The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission was awarded more than $554,000 in nationally competitive federal grants on Aug. 16 to fund two projects that will help the agency and its partners conserve aquatic species in the Pee Dee River, as well as identify key habitats across the state that could be vulnerable to environmental impacts.
The Commission was one of 11 states to receive more than $5 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through its competitive State Wildlife Grants (SWG) Program. All SWG-funded projects implement strategies and actions to conserve and recover priority species and habitats identified in the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan.
Robust redhorse research
In North Carolina and South Carolina,a $460,000 grant will fund a collaborative effort between the Wildlife Commission,S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the N.C. Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, and N.C. State University, that focuses on the robust redhorse — a large, very rare freshwater fish that is found in only three river drainages in the southeastern United States. The robust redhorse is a state listed endangered species, and is also a priority species as designated by the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan.
The grant, which will be matched with $225,400 in state funds, will be used to determine the effects that habitat and water quality changes have on the redhorse as well as other fishes, mussels and crayfish found in the Pee Dee River, which forms at the confluence of the Yadkin and Uwharrie rivers in Montgomery County and flows from North Carolina into South Carolina. The robust redhorse has been negatively affected by habitat modification and fragmentation from hydroelectric dams, introduction of non-native species, sedimentation and water pollution.
Recent research suggests that the impact of emerging contaminants, such as endocrine-disrupting compounds and pharmaceuticals, may be detrimental to fishes and other priority species, according to Ryan Heise, a fisheries research coordinator with the Wildlife Commission.
“Some of the chemicals that make it into our waters can mimic the effects of hormones in animals and cause adverse effects,” Heise said. “After completing this study, we hope to answer questions about the effects of different types of contaminants on robust redhorse and other aquatic animals, which should help us make better management decisions in the future.”
Mapping conservation opportunity areas
The second SWG-funded project, a $94,374 grant, will also have the Commission working with the N.C. Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit (N.C. Coop Unit) to analyze and map key areas around the state that provide the best opportunities for conserving Wildlife Action Plan priority species and their habitats.
Commission biologists will analyze and map these areas, known as Conservation Opportunity Areas, using spatial models to determine habitat threats, such as urban growth, pollution and impacts from climate change. N.C. Coop Unit staff will consolidate and maintain the data, making them available to the public through an online map viewer that will allow users to explore how various habitat threats and risks will affect the landscape over defined periods of time.
“The data will help us understand how various types of landscape-scale threats can impact wildlife habitats and species that are of conservation concern,” said Cindy Carr, the Commission’s Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator. “The information will allow us to develop conservation priorities and recommendations that we will incorporate into the revised N.C. Wildlife Action Plan, which will be released in 2015.”
The Wildlife Commission and other conservation organizations currently use the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan released in 2005 as a blueprint to identify wildlife and habitat issues in the Tar Heel state and outline the actions that are needed to conserve species and habitats over many years.
All 50 states and five U.S.territories developed State Wildlife Action Plans, which were required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for states to receive State Wildlife Grant funding.SWG-funded projects implement strategies and actions to conserve species of greatest need as identified in the state wildlife action plans. All projects must be large-scale in scope and they must yield measurable results that conserve and recover species and their habitats. Funding for the grants comes from appropriations in the 2013 fiscal year.
“The projects funded by these grants target some of the most imperiled species and habitats in the United States,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “These projects are receiving funding because they are tied to well-thought-out conservation plans that identify the highest priority areas where we can make the biggest difference for imperiled species.”