1 week ago

Scientists search for rare mussel on Alabama’s upper Tallapoosa River

On a steamy July morning, along a quiet stretch of the Tallapoosa River north of Wedowee, a small team of biologists from Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) eyed the fast-moving water. The prior day’s rain had turned the river murky – not the best circumstances to search for an elusive and threatened species of freshwater mussel.

Conditions were better the prior morning, when the team scoured a four-mile section of the Little Tallapoosa River, to the north. During that day’s survey, biologists found freshwater mussels – but not the one they were seeking: the finelined pocketbook.

Somewhat disappointed but undaunted, the team plans to return to the river in August, when drier conditions will hopefully aid the ongoing search.

Searching for finelined pocketbook mussels in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A year ago, federal wildlife officials worked with multiple partners, including Alabama Power, and a private landowner to remove an old mill dam on the Tallapoosa, just above the river section the team hoped to search last week. For nearly a century, the 100-foot-wide dam adversely affected the river habitat and impeded the finelined pocketbook and its preferred “host fish,” black bass, from moving up and down the waterway. The pocketbook can be found in the upper reaches of the Tallapoosa watershed and in other isolated locations in Alabama rivers that flow toward Mobile and the Gulf of Mexico, but it is not known to exist at this time in the sections of the Tallapoosa where the team is now searching.

Alabama is rich in aquatic life and ranks at the top of the list for mussel diversity, with 182 species reported over the course of state history. But over the past 150 years, habitat destruction, construction of river dams, polluted runoff and other factors have led to a serious decline in the population of finelined pocketbook and other mussels across the Southeast. Removal of the old Howle and Turner Dam was one reason to expand the search for the fine-lined pocketbook in the Tallapoosa. The survey is also part of the ongoing process of relicensing Alabama Power’s Harris Dam, located farther downriver.

In order to support restoration of mussels and other species, federal officials designated stretches of select waterways in the Mobile River Basin, including portions of the Tallapoosa, as “critical habitat” for the finelined pocketbook and other freshwater mollusks. The designation is helping drive a coordinated effort to manage and improve water quality in the river.

Mussels are considered a “keystone” or indicator species – essentially a gauge for the health of creeks and rivers. Mussels need good water quality to survive, and their absence can indicate water quality issues.

Jeff Baker, a biologist at Alabama Power, is among the team on the lookout for the finelined pocketbook along with state conservation experts, in coordination with federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and others. The ongoing survey on sections of the Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa, in addition to several smaller tributaries, will help inform efforts to protect the mussels and, hopefully, help expand their population.

“This continues the history of cooperation with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Baker said.

The finelined pocketbook gets its name from the delicate lines that ring its shell. But the name also harks to the remarkable way the pocketbook propagates.

As part of their reproductive process, pocketbooks release a glue-like mucous that stretches out in the river current, like fine fishing line. At the end of the gummy line, the pocketbook’s larvae are attached in a tiny clump. The larvae wiggles and shimmies in moving water, mimicking tiny bait fish, and are snapped up by larger fish, especially black bass. The bass serve as a host for the larvae, which grow and develop over a two-week period in the fish’s gills before eventually dropping off into the water. By hitchhiking on the fish, pocketbook mussels can also spread their offspring farther along the waterway.

Todd Fobian, a biologist with ADCNR’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, was among the team searching for the finelined pocketbook last week. “They kind of look like rocks on the bottom of the river, but they’re a lot more than that,” he said.

“They’re down there filtering and feeding on algae and bacteria. Mussels are nature’s little filter systems,” Fobian said.

He said the oval-shaped pocketbooks can grow as big as 4-inch saucers, with some freshwater mussel species known to live as long as 100 years. Mature freshwater mussels can take in and filter as much as eight gallons of water a day, helping protect and improve water quality, Fobian said.

Mussels also are “pretty big components of the ecosystem and the food chain,” Fobian added, providing a source of food for fish and reptiles, small mammals and birds.

Eric Spadgenske, state coordinator for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program at FWS, said there are relatively few mussel species thriving in the Tallapoosa, which makes efforts to find existing populations and improve their habitat especially important. The goal: to expand the population to the point that they can be removed from federal protection and to prevent other species from being added to the list.

Removing the Howle and Turner dam was a significant step toward improving water quality in the upper Tallapoosa, Spadgenske said. He said the survey by Alabama Power and partners, and other ongoing research, point to better days ahead for rare species in the Tallapoosa. “That’s certainly our expectation and hope over the next five to 10 years.”

Fobian noted that the finelined pocketbook is among the species ADCNR is breeding at the agency’s Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Marion. Depending on the outcome of the Tallapoosa survey, the agency could consider augmenting any pocketbook populations found in the survey with mussels raised at the center or re-introducing the mussel to some sections of the river – if none is found. Other elements of a management plan for the mussels could include streambank restoration to reduce sediment and working with private landowners along the river to improve water quality.

