Steven A. Ellis
At 10:16 PM 11/20/01 -0400, you wrote:
>November 13, 2001 Ken Burton
> WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM A LOT OF FRIENDS,
> THE TINY BOULDER DARTER BEGINS A PROMISING JOURNEY
>The tiny boulder darter, a shy, 3-inch long perch-like fish, was once
>plentiful along most of the 200 miles of Tennessee's Elk River. But by
>1988, dams, agricultural runoff, erosion and silt deposits moved the fish to
>the list of endangered species. Today, thanks to a lot of friends, the
>little fish is making its first hesitant steps on the road to recovery.
>"This represents a new approach for working in watersheds with partners, to
>concentrate on the bigger picture, rather than individual species," said
>Andrew Currie of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "A few years ago, what
>we've done for the boulder darter would have been viewed as too
>'out-of-the-box' or non-traditional," said Currie, who manages a national
>fish hatchery complex that includes Wolf Creek near Jamestown, Kentucky, and
>Dale Hollow near Celina, Tennessee.
>Currie's hatcheries are just part of the mix that includes field offices
>that manage, among other things, the Endangered Species Act; four National
>Wildlife Refuges; a private corporation, Conservation Fisheries, Inc.; the
>Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and a state chapter of The Nature
>The boulder darter's biggest problem was the disappearance of flat rocks,
>which provided two essentials for the fish: a place for their food to grow,
>and the essential hiding places they favor, both for cover and for spawning.
>Years of fluctuating tailwater releases from dams and agricultural runoff
>left much of the river's banks eroded and the bottom heavily silted. As the
>darter's historic habitat began to disappear, the darter itself started down
>the same path.
>The answer, Currie said, was to try to put some flat rocks back in the
>river. The first try employed concrete blocks, but they didn't work. A
>second try involved placing flat limestone rocks in the river -- a
>physically demanding and labor-intensive effort -- and it worked.
>"This is not only turning into a very effective effort for the boulder
>darter," Currie said, "but this is something that can eventually benefit
>sport fish. Crayfish like to get under those same rocks, and that's a meal
>for sport fish. Freshwater mussels will benefit. We've got multiple
>When Pat Rakes and JR Shute were graduate students at the University of
>Tennessee, (UT) they did a lot of work with imperiled fish. They took their
>interest and expertise with them when left UT and eventually founded
>Conservation Fisheries, Inc., (CFI) one of the few private non-profit
>corporations in the United States that exists to help recover troubled fish
>species, and operates its own hatchery.
>Half the boulder darters restocked in Tennessee have come from CFI, and the
>other half, from the Chattahoochee Forest National Fish Hatchery near
>Suches, Ga. The CFI fish were stocked in Tennessee near Fayetteville, and
>the national hatchery fish, near Hamilton Mill. Rakes is encouraged by what
>he has seen happen to the boulder darter at the Fayetteville site, the only
>location where the work with slab rock has been completed. He is the first
>to caution that the numbers are small; still, when an imperiled species
>shows any increase ? from seeing 5 or 6 two years ago, to seeing a couple of
>dozen in the same place today ? biologists consider the upswing significant.
>"We've seen more darters in the area where we've stocked the fish, and
>those increases have been where we placed slab rock," said Rakes.
>Both Rakes and Currie note that the boulder darter, a fish native to the
>Elk River, is one of those indicator species ? one whose diminished presence
>can become Mother Nature's 9-1-1 call, telling scientists that something is
>amiss. "We help the darter, we help ourselves," said Currie. "These fish
>are in trouble for a reason. When they are thriving, we know that the
>river is thriving. Among other things, it also means clean water, and
>that's important for all of us."
>For Currie, work with the boulder darter started in 1999. He is clearly
>proud of what the Service and all the agency's partners have accomplished so
>far. "It can take a long time in this line of work to see results.
>Sometimes you can work just as hard and see nothing. But when you can begin
>to see a payoff, it feels good. Conservation has real rewards. But it's
>not work for the short-winded," Currie said.
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