News: Corps teams up with Nature Conservancy on mussel protection, restoration
Story by Leon Roberts
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville and Memphis Districts teamed up today with The Nature Conservancy to sign a historic Memorandum of Understanding that focuses and coordinates freshwater mussel protection and restoration across Tennessee.
To protect Tennessee’s at-risk populations of mussels and snails inhabiting the state’s rivers and streams, this agreement brings together for the first time the combined scientific expertise and authority of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and The Nature Conservancy.
During the signing ceremony, Lt. Col. Anthony P. Mitchell, Nashville District commander, noted that for the past 60 years the Corps of Engineers has developed modern-era water resources projects in the Cumberland and Tennessee River basins. Those projects converted free flowing river reaches into waterways with deeper pools with more regulated flows.
“These projects provided regional and national benefits such as navigation, flood damage reduction and hydropower to citizens of Tennessee and Kentucky,” Mitchell said. “But these actions also negatively impacted native mollusk species. These detrimental effects were not recognized or considered when the water resources projects were originally constructed.”
Mitchell said for a long time now, the Nashville District has adhered to a set of environmental operating principles, which are to achieve environmental sustainability, consider environmental consequences, seek balance and synergy, accept responsibility, mitigate impacts, understand the environment, and respect other views.
“We’ve greatly improved our processes as a result and continuously strive to put environmental concerns at the forefront of our daily work. But clearly the Corps of Engineers will be able to do more by working closely and together with other state and federal agencies, and non-profit organizations that embrace these same principles,” Mitchell stressed.
Lt. Col. Craig Hamilton, deputy district engineer for the Memphis District, said his district encompasses the far western reaches of Tennessee, but they too recognize the importance of working together with other signees of this historic agreement for the benefit of the mussels and environment. But, he noted, the Memphis District is applying its interest in preserving and protecting mussels outside the boundaries of Tennessee.
“Development of the memorandum of understanding is a significant contribution, collaborative effort of all the partners in the room here today,” Hamilton said. “As you know the state of Tennessee has one of the highest populations of mussel species in the world in our rivers and streams. Protections of these critically endangered organisms need to be considered in all that we do at our projects. The Memphis District supports the goal of halting their decline.”
The signing ceremony took place at The Nature Conservancy in Nashville. The MOU takes effect immediately and remains in effect until Oct. 1, 2015.
Historically, according to The Nature Conservancy, Tennessee’s rivers and streams supported 129 of the 300 species of freshwater mussels in the United States. Tennessee is still among the richest of all states in varieties of freshwater mussels. The Duck River alone, which is wholly contained in Tennessee, is home to 55 species of freshwater mussels. Other Tennessee rivers, such as the Clinch and the Hatchie, also support large varieties of mussels. Freshwater mussels are important indicators of water quality.
“Overall freshwater mussels are the most imperiled single group of animals in the United States and in Tennessee,” said Gina Hancock, interim state director for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee. “Industrial development and impoundment of rivers have been major causes of mussel declines in Tennessee and across the nation. Yet we find that mussels are thriving in Tennessee rivers like the Duck and the Hatchie, where overall the water quality is good and impoundments are minimal. We want to replicate these success stories across the state because clean water that supports mussels and snails means clean drinking water for people too.”
The signatories to the MOU have agreed chiefly to identify and protect high-quality freshwater mussel habitat; to identify historic habitats that should be restored; and to reintroduce mussels to river and stream habitats through cooperative propagation programs. To focus these actions and prioritize them using the best available science, the signatories are developing a statewide strategic plan for freshwater mussel conservation.
Hancock thanked all the representatives at the signing ceremony for joining the effort to protect and preserve fresh water mussels.
“For the conservancy and I hope for all of you, this is just the beginning of our work together to try to affect these amazing animals,” Hancock said.
(Editor’s note: Paul Kingsbury of The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee contributed to this story. The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide and more than 270,000 acres in Tennessee. Visit The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee on the Web at www.nature.org/tennessee.)