Spadgenske said there is a growing alliance of individuals and groups working together to protect and improve waterways and water quality in Alabama. The Alabama Rivers and Streams Network includes multiple federal, state and local agencies, researchers, private landowners, nonprofits and businesses, such as Alabama Power, who all agree that clean, abundant water is a benefit to everyone.

Baker said Alabama Power will continue to coordinate with others to support habitat and species protection on the Tallapoosa River and other parts of the state.

Spadgenske added, “Everyone has a role to play. Without the work and support of all these organizations and stakeholders, public and private, including Alabama Power, a lot of these projects wouldn’t get done. It has really become a fine, moving machine.”

To learn more about the extraordinary array of mussel species in Alabama, and those in greatest need for conservation, check out ADCNR’s interactive map.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

38 mins ago

Sierra Club endorses Joe Biden, calls him ‘champion for climate justice’

Emphasizing its agenda of “climate justice,” the California-based environmental group Sierra Club announced its endorsement of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Monday.

In a release touting its intent to elect what it termed “climate champions up and down the ticket,” Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune outlined the desire of his group to defeat President Donald Trump.

“We are confident that Joe Biden will be the champion for climate justice that America needs in the White House,” Brune stated. “As Americans head to the polls in November, our country will be facing crises on multiple fronts, including a climate emergency that disproportionately harms communities of color. This may be the most consequential election of our lives, and it is critical that we replace Donald Trump with a leader who understands the scale and urgency of the climate crisis and is ready to take bold action to solve it.”

Sierra Club has maintained an active presence in Alabama this year.

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In May, Secretary of State John Merrill declared Sierra Club an organization “threatening the economic livelihood of Alabama’s own businesses” through what he called a “shortsighted political agenda.”

Merrill cited lawsuits initiated by Sierra Club to restrict Alabama energy production as part of his contention that the group’s effort in the state would kill jobs.

“The Sierra Club, which is based out of San Francisco, California, does not represent Alabama thinking or values,” Merrill wrote. “It is troubling to see out-of-state activist groups working to influence our state’s power supply and its workers.”

In March, Sierra Club was among the environmentalist groups which descended upon the Alabama Public Service Commission to oppose natural gas usage for power generation.

Sierra Club endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

54 mins ago

Madison County Commission says it will not break the law to remove a Confederate monument

Alabama is obviously not immune from the racial strife gripping the United States. In recent months, we have seen statues come down, a state representative attended a birthday party for Nathan Bedford Forrest, small riots and acts of vandalism.

Like most Americans, Alabamians have generally accepted that the Confederate memorials all over the state on courthouse squares and in public parks are going to come down. Some are headed to cemeteries, some are headed to storage, and the fate of many is still unknown.

In Madison County, the Huntsville City Council and the Madison County Commission have both voted to move its controversial Confederate statue, and a new resting place at Maple Hill Cemetery has been selected. However, the monument still remains.

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That monument was vandalized last week, and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong did not want to use taxpayer resources to clean it up, so it stands defaced and ugly near the steps of the Madison County Courthouse.

Strong appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” on Monday and made it clear he wasn’t going to clean it up or force county employees to do so, but he hinted that if someone wanted to clean it up in the dead-of-night, like when it was vandalized, they should have at it.

In the interview, Strong voiced frustration with recent reporting that indicated he and the Madison County Commission have not reached out to Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office seeking a way to remove the statue and pay a $25,000 fine.

The commission views this as a non-starter. Strong believes attempting to “negotiate” breaking the law is a violation of his oath of office. Instead, he “filed an application of waiver with the committee based on a law that was written in 2017,” he advised.

Strong is worried about precedent, saying, “[T]here’s a lot of hesitation in contacting the attorney general. What happens if the next time someone that somebody desires to remove the name Jefferson Street, Washington Street or they don’t like the name on a building? What do we do? Just go in here and let somebody set a fee, pay the fee, and say hey just remove whatever you want to?”

My takeaway:

This is what should be done. The Alabama Memorial Preservation Act is the law of the land and it has been upheld.

Obviously, Chairman Strong is right. The law needs to be followed, and if it is unwieldy, change the law. If you don’t, we will be seeing attempts to move historic markers, veterans memorials and the like that are followed by the presentation of a cartoonish $25,000 check.

Society cannot just ignore the laws we dislike and pay a fine and move on. The precedent is bad, and the Madison County Commission and its chairman want no part of it.

Listen:


Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

1 hour ago

ICE announces arrests of two illegal aliens in Alabama, including for attempted murder

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday announced two recent Alabama arrests by its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division.

According to a release, HSI made the pair of arrests in the Yellowhammer State on July 22.

