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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Habitat Restoration Aids Gulf Striped Bass

The Gulf striped bass was once common in many locations along the Northern Gulf coast and on the Mississippi River. But a combination of factors – including fishing, dams, and pollution – diminished the population and limited it to the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

For years, there has been a cooperative effort by these states and the Federal government to restore and save habitats for this imperiled species. Recently, that effort has concentrated on Bovine Springs, a small spring on the Flint River in Baker County, Georgia, that is an important refuge for the Gulf striped bass.

“The Gulf striped bass is imperiled due to limited summer thermal habitat, and springs are vital to their survival,” said John Kilpatrick, senior fisheries biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “We only have about 10 of these springs on the Flint River that flow consistently in the summer and that the fish need as refuges.

Cattle owned by local landowners have used the spring and nearby river for years as a watering hole, however, degrading the spring with sediment to the point that Gulf striped bass could no longer use it as a refuge.

“The fish aren’t going to stay where there’s that much disturbance,” said Kilpatrick. “In the summer, with high temperatures, if striped bass are forced out of that spring they’ll die really fast if they don’t find another spring.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with its partners the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP), is now finishing a project to restore Bovine Springs for the Gulf striped bass. Using $15, 952 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding (popularly known as stimulus funds), the rehabilitation of Bovine Springs was begun in 2009 and is expected to be completed the week of Jan. 24, 2010.

The partners enlisted local landowners as stakeholders in the need to protect the spring. They contracted with local businesses to dig a well and a watering trough for the cattle, and to erect fencing between private lands and the river and spring to keep the cattle out of the spring. They cleared the spring of sediment and rocks to provide better refuge, and reshaped the river bank. In the spring, native vegetation will be planted to prevent further erosion.

“It’s a win-win,” said Kilpatrick. “It’s better for the cattle and it’s much better for the river, and it’s specifically good for the striped bass.”

The Department of Interior allotted $280 million in stimulus funding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and $56.6 million of that was allotted to 169 projects in the Southeast Region, including the Bovine Springs restoration. Projects were selected based on the greatest demonstration of need in the region, those that would meet the requirements of the Recovery Act, and those that fit into the categories where funding was received.

The Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) is a regional collaboration of natural resource and science agencies, conservation organizations and private interests developed to strengthen the management and conservation of aquatic resources in the southeastern United States. SARP’s mission is to, with partners, protect, conserve and restore aquatic resources including habitats throughout the Southeast for the continuing benefit, use and enjoyment of the American people. Nationally recognized as one of the first groups designated as an official “Fish Habitat Partnership” by the National Fish Habitat Board, SARP is implementing the goals of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan in the Southeast in some of the most ecologically and economically significant watersheds in the country.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with many of its partners through SARP to support aquatic habitat restoration projects in the region. To learn more about SARP and its programs and other resources, visit SARP’s website at www.southeastaquatics.net or contact SARP Coordinator, Scott Robinson at 770-361-5639  or scottr@southeastaquatics.net.