian buffers have been protected by excluding livestock from streams
  • Over 100 acres of exotic pest plant control have been implemented
  • Over 100 acres of native grasses have been planted for early successional migratory bird species

Future Needs

  • Restore, protect, and/or enhance cave habitats for species of concern, threatened, and endangered species which occur within the karst region of the Lower Tennessee/Cumberland Rivers ecosystem
  • 36,000 miles of degraded stream and riparian habitat are in need of restoration
  • Restore bottomland hardwood habitat for the prothonotary warbler, wood duck, ivory bill woodpecker and other bottomland hardwood species
  • Over 1,200,000 acres of lost or degraded wetlands could be restored in the State.

Contact Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Tennessee

Brad Bingham
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
446 Neal Street
Cookeville, Tennessee  38501
Phone: (931)528-6481, ext. 205
Fax: 931-528-7075


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