Alcoa Moves to Protect Rare Plant Found Only Along Yadkin River
In the shadow of the 96-year-old Narrows Dam, biologists fanned out across the rocky banks of the Yadkin River earlier this fall searching for the Yadkin River goldenrod, a plant once lost to science and only found sporadically along a 2.5-mile stretch of shoreline on the Stanly-Montgomery county line.
The plant’s only known population in the world occurs on the banks of Falls Reservoir on land exclusively owned by Alcoa Power Generating Inc. (APGI). The company recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to help ensure the wildflower doesn’t go extinct but instead has every opportunity to thrive.
“We saw an opportunity to do some simple things that would mean a lot for the future of the river’s namesake goldenrod,” said Karen Baldwin of APGI. “By being good stewards of this plant now, we’re doing our part to keep if off the endangered species list in the future.”
The agreement comes as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service makes strides toward proactively conserving rare species before they need to be listed on the Federal endangered species list. Taking steps to conserve a plant or animal before listing enables and encourages states, private landowners, Federal agencies, and other partners to play a central role in determining the best way to conserve these at-risk species. Such an approach is cheaper than trying to recover plants and animals that have declined further, and also avoids the need for increased protections afforded by placement on the endangered species list.
"This is a good example of how we can work together with the private sector to proactively conserve species to the point where federal protection is not needed,” said Leopoldo Miranda, the Service’s assistant regional director for ecological services in the Southeast Region. “Here in the Southeast we are evaluating hundreds of species for potential listing under the Endangered Species Act. Proactive partnerships with the states and the private sector, as demonstrated here, can be replicated throughout the Southeast.”
As part of the agreement, APGI will take several steps to protect the Yadkin River goldenrod. It will annually control invasive exotic plants that threaten to out-compete the rare goldenrod; post the area for anglers tempted to leave their boats and venture onto the APGI-owned shoreline; and support efforts to annually monitor the plant’s well-being. Additionally, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will work with the N.C. Plant Conservation Program to explore opportunities to harvest and spread seed to boost the existing population.
The goldenrod was first discovered in 1894 and wasn’t seen again for several decades until two state biologists independently rediscovered it in 1994. Due to its extremely limited distribution, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service considered placing it on the Federal endangered species list, but declined due to a lack of threats.
“At one point, we considered this species safe because of the low-level of threats, however in more recent years that has changed, threats are increasing, and thankfully APGI wants to step in to help,” said Mark Cantrell, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Invasive exotic plants, such as Mimosa, privet, bush honeysuckle, and Japanese honeysuckle have taken root on the shoreline. These plants aren’t native to the area, but the lack of natural controls and rapid and prolific reproduction enables them to spread and dominate an area to the detriment of native plants. As the number of people in the area has grown, the site has seen increased activity by anglers, who occasionally leave their boats and enter APGI property, where they may inadvertently trample the rare plants.
Due to these increased threats, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service designated the goldenrod a candidate for the Federal endangered species list in 2005. However, the agreement signed between APGI and the Service, called a Candidate Conservation Agreement, is designed to avoid that fate by implementing a series of pro-active conservation measures to protect the plant.