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What the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is doing to help these threatened and endangered species.

FISH:

 

Research efforts in the Conasauga River address habitat improvements, water quality and long term monitoring for the Conasauga logperch, Blue Shiner and Amber Darter. This work is funded by Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Local cooperators included The Nature Conservancy's Conasauga Field Office and the Conasauga River Alliance.

Research and Public Service activities in the Etowah River include the Amber Darter and the Cherokee Darter as focal species. These efforts are funded by Georgia DNR and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. DNR is funded to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan for the Etowah River basin. This will pro-actively address landscape development activities impinging upon imperiled species.

Conservation activities for the robust redhorse are ongoing. The range of wild robust redhorse includes populations in the Altamaha, Savannah and Pee Dee rivers. The two largest populations are found in the Oconee and Savannah Rivers. We are involved in long-term monitoring of spawning aggregations of robust redhorse in the Oconee and Savannah Rivers. We are also conducting research on robust redhorse introduced into the Ocmulgee River, above Juliette Dam. Research activities are funded by Georgia Power Company, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The robust redhorse conservation committee holds annual meetings to review research and conservation activities and suggest directions for new efforts. The web site for this is http://www.robustredhorse.com/ .

A technical advisory committee has been meeting since the inception of the RRCC. A new group of state, federal, private, and academic based biologists are forming a Technical Advisory group (TAG) to address issues with conservation of robust redhorse in the Carolinas.

HERPETOLOGY:

A GDNR herpetologist is responsible for a multitude of tasks involving conservation of reptiles and amphibians, including education and outreach, management, monitoring, research, policy and regulation reforms, inventory, and public assistance.

Education and outreach examples:

We've produced a Snakes of Georgia poster and a brochure entitled "Is it a Water Moccasin?". Snakes are perhaps the most in-need species of better public appreciation, and any way we can reach the public to educate them of the benefit snakes provide, and the very rare threat they pose, we hope will go a long way to conserving these misunderstood creatures. We are currently developing a Frogs of Georgia poster.

Management examples:
Bog turtles in Georgia are limited to only a handful of suitable bog sites, all in the constant process of succession to hardwood forest. Historically, these sites were ephemeral and bog turtles would shift from one site to the next as the first became too shaded. Unfortunately, bog sites are now too few and far between for turtles to seek out new sites once others become unsuitable. As a result, we must set back succession by controlling woody growth. Periodically, we conduct workdays to mechanically reduce shrubs and small trees and will begin initiation of prescribed burns once drought conditions subside and burning can be done more safely.

We also conduct prescribed burns at breeding sites favored by gopher frogs for the same reason.

Monitoring:
The Pigeon Mountain salamander is an endemic species found on only a 16 km stretch of the eastern slope of Pigeon Mountain. Currently, the species is fairly common in this small area; however, the very limited range it has makes it extremely vulnerable to unforeseen problems/changes. For that reason, we conduct annual surveys (sometimes seasonal), of known sites to gauge their current status and look for any trends in their population size and vigor.

Research examples:
The previously mentioned Pigeon Mountain salamander, before our work, was one of the least studied salamanders in N. America. Nothing was known about its diet, breeding biology, habitat preferences, etc. Research on all of these characteristics has been conducted by DNR.

Policy and regulation reform examples:
Georgia laws and regulations related to reptiles and amphibians are very old and, in many cases, counterproductive to conservation needs. We have established a Herp Law and Regulation Reform Team, consisting of both DNR employees and out-of-agency folks, to evaluate current laws and suggest changes. We anticipate legislative action to address the concerns during the next session of the Georgia Legislature.

We also try to change or influences policies of others that are of conservation concern. For example, we have been working with the various rattlesnake roundup officials to promote changes that will lessen the exploitation of rattlesnakes and the animals that are affected by collection techniques (such as tortoises that die from gassing their burrows to flush-out snakes). We successfully convinced Fitzgerald to abandon their rattlesnake roundup in favor of a wildlife friendly festival.

Inventory examples:
The Flatwoods Salamander was listed as a federally threaten species several years ago. Only four sites in the state are currently known to harbor this species, despite suitable habitat elsewhere. DNR applied for and received federal funds to conduct statewide surveys for this species and has hired a biologist to perform this 20 month task.

Alligator Snapping Turtles were once harvested in great numbers from Georgia to provide meat for turtle soup. Researchers studied this impact on Flint River populations and found that they were heavily impacted. Over the last several years, DNR has conducted surveys in other river drainages in the state to evaluate their status.

Public assistance examples:
Anyone in the state who wants info of herps, has a herp-related complaint (i.e. snake in the house), needs someone to speak to a group about herps, has a potential endangered species conflict on their land, etc. contacts us and it is our responsibility to help them, within reason. This is an unpredictable, but very frequent responsibility.

Specific species involvement:

Southern Hognose - I participated as a co-author on a review of available information to evaluate the status of this species. The published paper "Apparent decline of the southern hognose snake, Heterodon simus" provides evidence that the species may be extirpated from much of its historic range, declining in many other areas, yet locally stable in a few areas. Because habitat needs are not well understood for this animal, we are not yet sure how to best manage for this species.

