The latest happenings at the Asheville Field Office

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Friday, May 13, 2022

  • Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander - The Service learned we will soon be petitioned to place the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander on the threatened and endangered species list. The salamander is new to science, having been split from the green salamander, which was the subject of a now-withdrawn petition. The Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander is only known from the Hickory Nut Gorge region of North Carolina, southeast of Asheville. 
  • Bog turtles - Byron Hamstead and Susan Cameron from the Asheville Field Office joined biologists from the state and NRCS at a bog outside Asheville to deploy a survey technique that’s showing tremendous promise for monitoring bog turtles. The method uses trail cameras along likely bog turtle paths – a technique already in use for other reptile species, but just beginning its second year of use for southern bog turtles. The Service was recently petitioned to place the southern population of bog turtles on the threatened and endangered species list.  
  • Gray bat – In conducting a bat survey on a NCDOT bridge, Asheville Field Office biologist Lauren Wilson found an endangered gray bat, marking the second known occurrence of the species in Henderson County, N.C. Henderson County is part of the French Broad River basin, which has seen a dramatic increase in gray bat numbers in recent years.  

Friday, May 6, 2022

  • Conference presentation - The 2022 Municipal Wet Weather Stormwater Conference was held in Asheville, N.C. May 2-4. Gary Peeples of the Asheville Field Office was a keynote speaker, addressing approximately 150 people about the Endangered Species Act, with a focus on situations when project review under the Endangered Species Act may change from what people were used to, i.e. when our knowledge about a species changes, when the status of a species changes, or when efficiencies are applied to the project review process. 
  • Sicklefin redhorse field work blitz - The annual blitz of sicklefin redhorse field work has concluded, with Asheville Field Office’s Jay Mays, and Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery’s Haile Macurdy representing the Service in work agreed to under a Candidate Conservation Agreement. The week’s effort included collecting sperm and eggs, tracking the fish’s seasonal migration, and surgically implanting radio telemetry tags. Once considered for the threatened and endangered species list, the Service, states of North Carolina and Georgia, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Duke Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority committed to conserving the fish that’s only found in the western tip of North Carolina and a sliver of north Georgia.  
Service biologist Jason Mays fills a tank holding sicklefin redhorse. The tank, mounted in the bed of a truck, will be used to carry the fish to where they will be outfitted with radio telemetry tags.

Friday, April 29, 2022

  • Understanding Bats' Use of Small Culverts – Asheville Field Office biologist Lauren Wilson completed a white paper 1) compiling information on imperiled bat's use of small culverts and 2) identifying the smallest sized culvert, by species, that we recommend be surveyed during project reviews under the Endangered Species Act. Wilson coordinated with more than 15 state and federal biologists across the Eastern U.S., and requested data from members of the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network’s Bats in Transportation Structures Working Group.  
  • Speaking to UNC-Asheville students – Students in Dr. David Gillette’s Environmental Restoration course at UNC-Asheville learned about red spruce restoration efforts in the southern Appalachians from Asheville Field Office biologist Susan Cameron. Cameron was the class’s final guest speaker, with speakers providing a different organizational perspective – government, NGO, and private business – and insight on different ecosystems - aquatic, wetland, and upland. 
  • Southern Highlands Reserve – In advance of this year’s planting season, Asheville Field Office staff Sue Cameron and Gary Peeples visited Southern Highlands Reserve, a non-profit arboretum and research center, to meet with executive director Kelly Holdbrooks and plan the supply of red spruce trees for forest restoration in North Carolina’s Black Mountains. The Service has contracted with Southern Highlands Reserve to produce red spruce trees for restoration efforts on the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, where forests were decimated by logging and catastrophic wildlife fire a century ago. This forest restoration expands habitat for the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel.  
  • Sunflower planting – Last week forty five endangered Schweinitz’s sunflowers were transplanted onto conserved private land in Stanly County, North Carolina, where they will be monitored for five years. The plants were the last of 271 held by the North Carolina Botanical Garden, having been moved there from the footprint of a North Carolina Department of Transportation highway widening project. Asheville Field Office staff Rebekah Reid, Holland Youngman, and Karla Quast helped with the planting, while the effort was initiated by Eastern North Carolina Field Office biologist Gary Jordan. 

 

Young red spruce trees grown in a greenhouse at Southern Highlands Reserve, a native plant arboretum and research center in western North Carolina.