Agents of the HSI Birmingham office reportedly arrested Christian Martinez, 32, a Salvadoran national and U.S. fugitive, on two state charges of attempted murder, as well as a charge of shooting into an occupied dwelling and another for being an alien in unlawful possession of a firearm.

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HSI Birmingham worked with the United States Marshals Service on Martinez’s arrest on a fugitive warrant at a work site in Mountain Brook. ICE is also pursuing federal charges for unlawful firearm possession. Martinez was booked into the Jefferson County jail and given a $150,000 bond. This is an ongoing, HSI-led investigation, according to the release.

Additionally, HSI Huntsville arrested Iris Ferreira-Cardoso, 49, a Brazilian national, for alleged violations of federal immigration law.

Agents from HSI Huntsville and ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations were part of a federal-local law enforcement collaboration that reportedly arrested Ferreira-Cardoso at a residence in Owens Cross Roads in Madison County. He will remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.

ICE advised that both Martinez and Ferreira-Cardoso are aliens who were in the United States illegally.

Martinez is alleged to have illegally entered the country without being inspected or paroled by an immigration officer on an unknown date and at an unknown location.

Ferreira-Cardoso was previously removed from the United States in 2005. He is believed to have returned after that time, allegedly illegally entering without being inspected or paroled by an immigration officer on an unknown date and at an unknown location.

“People in these communities can rest easier knowing that these two violent criminals are not roaming the streets in search of their next victims,” commented Acting HSI Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in Georgia and Alabama.

“The United States should not be viewed as a safe haven for violent criminals fleeing justice in their own countries,” he concluded.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Saban: ‘Players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home’

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban on Monday afternoon weighed in on the player-led #WeWantToPlay movement to save the 2020 college football season.

In an interview with ESPN, Saban commented on the movement that is in part led by Crimson Tide star running back Najee Harris.

The movement, less than a day old, has quickly gained steam, garnering public reactions already by President Donald Trump, other prominent elected officials across the nation and many in and around college football.

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Speaking to ESPN, Saban pushed back on the notion that student-athletes will inherently be safer if the season is not played.

“I want to play, but I want to play for the players’ sake, the value they can create for themselves,” Saban said.

“I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety,” he outlined. “Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2% positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of the July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”

The legendary coach noted that the SEC has already pushed back the start of its season to September 26 to allow the fall semester to resume before final decisions are made on football.

“It’s going to be a challenge when the other students get on campus, and I get that,” Saban remarked. “But we really don’t know what that entails until it happens. It’s a big reason we pushed the season back, to assess that, which is the prudent way to do it.”

Bama senior All-American offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood also spoke with ESPN, strongly stating his position. He underscored that players need to have a voice as conferences and schools make decisions.

“There’s a lot of noise and bad stuff out there about playing football with the virus going on, but I haven’t really seen anything about what the players want,” Leatherwood told ESPN. “We’ve been grinding all summer, and you don’t want it to be all for nothing.

“The story that needs to be written is that we want to play,” he added. “We take risks every single day, especially in this sport, and life shouldn’t stop. If there is a chance for long-term effects if you get it and people don’t feel comfortable, then don’t play. Everybody is entitled to their right. But we want to play, and we’re going to play.”

Harris, speaking to ESPN, praised Saban’s leadership.

“Coach Saban listens to his players and wants to hear from us first,” the running back advised. “He told us that none of this is about him, but it’s about us. He wants to hear our concerns, and we made it clear that we want to play and feel like Alabama is doing everything they can to make sure we can play safely.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth backed Saban on the matter in a tweet.

“I’m with Coach Saban on this one. The player are much safer on campus and at practice than back home. For the players sake, let them play,” he commented.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Birmingham, Huntsville rated best business climates among cities their size

Business Facilities magazine has ranked Birmingham and Huntsville as two of the most business-friendly cities in the United States.

Birmingham was ranked as the number one most business-friendly mid-sized city, and Huntsville took the number one ranking for small cities.

The same magazine ranked Alabama as the fourth-most business-friendly state in the nation, behind Texas, Virginia and Tennessee.

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Ed Castile, director of Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), told Made in Alabama why he believes Alabama received good grades in business rankings.

Castile said it is because the state has “an available workforce with an extraordinary work ethic, world-class companies that choose Alabama and hire our citizens, a business-focused Governor and Legislature who are totally engaged in our workforce strategies, and a Secretary of Commerce who helped create the Accelerate Alabama strategy that is the foundation of all our work.”

Business Facilities is a national publication that targets the industrial development and site selection industry. It has been publishing for more than 5o years.

“Alabama, home to thriving automotive and aerospace sectors, continues to expand its reach,” the publication wrote about the Yellowhammer State.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95