Gopher Tortoise - one example: the DNR acquires quite a few tortoises of unknown origin each year (primarily through confiscation or finding individuals released outside of their natural range. We have established a colony for these tortoises at McDuffie Public Fishing Area, where the species used to occur naturally but has since disappeared. Researchers at Augusta State University are radio-tracking released tortoises at McDuffie to evaluate their site fidelity.

Indigo Snake - We have recently developed signage to post at public areas informing folks of the protected status of this species. Also, we have a student radio-tracking snakes to determine their warm-season activities and habitat usage, both of which are poorly understood. This should help us conduct warm-season surveys more effectively.

Bog Turtle - see example above, under "management"

One-toed Amphiuma - We have recently contracted out a survey for this species in the state. We currently only know of 3 sites in the state, but others likely exist. Obviously, we need to know where things occur in order to effectively manage and protect them.

Hellbender - We are assisting a student with a study on sperm and egg viability of this species. Throughout much of this species range, reproduction is almost non-existent. One site in Georgia has clearly not experienced that problem - reproduction is succeeding just fine. The researchers plan to compare sperm and egg characteristics of hellbenders from this Georgia site to animals from affected sites in hopes that something can be determined as the cause of failed reproduction elsewhere.

Gopher Frog - see example above, under "management"

Flatwoods Salamander - see example above, under "inventory"

Green Salamander - a new quarry expansion proposal on Pigeon Mountain was thought to possibly impact habitat of this species, though it had never been looked for there. We conducted surveys of this site and indeed found the species. This discovery may help stop a disturbance that would have certainly destroyed the species and its habitat there.


BIRDS:


Swallow-tailed Kite: Georgia DNR through its Partners in Flight program began the Swallow-tailed Kite (STKI) Initiative in 1996 with an Observational Survey. This survey compiles reports of STKI from birdwatchers, hunters, DNR staff, and others beginning with the kites' arrival in early March from wintering grounds in Brazil until their departure for fall migration in September. This survey with over 500 locations so far resulted in a better understanding of kite distribution and important habitats and led to more intensive surveys for nesting kites.

Since 1998, in cooperation with the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, GADNR has documented and studied over 101 STKI nests and fitted 22 birds with radio transmitters. Two birds banded in 2000 have been located in 2001 and 2002 on the wintering grounds in Brazil and after returning to the areas where they hatched. GADNR is coordinating efforts with SC and FL to develop a regional conservation and monitoring strategy for STKIs.

Painted Buntings: Georgia DNR conducted the citizen science project Painted Bunting Watch from 1998-2000. Volunteer participants observed their bird feeders twice weekly during May and June and reported their observations of painted buntings (PABU) and other birds. This survey helped GADNR learn more about buntings in suburban areas and made people aware of threats from cats and other predators as well as the nest parasite, the brown-headed cowbird. GADNR has also supported research by USGS and UGA researchers to understand the ecology of PABUs on Georgia's barrier islands.

In 2001, GADNR organized a meeting of managers, researchers, and conservationists interested in reversing the declines of PABUs. This meeting resulted in the South Atlantic Painted Bunting Initiative (SAPABUCI). The goals of SAPABUCI are to raise awareness of the declining status of painted bunting and to identify the causes and seek solutions for these declines on both the breeding areas in the Southeast and wintering habitats in south Florida and the Caribbean.

MUSSELS:

 

There are nearly 70 species of crayfishes known from the state of Georgia. Many of these are considered to be imperiled, especially those species that live in burrows away from streams. The Georgia Natural Heritage Program within the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is conducting a study to determine the ranges of several of these types of crayfishes. Two of the species, the Broad River burrowing crayfish (Distocambarus devexus) and the Piedmont blue burrower (Cambarus harti), are known from only two or three different places. As a result of our surveys, we have found new populations of both species. Both species still have very small ranges, but are probably under-represented in collections because they are so hard to find. Many times you have to dig out the burrow to determine if the animal is "home".

Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled groups of animals in North America. Georgia was historically home to nearly 100 different species. At least eight species that used to occur here are considered extinct and about 15 are considered to be in danger of extinction. The Georgia Natural Heritage Program is currently working on several projects concerning rare freshwater mussels in Georgia.

One of the reasons mussels are rare has to do with their complex life history. Juvenile mussels must go through a parasitic stage when their larvae (called glochidia) must attach to the gill or the fin of a fish to complete their life cycle. If the juvenile mussel is unable to "parasitize" the correct host fish or fishes, it will die. In order to help conserve mussels it is very important to determine which fish or fishes a mussel can use for its host. In many cases only a small group of fishes will work. Most of the projects we are working on with mussels are in collaboration with Dr. Paul Johnson of the Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute.

The Altamaha spinymussel (Elliptio spinosa) is a unique animal that only occurs in the Altamaha River basin in Georgia. We have recently completed surveys for this species to determine its current range and status. It appears to be very rare.

We are also studying aspects of its life history so we can possibly propagate it in captivity. As part of the same project we are studying the life history of the Purple Bankclimber (Elliptiodeus sloatianus). Again, we are attempting to determine life history information including which host fish the species needs.

Other researchers are studying the life history and distributions of the Shinyrayed Pocketbook, Finelined Pocketbook, and Coosa Moccasinshell.