Friday, April 22, 2022

  • Asheville Field Office trained for field season - Coinciding with the return to the office, Asheville Field Office staff were trained in CPR and wilderness first aid. The two-day American Red Cross course covered CPR and choking response for adults, kids, and infants; and how to deal with medical emergencies when emergency medical services are at least an hour out, including not only providing care for a variety of problems, but deciding when and how to evacuate someone from the backcountry.
Fish and Wildlife Service staff (l-r) Lauren Wilson, Holland Youngman, Byron Hamstead, and Andrew Henderson talk through a mock medical emergency as part of wilderness first aid training.

Friday, April 15, 2022

  • Gray bat detected earlier than expected - In the planning for a proposed road and bridge widening along a stretch of Hwy 276 in western North Carolina, Lauren Wilson, transportation liaison in the Asheville Field Office, conducted a bat survey of a bridge that’s a known roosting site for endangered Indiana and gray bats. Her survey documented an at-risk tricolored bat, and three gray bats – the earliest in the season gray bats have been documented using the bridge. The gray bat’s presence reflects a recent trend showing a dramatic increase in the presence of gray bats across the river basin. 
     
Tri-colored bat roosting on a western North Carolina bridge.

Friday, April 8, 2022

  • James spinymussel range map updated– In an ongoing effort to align species range maps with ecological features instead of political boundaries, like county lines, Mark Endries and Jason Mays of the Asheville Field Office, in coordination with state biologists, recently helped update the range map for the endangered James spinymussel. One practical aspect of the updated range is it dramatically reduces the North Carolina area where federally funded or authorized projects are reviewed for impacts to the mussel under the Endangered Species Act, from 929,200 acres down to 24,494 acres, a 97% reduction.  
  • Addressing bats on Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians trust lands – Forest covers about 86% of ​Eastern Band of Cherokee​ Indian (EBCI) trust lands in North Carolina, and those forests are home to two listed, tree-roosting bats – the Indiana and northern long-eared. Due to a federal obligation to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources, as well as a duty to carry out the mandates of federal law with respect to Native Americans, tribal tree clearing and prescribed burning are subject to review under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  ​Bryan Tompkins lead Asheville Field Office staff in completing a programmatic, formal consultation ​with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and EBCI ​that expedites ESA review by looking at prescribed fire and tree clearing as a whole, instead of reviewing individual events. The effort includes measures to address impacts to bats from tree removal, prescribed fire, excessive noise, direct human disturbance; and includes best management practices to protect water quality, as bats forage over water, feeding on insects with an aquatic life stage.   
  • Coordinating with the Natural Resources Conservation Service – Byron Hamstead of the Asheville Field Office and John Ann Shearer and Jennifer Archambault of the Eastern North Carolina Field Office, recently completed a memorandum of understanding with the North Carolina office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), projects funded or authorized by the federal government are reviewed for impacts to threatened or endangered species and those impacts are minimized or eliminated. The MOU, good for five years, provides a framework that expedites ESA review for 145 types of conservation practices that NRCS funds/subsidizes instead of reviewing activities on an individual basis.
Northern long-eared bat, North Carolina, 2016

Friday, April 1, 2022

  • Value of the French Broad River measured - The French Broad River Partnership, which includes the Asheville Field Office, unveiled a report identifying the river’s economic impact to the region at $3.8 billion. The river is home to the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel and is used extensively as a feeding and migration corridor for endangered gray bats. The partnership received a grant from the Community Foundation of North Carolina, Duke Energy Foundation, Ecology Wildlife Foundation Fund, and Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce for the work, which was done by Steve Ha at Western Carolina University, in the hope that defining the economic importance of the river would help drive community stewardship of the river.                            
  • Sicklefin redhorse crew hits the water - Asheville Field Office biologist Jason May joined a volunteer and staff from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on North Georgia’s Nottely River, tracking radio-tagged sicklefin redhorses. The fish, whose range extends into north Georgia, is the subject of a Candidate Conservation Agreement, an agreement designed to conserve a species so it doesn't need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act. The work was a follow-up to a pilot study that includes the surgical implanting of radio tags to track the fish’s movements while simultaneously looking deeper at the Georgia portion of the fish’s range. 
  • Lending a hand for bog management - Asheville Field Office biologist Holland Youngman joined staff from multiple organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, the N.C. Plant Conservation Program, the Highlands Biological Station, and Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, for a workday at western North Carolina’s Dulany Bog. Much of the work consisted of clearing woody vegetation that threatens to compete with the plants that depend on the bog.         
  • Hands-on mussel education - Asheville Field Office staff Jason Mays and Gary Peeples worked with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation to host a community workshop on freshwater mussels. The workshop was at the Stevens Creek Nature Center, in the Goose Creek watershed, which is home to the endangered Carolina heelsplitter mussel. The portion of Stevens Creek that runs through the nature center property was recently the focus of a restoration effort and participants were able to help stock the creek with three species of common mussels, helping pave the way for one day possibly placing Carolina heelsplitters in the stream reach.   
  • Keeping tabs on high-elevation climate - Asheville Field Office biologist Susan Cameron took advantage of warming spring weather to visit Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi, to collect ongoing climate data. The endangered spruce-fir moss spider is found only in cool, moist habitats  at the highest elevations of the southern Appalachians, and Cameron collects data on temperature and humidity as these sites which are likely extremely susceptible to climate change climate change
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    .  Her first visit of the spring was delayed slightly by near-zero degree wind-chill.  
Biologist Jason Mays walks Stevens Creek, in Mecklenburg County, N.C., running a detector across the stream bottom to find previously stocked mussels. The mussels were fitted with a tag that has a unique, identifying letter/number combination, just like the chips used on pets. When the wand passes by one of the tagged mussels, the data logger logs the number of the mussel detected.

