Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The Hatchie River in Tennessee is remarkable as the longest free-flowing tributary of the lower Mississippi, and contains the largest forested floodplain in Tennessee. Because it has remained undammed and unchannelized, the natural flood processes that drive the ecosystem are intact, sustaining the river and wetland habitats that support a rich ecological diversity.
The Hatchie River ecosystem is a complex interconnected ecological system encompassing bottomland hardwood forests, canebrakes, swamps, and sloughs, rivers and lakes. These habitats support more than 100 species of fish and 35 species of mussels. With 11 species of catfish, the Hatchie probably contains more species of catfish than any other river in North America. About 250 species of birds use the Hatchie’s forests at some point during the seasons. Swainson’s and cerulean warblers are some of the rarer birds found in its forests. Other wildlife found along the Hatchie include turtles, river otters, beavers, and deer.
Excessive sedimentation, contaminants, altered flow patterns as well as habitat fragmentation are all threatening the viability of the Hatchie. Heavy sediment loads flow into the Hatchie from most of the river’s 36 tributaries. Most of these sediments orignate from past channelization of these tributaries and less current land uses such as agriculture.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
The Hatchie continues to be one of the priceless gems of west Tennessee, thanks to the good stewardship of local landowners, citizen conservationists, and the protection afforded by the area's two national wildlife refuges: the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge and the Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge. Both of these refuges have been significantly expanded over the years through land purchases by The Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy, through its West Tennessee Program office, has created a five-year plan designed to reduce sediment flows to the river and protect important bottomland forest habitat. Building on recent success in restoring sections of streams, the Conservancy is embarking on the most ambitious stream restoration to date to reduce sedimentation into the river.
- The West Tennessee Program recently launched a water-quality trading feasibility study through an EPA grant. The study will evaluate the potential for using wetland restoration as a market-based strategy for reducing fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi River. Excess nutrients from farm fertilizers have caused the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. Preliminary results suggest that water-quality trading may be able to restore ecologically significant wetlands while at the same time improving water quality and reducing environmental compliance costs for local communities.
- Building upon previous successes in stream restoration along multiple tributaries to the Hatchie River, the West Tennessee Program is partnering with agencies and organizations to reduce streambank erosion and restore floodplain ecosystems on both private and public lands. Reforestation along river corridors throughout the region is a primary strategy for increasing wildlife habitat connectivity, reducing streambank erosion, and improving the health of aquatic ecosystems.
- Through a cooperative research effort supported by The Nature Conservancy, scientists from the University of Tennessee recently documented the reappearance of several rare bird and amphibian species at sites where bottomland hardwood forests have been restored in west Tennessee. Returning species included Swainson's warbler, barking treefrog, and prairie warbler. Data on the return of these species is now being integrated into regional conservation plans that can help to increase the ecological benefits of forest restoration projects.