The ecologically-distinct lands and waters of West Tennessee provide a number of unique habitats types for fish and wildlife that are not found anywhere else in the state. Additionally, the Mississippi River and its floodplains are key components in The Nature Conservancy's Great Rivers Partnership and are recognized across our organization as a conservation priority.
While West Tennessee has areas of protected land, including state parks, state natural areas, federal parks and federal refuges, there remain many crucial conservation opportunities to pursue. These include protecting habitat zones in between previously protected areas, restoring bottomland hardwood forests and continuing stream restoration efforts, which can ultimately improve water quality and habitat all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Tennessee portion of the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain Ecoregion, which totals 24 million acres and covers 7 states in the lower Mississippi River valley, is a biodiversity hotspot. While the area and quality of river and bottomland forest habitats have been greatly reduced, the ecoregion still boasts a great diversity of life. Varieties of animals found in West Tennessee include 240 species of fish, 50 species of mammals, 45 species of reptiles and amphibians and 37 species of freshwater mussels. Approximately 60 percent of bird species in the continental United States use this ecoregion, either as permanent habitat or as part of their migration route. In addition, the bottomland hardwood forests of this region are among the most productive bird-nesting areas in the United States. West Tennessee also supports the greatest variety of reptiles in the state.
Due to flood control practices and other dramatic alterations to the landscape over the past two hundred hears, only 4.4 million acres of bottomland hardwood forest remain in this ecoregion, equivalent to 20 percent of the forest's original extent. Decades-old channel alterations (channelization), particularly in the Obion and Forked Deer river systems have significantly limited aquatic habitat in the region. Excessive siltation associated with increased runoff and streambank erosion continue to pose threats to the ecological integrity of West Tennessee.
By partnering with government agencies and organizations, the Conservancy is implementing a variety of innovative conservation strategies aimed at land protection and watershed restoration in West Tennessee. Recent projects include the following: