The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Displaying items by tag: cumberland plateau

Friday, 24 September 2021 13:32

Another slice of the wild preserved in Cumberlands

Knox News: Nearly 12,000 acres added to Skinner Mountain preserve on the Cumberland Plateau

The Conservation Fund and state wildlife and forestry officials reached a deal to conserve and manage thousands of wild acres in Fentress County.

The expanse was previously held by an out-of-state speculative investment company likely originally tied to timber companies.

The Cumberland Plateau and escarpments have been increasingly recognized for their biodiversity along with the Smokies to the east beyond the Tennessee Valley. The Cumberlands are along a songbird and fowl migration route, and host a niche population of mature timber, mosses, lichens, fungi, mammals and amphibians. Elk were reintroduced a decade ago, and black bears have begun to range across the Cumberlands and their base.

The area is pocked with caves and sinkholes, some containing petroglyphs and other carvings from previous populations.

"On the Cumberland Plateau, the key to maintaining biodiversity is to retain as much natural forest (both managed and unmanaged) as possible," a forestry expert told the News Sentinel's Vincent Gabrielle.

The Foothills Land Conservancy has also helped protect thousands of acres along the plateau and its escarpments in recent years.

Published in Feedbag

IMG_20201018_115753614_HDR.jpgThis is a view from the Cumberland Trail atop Brady Mountain. The complete trail, 50 years in the making, is almost done.  Ben Pounds   

The Cumberland Trail is nearly complete between Chatty and Cumberland Gap. That's just the beginning.

Volunteers are putting the finishing touches on Tennessee's Cumberland Trail, which will run from Signal Mountain near Chattanooga to Tristate Point near Cumberland Gap. 

Published in News
downloadDr. Brian MIller
 

MTSU researchers document hellbender's accelerating decline in Middle Tennessee

(Author’s note: I was aware of the hellbender before interviewing Brian Miller, but did not know the giant salamanders were present on the Highland Rim of Tennessee. Subsequent reading and interviews with other researchers, including Dr. Bill Sutton at Tennessee State University, Nashville, confirm Miller’s statements that hellbenders are vanishing from large portions of Tennessee, and Missouri. The healthy populations in portions of the Great Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest may be an exception to a general trend toward extirpation and, ultimately, extinction).

Brian Miller has been researching hellbenders for decades. He serves on the faculty of Middle Tennessee State University where he teaches in the biology department and mentors younger researchers, many of whom publish their research.

He has even developed a digital "Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Middle Tennessee." The guide began more than 30 years ago as a dichotomous key for students in his vertebrate zoology class and now includes hundreds of photographs and exceeds 400 pages.

Dr. Miller researches the hellbenders of the Highland Rim, the upland that surrounds Nashville and the Great Basin. Populations of hellbenders in streams of this region are perhaps Tennessee's most endangered.

QUESTION: I noticed that you specialize in herpetofauna. Most of the research listed on your faculty page is focused on amphibians, but with some papers on snakes. Can you comment about your research?

ANSWER: You are correct that amphibians are my primary research interest, particularly salamanders. However, I also have strong interests in reptiles, and my students and I have conducted research on various species of snakes and turtles.

When did you become interested in hellbenders?

Hellbenders have been of interest to me since I first encountered them while enrolled in a course on herpetology at the University of Missouri in 1977. I was fortunate that the professor of that course, Dean Metter, was involved with research on hellbenders and I began to assist with his research in 1978, in collaboration with Robert Wilkinson at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.

Chris Petersen was working on his master's degree with Dr. Wilkinson at that time and he matriculated to the University of Missouri a couple of years later to start on his Ph.D, which was also with hellbenders. Chris and I spent time in the field gathering data for his Ph.D. project until I moved to Washington State to work on my Ph.D.

I was hired into the biology department at Middle Tennessee State University in 1989 and began working with hellbenders in this state in 1990. At that time, I was able to locate populations in several rivers in Middle Tennessee, including a large population in the Collins River. I decided to concentrate my efforts on this population and one in the Buffalo River.

Of note, the population I worked with in the Collins River was dominated by large adults, whereas the population in the Buffalo River consisted of many age classes, including young individuals.

The Collins River situation was like what I was familiar with in Missouri and Arkansas populations. Unfortunately, by the early 2000s the population I was working with in the Collins River was gone; however, populations remain in the Buffalo River. My research with hellbenders during the past decade has been concentrated in streams in the Western Highland Rim.

Do you work with both subspecies, the Ozark, and the Eastern hellbender?

I worked with both subspecies while a student at the University of Missouri when assisting with projects in the Metter lab, but since I moved to Tennessee, I have worked only with Tennessee populations.

What do you perceive as the greatest threats to hellbender populations?

I am not certain why most populations of hellbenders are in decline rangewide, but suspect that habitat alteration, including sedimentation, and disease are involved in many if not all areas where declines are occurring. Lack of recruitment of young is a common theme of populations that decline. 

Published in News
Independent Herald: Big South Fork sets record flow and depth rates
The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River rose to its highest level in 25 years and washed out recreation facilities and bridges in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area during pounding rains that moved over the plateau and Tennessee Valley late last week and over the weekend.
River velocity rates rose to an astonishing 81,200 cfs over the weekend. That's a measure of how much water passes per second at a given point. The river crested at 42.5 feet.
"Five days ago marked the 92nd anniversary of the historic March 1929 flood that caused catastrophic damage in Scott County," the news site reported.
"On Sunday, local rivers reached their highest levels since that 1929 flood, after numerous thunderstorms dumped as much as eight inches of rain over portions of Scott and Morgan counties in a 24-hour period."

 

Published in Feedbag

456915 10150749976200572 259742799 oA view of some of the land preserved by Foothills Land Conservancy on the Cumberland Plateau.   Courtesy Foothills Land Conservancy

Foothills Land Conservancy preserves land and multiple habitats across seven states

Foothills Land Conservancy rang in the new year with the preservation of 250 undeveloped acres along the Little Pigeon River in a rapidly growing area of Sevier County in East Tennessee.

The deal was finalized in late 2020 — a fitting end to the Blount County conservancy’s 35th year.

Foothills Land Conservancy has protected about 135,000 acres in seven states, including 95,000 acres in East Tennessee, since its inception in 1985. For comparison’s sake, that’s nearly a third of the protected land that encompass the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most of that land has been acquired since 2006, when former state Sen. Bill Clabough became executive director.

“We’ve been really growing and expanding,” Clabough said late last year from the conservancy headquarters on the century-old Harris family farm in Rockford. 

The farm itself is under a conservation easement, one of several ways the conservancy preserves and protects natural and agricultural lands.

“When you do good work you don’t have to do a lot of advertising,” said Clabough, 69, a likable former country store owner and Wildwood native whose political public service came to an end in 2005 when the moderate Republican incumbent was defeated by a firebrand conservative in the Senate GOP primary. 

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Clabough said of his primary defeat.

Published in Earth