Watercress darter (Etheostoma nuchale)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 172516061
Enhancing and Maintaining Critical Habitat and Survival of the Endangered Watercress Darter (Etheostoma nuchale) in an Urban Watershed
The overall objectives of this project are to (1) assess and monitor all potential sources of natural and anthropogenic disturbances to critical watercress darter habitat; (2) perform post-restoration habitat suitability surveys, including: aquatic vegetation surveys, and assays of the surrounding floral species composition and vertical structure; (3) complete and continue post-restoration management strategies, including: invasive species removal, maintenance of optimal canopy gaps, and flood mitigation, bank stabilization, and erosion remediation; (4) facilitate federal, state, and local scientific research by providing equipment and guidance, assisting with fieldwork, and coordinating a bio blitz to assess the community composition; and (5) increase educational outreach by installing informative signage and collaborating with local academic institutions.
During this project, Freshwater Land Trust has improved three of the six critical habitats home to the federally endangered watercress darter in Jefferson County, Alabama: Seven Springs (Valley Creek watershed), Tapawingo (Penny) Springs (Turkey Creek watershed), and Roebuck Springs (Village Creek watershed). These habitats are ongoing locations for monitoring, research, restoration, management, consideration for future projects, and focal points for means to engage with current and potential partners and the larger community. Since the start of the grant project, all three sites were visited at least once a month by Jeffrey Drummond, Director of Stewardship at FLT. Over the course of the project, FLT has hosted a number of events at these different sites to fulfill the objectives and goals outlined in our grant proposal.
On Saturday March 3rd, conservation biologist Bernie Kuhajda and students from the University of Alabama Gadsden Center visited Freshwater Land Trust properties to sample for watercress darters. Jeffrey Drummond facilitated and assisted in leading these activities. This was a positive learning opportunity for about 15 students, and it facilitated a darter sampling in three of the six springs where watercress darters are known to live. Two of these – Seven Springs and Tapawingo (Penny) Springs – are among the three focus areas named in the grant project. Forty-four watercress were collected at Tapawingo Springs, and 43 were collected at Seven Springs. Furthermore, one warrior darter (Etheostoma bellator) was observed in Seven Springs, a species which had never before been seen in this location. This day in the field correlates with objectives 2, 4, and 5 in our grant project, which includes performing “post-restoration habitat suitability surveys” (objective 2), the facilitation of “scientific research by… assisting with fieldwork” (objective 4), and increasing “educational outreach by… collaborating with local academic institutions” (objective 5).
On Friday, May 11th, Freshwater Land Trust’s Jeffrey Drummond hosted a personalized tour for ten employees and one intern from Southern Company. The three hour tour included stops at Seven Springs, Roebuck Springs, and Tapawingo (Penny) Springs, where FLT shared information about the watercress darter and its habitat, other native and endangered species, invasive species and management techniques, and the unique projects and conservation efforts at all three locations. This correlates with FLT’s activity goal of engaging with the community. Through community engagement like this, FLT is broadening community partnerships to create a wider network of support for further conservation and stewardship efforts. Southern Company is a corporation with a grant program that allocates funding to environmental and conservation efforts, so outreach opportunities like these assist FLT in leveraging potential funding for future projects.
On Saturday, May 12th, FLT hosted a volunteer workday at Tapawingo Springs with a total of ten volunteers from FLT’s Jr. Board, Birmingham Southern College, and Terracon, an environmental engineering firm. The productive four hour workday yielded significant results. We reduced the population of aquatic invasive species in wetland areas by 70%, made strategic breaches in beaver dams to allow for more natural water flow, and created openings in the canopy directly above the spring enabling light to penetrate through and reach the aquatic vegetation. In order to eradicate invasive plant species without endangering other plant life, Jeffrey Drummond directed sensitive management techniques which require more time and strategy than simply spraying herbicide. The primary method used was making a small incision near the base of the plant and adding a few drops of a calculated formula of herbicide into the incision. This more direct application of a higher concentration of herbicide is more effective in taking out the targeted species while keeping native species safe from chemical harm. This workday meets the project objective number 3, to “continue post-restoration management strategies, including invasive species removal [and] maintenance of optimal canopy.” This workday also meets two of our activity goals: to purchase tools and materials to maintain surrounding vegetation and stabilize spring banks and reach out to the public for community engagement.
In collaboration with a multitude of partners including US Fish and Wildlife and the City of Birmingham, Freshwater Land Trust broke ground on a restoration project at Roebuck Springs in mid-March. To restore the watercress habitat, the project entailed the installation of three bioswales adjacent to the spring after removing some of the surrounding asphalt from the Don Hawkins Recreation Center parking lot. Native plants were added to reduce erosion and to serve as a natural filtration for storm water. When construction was in full swing, Jeffrey Drummond visited the site daily to ensure that the work being performed was adequate and to monitor the watercress darter habitat during construction to make sure it was not detrimentally disturbed in the process. This project has also been much more engaging to the public than others because of its proximity to the recreation center. It has been in the public eye, and as such, FLT has been proactive in releasing information to news outlets as well as our partners. Even though the restoration is complete, monitoring the habitat is still vital. The US Fish and Wildlife plans to install temperature loggers at Roebuck Springs to gather long term data on seasonal changes. Because the watercress darter is sensitive to temperature changes, this equipment and data will allow us to know how to better maintain springs where watercress live and potentially increase their population in the future. This project meets objectives 1, 2, and 3 which include assessing and monitoring “all potential sources of natural and anthropogenic disturbances to critical watercress darter habitat” (objective 1), performing “post-restoration habitat suitability surveys, including water quality analyses, aquatic vegetation surveys, and assays of the surrounding floral species composition and vertical structure” (objective 2), and completing and continuing “post-restoration management strategies including invasive species removal… flood mitigation, bank stabilization, and erosion remediation” (objective 3). Furthermore, this ongoing project has allowed us to partner with many organizations and companies and reach out to the community to share who we are and what we do.
For all three of these habitats, FLT will continue to monitor habitat and work with partners to decide on projects that will best further the betterment of these locations.
At Tapawingo Springs, FLT stewardship staff have spent time designing management reports for future projects and maintenance. We have also meet with US Fish and Wildlife about potential future projects. Together, we conducted a site visit and assessment at Tapawingo.
At Seven Springs, USFWS also conducted a habitat assessment. FLT stewardship assessed future habitat restoration projects and needs. There was also plan development with various partners for an upcoming endangered species tour to educate landowners and the public about the watercress darter, its habitat, other endangered species, and actions they can take to keep endangered species habitats intact.
These ongoing meetings at these locations with US Fish and Wildlife and other partners meet objectives 1 and 4, to “assess and monitor all potential sources of natural and anthropogenic disturbances to critical watercress darter habitat” (objective 1) and to “facilitate federal, state, and local scientific research by providing equipment and guidance” (objective 4).
Project 172516061 location - United States, North America