Four years after the Freshwater Land Trust and partners removed a 100-year-old dam, a critically-endangered fish species is making a new home in a section of Turkey Creek in north Jefferson County.
In October, the Land Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found a population of Vermilion darter upstream from the former dam site, which previously prevented the endangered fish from moving upstream and caused portions of its habitat to fill with silt. The new population indicates the 2013 dam removal improved the darter’s habitat.
The Vermilion darter, a small, brightly-colored fish, is found only one place in the world: a nine-mile stretch of stream in Central Alabama’s Turkey Creek watershed.
Endangered species like the Vermilion darter can be “the canary in the coal mine” when it comes to assessing the health of our ecosystems, said Eric Spadgenske, state coordinator from the Wildlife Service. “The biological diversity that we enjoy in Alabama is a blessing. It should not be taken for granted.”
The group also found the darter on Freshwater Land Trust’s new conservation property, purchased in September. The new property adds over 60 acres of mixed-hardwood forest to the Freshwater Land Trust and Forever Wild Land Trust’s existing conservation holdings in the Turkey Creek area. Together these conserved lands provide migration corridors for wildlife, including black bears, and intact forest that protects over 30,000 feet of stream full of diverse plants and animals, including the darter.
Libba Vaughan, executive director of the Freshwater Land Trust, said, “This project shows what we do really well: our ability to acquire land gives the fish a safe home, and our expertise in stream restoration makes that home bigger and cleaner. It is thrilling to see the proof that these beautiful fish are thriving and their population growing with our efforts.”
Charles Yeager, manager of the area’s popular Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, said that partnerships with organizations like the Freshwater Land Trust and Fish and Wildlife Service are critical to protecting the wider Turkey Creek watershed.
“If we only worked within Turkey Creek Nature Preserve itself, we would never solve the real problems that lie upstream. We would be creating band-aids, not solutions,” said Charles. “Our partners provide resources and unique approaches that make it possible for all of us to make a real impact.”