Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Alabama the Beautiful....and the Biodiverse: The Battle over the Forever Wild Program


Alabama is the undisputed king when it comes to freshwater mollusks . . . There are 182 species of mussels living the in the state’s rivers. No other state comes close. In fact, nowhere else in the world comes close in terms of the number of mussel species living in a single river basin . . . But Alabama tops another list, this one the list of mussel species being lost to extinction. Every year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service lists a few more Alabama mussels as extinct. Dozens are already gone forever.

- Ben Raines, al.com

...And that's the latest news out of Alabama, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently listed eight more mussel species as protected under the Endangered Species Act - species which had been up for listing since 2004. Scientists are making efforts to restore threatened and endangered mussel species through a variety of reintroduction plans in rivers across the state. Yet rivers that were once clear before the 1950's, with water filtered by up to 100 year old mussels, are now muddied and brown. Mussel decline has been attributed to numerous factors, but primarily the dams that have taken over waterways in the state.

Alabama is in the top five most biodiverse states by species richness. The Nature Conservancy listed the Cahaba River Valley as one of 8 biodiversity hotspots out of over 2,000 watersheds in the U.S. A few other notable data points from the Cahaba River Society website:

  • The World Wildlife Fund designated the Mobile/Tennessee/Cumberland river system as among the 19 highest priority places to save on the planet in the next decade.
  • The National Geographic Society College Atlas of the World notes that the Cahaba River is one of six biologically rich areas in the world threatened by “habitat loss and fragmentation, invasion by non-native species, pollution, and unsustainable exploitation…” which follow from economic activity and population growth.
  • The Sierra Club published America’s Wild Legacy, which designates “The 52 most important places to protect within the next 10 years." In Alabama, the Upper Cahaba River was selected as that focus.

Though beautiful and biodiverse, the species richness of Alabama is under great strain. This is why the upcoming November 6 vote on Alabama's "Forever Wild" program is so important. The vote would renew the wildlife preservation program for another 20 years, though it is faced with opposition from the same political ideologues that have influenced the dialogue from the extreme right at the federal level. The program should be renewed, as Alabama's public conservation lands only amount to 4% of the state's total land area - far less than the 12% average in other southeastern states, and a drop in the bucket, of course, compared to western lands. Hopefully Alabama will overcome the short sighted influences of those who refuse to think of future generations and will renew Forever Wild. As Paul Johnson of the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center stated, "Alabama is an aquatic biodiversity haven, not only nationally, but globally…We’re trying to protect that, preserve it.”

- Blake Hudson


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