Conservation grant to improve fish habitat on Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests

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GAINESVILLE -- The U.S. Forest Service - Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests is pleased to share the news that National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has approved a grant to our partner The Nature Conservancy to help improve water quality in the Conasauga Watershed. In collaboration with the Conasauga Ranger District, two projects will reduce road sediment and replace culverts along Holly Creek within the Chattahoochee National Forest of Georgia. These projects will significantly improve water quality for the federally threatened blue shiner (Cyprinella caerulea), a native fish in the Mobile River drainage.

The Conasauga River is an incredibly diverse system with a rich biodiversity of freshwater fishes, mussels, snails, and crayfish that ranks the highest priority watershed in Georgia for aquatic conservation. Despite the Conasauga’s incredible biodiversity, many species are presumed extinct or extirpated and approximately 22 species (51%) are considered highly imperiled throughout their historic range.

Six new road culverts will properly accommodate water flows, prevent the creation of scour pools, and reduce historic sediment loading into Holly Creek. Additional road work involves repairing and rebuilding water turnouts and broad-based dips, reshaping the roadbed to improve drainage, resurfacing key sections of road with fill and rock, deepening ditches, and constructing 2 new large sediment basins to catch run-off. Given the steep terrain, slowing water down on the road is imperative to improving the water quality in Holly Creek.

Holly Creek is a known stronghold for aquatic species in the Conasauga Watershed. Addressing sedimentation within the project area has been a priority for TNC, the U.S. Forest Service, the Wildlife Resources Division - Georgia DNR and the USFWS Southeast Region for several years. Replacing the undersized culverts and addressing erosion issues adjacent to the creek will have a direct benefit on improving blue shiner habitat, as well as improving water quality for numerous other fish downstream.

Across the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, we work on improving aquatic connectivity by removing barriers, decreasing sources of sediment, and increasing large woody debris in streams. Forests serve as great filters so water quality is excellent in mountain streams, but unpaved roads, trails, or campsites next to streams can allow sediment to get to the streams. Learn more at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/resources/conf/landmanagement/resourcemanagement

The Chattahoochee National Forest has 2,436 miles of perennial streams. About 1,770 miles (72 percent) are classified as cold water streams. The remaining 666 miles (28 percent) are classified as cool water streams. The highest diversity of fish of the 43 watersheds for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests is the upper Conasauga watershed with 73 fish species, 9 of which are federally-listed threatened or endangered, or Forest Service sensitive.

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