By Gary Lloyd
The vermilion darter only lives in one place in the world — Turkey Creek in Pinson — and today a project was announced by the Freshwater Land Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will radically improve its habitat.
The project will include the deconstruction and removal of a dam on Freshwater Land Trust-owned property and restoring the area through bank reconstruction and the replanting native vegetation. The dam was built in the early 1920s to create a fishing and swimming hole, but has now filled with sediment and is preventing the darter and other aquatic species from migrating upstream and occupying a half-mile of their natural range.
Since the highly vulnerable darter is endemic to only seven miles of Turkey Creek, opening this portion of its habitat will add significant impact to the darter’s ability to survive by increasing its range.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is funding the project through its Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, a program that offers assistance to private landowners for habitat restoration. Partners coordinator Eric Spadgenske said the dam constitutes a real threat to the darter.
“The preferred habitat for the vermilion darter is clear, fast-moving water over clean, rocky substrates,” Spadgenske said. “This dam not only creates a physical barrier to movement for fish and other aquatic species, it alters the habitat both upstream and downstream, making it unsuitable for these sensitive species.”
After working for more than 10 years to conserve land in the Upper Turkey Creek Watershed to protect important aquatic habitats, the Freshwater Land Trust is excited to begin deconstructing the dam.
“We are thrilled that after years of planning and working towards this goal, we are finally removing this 85-foot-wide, six-foot-tall concrete structure that is an impossible obstacle for the 2-inch long vermilion darter and countless other aquatic species,” said Freshwater Land Trust Executive Director Wendy Jackson. “By helping restore and enhance this important stretch of creek, we will expand the darter’s habitat and all other fish and wildlife that call Turkey Creek home. This is a legacy we will be proud to pass to our children’s children.”
The dam removal will be done by Action Environmental, who was selected for the project after a formal bid process. Action Environmental will be making a large charitable contribution by providing work at a significant discount, referencing the importance of this project and its longtime relationship with the Freshwater Land Trust and its mission.
John Milledge, vice president of Action Environmental, said the company is excited for the partnership and the opportunity to contribute its skill sets.
“Action Environmental brings nearly two decades of construction experience in environmentally sensitive areas including wetlands and stream crossings,” he said. “We have had the pleasure of partnering with the Freshwater Land Trust on numerous conservation projects in the past and we look forward to working with all the partners on the dam removal project.”
The dam will be taken down slowly over the course of a week using a hydrologic hammer and supervised by teams from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Freshwater Land Trust. The debris from the dam will be used to stabilize the newly formed bank. This phase of restoration will be funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
“With the help of public, private and corporate funders, the Five Star and Urban Waters program supports dynamic conservation work across the country,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “These grants not only protect and restore the places that fish and wildlife need, but also enhance natural amenities for the entire community.”
Jackson said this project would not be possible without the many partners that have come together.
“We are so grateful to our many partners that have come together to support this project and committed their time and resources to enhancing the darter’s habitat.”
In addition to financial supporters, an advisory group of more than 15 different individuals and organizations including Birmingham-Southern College, the Office of Archaeological Research, the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, the city of Pinson and the city of Clay have been planning the dam reconstruction for several years.
Dam deconstruction is scheduled to begin at the first of November.
Contact Gary Lloyd at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.