Department Of Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Contact: Tom MacKenzie, FWS (404) 679-7291
For Immediate Release:May 26, 2004
Rick Ouellette, IP (912) 238-6399
Secretary Norton, International Paper Sign Landmark
Environmental Agreement to Protect and Manage Aquatic Resources

(SAVANNAH, Ga.) -- Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and International Paper today signed the first-ever Aquatic Resources Conservation and Management Partnership Agreement, a landmark environmental partnership expected to significantly improve freshwater ecosystems across the Southeastern United States.

The 10-year agreement covers 5.5 million acres of International Paper forestlands in nine Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Under the agreement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists will provide technical assistance as the company conducts extensive ecological surveys and conservation projects to help recover imperiled aquatic species and restore their habitat.

"This landmark agreement is a model of how voluntary partnerships with landowners can achieve far more for the conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitat than the government can by itself," Norton said at a ceremony on the banks of the Altamaha River near Brunswick, GA. "With a stroke of the pen, the Interior Department and International Paper are committing to work together to conserve imperiled aquatic ecosystems across an area larger than the state of Massachusetts."

"International Paper is pleased to be involved in the first agreement of its kind to focus on protection, recovery and management of aquatic resources across a broad area," said George O'Brien, IP's senior vice president-Forest Products. "Our company is deeply honored to have Secretary Norton here today to participate in our landmark signing event, and we thank The Nature Conservancy for recognizing the achievement as our host. We look forward to working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this groundbreaking agreement, showcasing the spirit of voluntary conservation measures."

The Southeastern United States is the center of temperate aquatic diversity. Freshwater ecosystems in this area of the country feature the highest diversity of freshwater mussels and
temperate freshwater fishes in the world. Yet threats to the health of the Southeast's aquatic ecosystem are very real. Nearly one-third of the 500 native fishes in the Southern states are considered imperiled. There are about 270 species of mussels in the Southeast, and about 75 percent of those species are in need of some form of conservation.

Freshwater mussels, which are widely considered to be prime indicators of water quality, are one of many aquatic groups that will be studied, managed and protected through this agreement. Management actions outlined in the agreement will benefit aquatic species well known to everyone such as the largemouth bass and channel catfish. They will also benefit imperiled species that rely on water quality like the boulder darter, a rare fish in Alabama and Tennessee; the flattened musk turtle, a rare reptile, and the Black Warrior waterdog, a rare amphibian, both in Alabama; and the dwarf wedgemussel, a rare mussel confined to the Atlantic Slope drainages.

The cooperative conservation actions called for in the agreement include:

  • Identifying areas on International Paper land to survey for presence of imperiled aquatic species where they might occur but have not yet been detected
  • Implementing and measuring the effectiveness of Best Management Practices to protect water quality during forest operations
  • Supporting propagation programs for imperiled aquatic species
  • Re-introducing imperiled aquatic species within International Paper forestlands where there is suitable habitat
  • Publicly promoting awareness of the needs of these species

"The Aquatic Resources Conservation and Management Partnership Agreement is the first comprehensive agreement that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has signed with a corporation to foster conservation of aquatic species, habitats and ecosystems," said FWS Director Steve Williams. "It lays the groundwork for future conservation of aquatic species in other habitats across the United States."

"The protection agreement will extend beyond International Paper forestlands to promote awareness of the need for conservation of aquatic species and habitats within the private sector, through a series of workshops." said Dr. Sharon Haines, IP's director-sustainable forestry and forest policy. "The streams, rivers and lakes that exist on our forestlands are home to thousands of rare fish and water species, and we place tremendous importance on protecting water quality in our forests to provide a nurturing aquatic habitat. I'm very proud of our company and the Fish and Wildlife Service for agreeing to this first of its kind partnership. The protection agreement will make a tremendous difference for aquatic species throughout the South."


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