Friday, March 18, 2022

  • Sicklefin redhorse conservation committee - The annual sicklefin redhorse conservation committee meeting, focused on implementing a 2015 Candidate Conservation Agreement, recently occurred, with Jason Mays of the Asheville Field Office, and Ian Paige and Haile Macurdy of Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery representing the Service. The team is dealing with some setbacks, including the departure of several key members and the massive release of sediment from a reservoir into the fish’s spawning range. Fortunately, the team is able to move their annual gamete collection effort from the sediment-inundated stream to another river, and is planning future work flowing from a successful translocation pilot study last fall. 
  • New Asheville Field Office staff - The Asheville Field Office welcomes Jeff Quast as their new administrative assistant. Jeff comes to Asheville after a career in the U.S. Air Force, where he met his wife, also an Air Force veteran, and also an Asheville Field Office staff member. Welcome Jeff! 
  • Partners for Fish and Wildlife project gets students planting trees - With support from the Asheville Field Office, Mountain Valleys RC&D, the Greater Ivy Community Citizens Association, and SM Soil and Water Solutions, local high school staff and students spent an educational workday at Beech Glen Community Center in western North Carolina’s Madison County. About 40 high school students attended, along with science teachers, as part of their ongoing project to develop a design for further recreation opportunities and public access at the facility. After a live staking demonstration, the students helped plant 50 trees and shrubs, worked on a walking trail, removed trash from the river and around the property, and mulched the playground.
     

Friday, March 4

  • Geospatial workshop - Mark Endries of the Asheville Field Office, Doug Newcomb of the Raleigh Field Office, Paul Lang of the Florida Field Office, and Kurt Snider of the Tennessee Field Office were all among the instructors and presenters at this week’s Fish and Wildlife Service Geospatial Training Workshop, organized by the National Conservation Training Center. Topics covered by the southeastern participants ranged from modeling species distributions to remote sensing to discussing the southeastern GIS community of practice.
  • Bat roosting structures installed - Asheville Field Office biologist Holland Youngman joined the NCDOT as they installed the last in a series of bat roosting structures beneath a handful of bridges crossing western North Carolina’s French Broad River, part of a suite of conservation measures offered by the NCDOT related to work along I-26. The roosts attach to the bridges using expanding pressure bars, leaving the integrity of the bridges’ structural materials intact. Most of the roosting structures are similar to standard bat box designs in their use of spaced, ridged panels; while others mimic natural, cavernous roosts by using concrete surfaces molded to actual rock face.

  • Conservation communication class - Gary Peeples, of the Asheville Field Office, recently presented to the Conservation Communication class at Warren Wilson College. The guest lecture is the latest activity in the partnership with the college, which currently has students working on a short documentary about spruce restoration efforts involving in the Service, and whose students previously created a short documentary about southern Appalachian bogs, home to a handful of federally-protected species.

    Asheville Field Office biologists Holland Youngman examines bat roosting structures to be installed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation on a bridge crossing the French Broad River.

Friday, February 25

  • Fine-tuning the Endangered Species Act Project review process - In an effort coordinated by GIS analyst Mark Endries, the Asheville Field Office continues to refine species range data in an effort to support the Service’s OneRange mapping effort and create efficiencies in the ESA Sec. 7 review process. In shifting from political boundaries (e.g. counties) to ecological boundaries, they have reconfigured the range for 11 species thus far. The increased accuracy of the range maps reduces the area where ESA Sec. 7 consultation is needed by a total of more than 20.7 million acres across the 11 species.