In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt created the first National Wildlife Refuge to protect brown pelican breeding grounds on the east coast of Florida. The refuge system has since grown to 560 refuges across the nation, and now the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposes establishing one to protect streams and hardwood forests in the Paint Rock River watershed. Fully realized, it would cover about 25,120 acres of streams, riparian areas, and upland hardwood forests in Franklin County, Tn.
The proposed establishment of a National Wildlife Refuge in the Paint Rock River watershed is one of two America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) priorities identified in Tennessee in the AGO’s November 2011 50-State Report. This project also has the support of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and aligns with several AGO goals, including large landscape conservation, enhanced river access, and support for creative public-private partnerships.
The service has identified a conservation partnership area, including areas along Estill Fork, Hurricane Creek, and Larkin Fork, with a total area of approximately 40,505 acres. Within this conservation partnership area, the Service will reach out to landowners to gauge their interest in stream and forest conservation, ranging from willing landowners selling their property to receiving technical assistance to help manage habitat on their property. Within the 40,505 acres, the service is authorized to acquire in fee-title or hold conservation easements on approximately 25,120 acres. The future configuration and acreage of the refuge would depend on such factors as the willingness of landowners and the availability of funds.
The Paint Rock River and its tributaries are known for their high aquatic diversity, which includes numerous mussels and fish, several of which are threatened with extinction. Much of the upper watershed is still forested, which has contributed to the relatively good water quality. Large tracts of forest support a variety of migratory birds, in addition to an abundance of game species.
The service anticipates that much of a future refuge would be open for wildlife-based recreation, including hunting, fishing, photography, bird watching, and environmental education.
The service is currently seeking public input on the proposed refuge. People can e-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org; mail comments to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2700 Refuge Headquarters Road, Decatur, Al. 35603; or telephone comments to 256 353-7243.
The service is also hosting an open house to receive comments and answer questions on Feb. 5, from 3-7:30 p.m. at the Franklin County Public Library in Winchester, Tn.
For more information, visit: www.fws.gov/southeast/paintrockriver.