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WILDLIFE MITIGATION

Construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway resulted in unavoidable losses of wildlife resources. The construction of pools, canals, and recreation facilities impacted about 34,000 acres of bottomland hardwood habitat.

The need existed to compensate for the loss of wildlife resources due to the impacts of the project. Section 601 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (dated November 17, 1986) authorized mitigation for wildlife losses resulting from construction, operation, and maintenance of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Mississippi and Alabama.

The act allowed for the designation of project lands for mitigation purposes (approximately 72,500 acres at the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and approximately 20,100 acres at other projects); and management of 88,000 acres of additional lands in strategic locations within the states of Mississippi and Alabama.

Wildlife mitigation activities include enforcement, population surveys, and habitat management for both game and non-game species. Programs exist for forestry management, upland and waterfowl wildlife management, and threatened and endangered species management along the waterway.

Waterfowl Management

As part of the wildlife mitigation program, management for both resident and nonresident North American waterfowl is provided. There are a variety of activities that the wildlife mitigation staff annually implement to improve waterfowl habitat. Examples of these include providing supplemental nesting structures, operating green-tree reservoirs, establishing refuge areas, planting supplemental food sources, and managing shallow water impoundments. In addition to enhancing the habitat, population surveys and nest box use monitoring are conducted to provide information on population trends.

The Tenn-Tom Waterway provides habitat for large resident populations of both wood ducks and Canada geese. In addition to abundant resident waterfowl populations, a variety of nonresident waterfowl species utilize the Tenn-Tom Waterway during fall and winter. Some migratory species include mallard, northern pintail, gadwall, american widgeon, ring-necked duck, green-winged teal, and Canada geese.

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Upland Game Management

Although upland habitat makes up a large percentage of total Tenn-Tom Waterway acreage, wildlife management efforts have primarily concentrated on the bottomland habitat type and associated wildlife species due to construction impacts in bottomland habitat. This gives the mitigation program a unique mix of both bottomland and upland habitat types available for wildlife management.

However, upland wildlife diversity is one focus of wildlife staff activities on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, including but not limited to popular game animals such as wild turkey and white-tailed deer. Management practices used to benefit upland wildlife include supplemental food and cover plantings, forest thinning, reforestation, and controlled burning operations. These practices give wildlife managers the flexibility to create a diversity of upland habitats suitable for a wide array of upland wildlife species. The resulting habitat diversity created through forest management activities ensures a positive benefit for hundreds of non-game vertebrate species as well as thousands of invertebrate species.

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Neo-Tropical Songbirds

The significance of non-game species and their required habitats are often overlooked in natural resource management programs. The Tenn-Tom Waterway Wildlife Mitigation Program is committed to ecologically sound management principles addressing both game and non-game species needs. The management of neotropical migratory songbirds is one such program dedicated to ensuring a balanced wildlife mitigation program.

With the assistance of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Sciences, the wildlife staff on the Tenn-Tom Waterway have developed a long-term monitoring program documenting baseline and annual population fluctuations of many declining neotropical species. The information from this monitoring program will provide songbird population data specific to the many habitat types being managed along the Waterway that is of vital importance in predicting long-term population trends and bird-habitat relationships.

A few of the neotropical migratory species that have been documented using the diversity of habitats on the project include the red-eyed vireo, northern parula, Kentucky warbler, yellow-breasted chat, prothonotary warbler, pine warbler, eastern towhee and many more. One only needs to spend an early morning in the bottomland habitats along the waterway to appreciate the tremendous diversity of songbirds on the project.

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Threatened and Endangered Species

Tenn-Tom Waterway project lands provide critical habitat for a host of threatened and endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species. As a result, a number of programs have been implemented to conserve, protect, and recover listed species or the ecosystems on which they depend. Such species would include the gopher tortoise, southern bald eagle, yellow-blotched map turtle, and red hills salamander.

One such ongoing program is restoration of the southern bald eagle to the project area. In 1992, over 30 immature bald eagles were released along the waterway through a procedure called "hacking" in the hopes that these birds would someday return to the Tenn-Tom to nest. From 1992 to present, approximately 80 nests have fledged over 60 young eagles. The program appears to be working and eagle sightings should only increase in coming years.

Another program is the ongoing restoration efforts in south Mississippi to reclaim an upland site from an invasive plant species (cogongrass) and restore it back to a traditional longleaf pine dominated ecosystem. This ecosystem is designated as critical habitat necessary for the protection of the threatened gopher tortoise. Over 200 acres on Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area (WMA) has been returned to longleaf pine in 2003 with another 200+ acres designated for future restoration efforts. Currently, there are approximately 5-10 active gopher tortoise burrows on the site.

These are just two examples of successful threatened and endangered wildlife programs on the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Other species of threatened and endangered wildlife are also being recruited or managed. In addition to the Corps efforts along the Tenn-Tom Waterway, the state of Mississippi has recently undertaken a project to establish a fish hatchery for walleye with future hopes of reintroducing walleye to northern Mississippi.

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Sensitive Plants and Animals

There are many plants and animals along the Tenn-Tom Waterway that are not considered threatened or endangered by law, but are still rare in occurrence and have been identified by the states of Mississippi and Alabama as needing special attention. These plants and animals are defined as those species "which are known or suspected to occur in small or unknown numbers".

The staff of the Tenn-Tom Waterway has recognized its responsibility and obligation as good stewards of the public's interest to conserve these plants and animals for future generations. Therefore, efforts are underway to identify and map as many special plants and animals as possible on the Tenn-Tom Waterway. The goal for managing these species will be to promote and protect these plants and animals as much as possible within the scope of identified project goals and purposes.

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