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St. Catherine Creek Biological Monitoring in support of Landscape Model Development

The Pvt. John Allen National Fish Hatchery, the Baton Rouge Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and the Gulf Coast Plains/Ozark Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GCPO LCC) are partnering to develop a proactive approach in identifying problem areas and delivering aquatic habitat restoration actions, on the ground, before the problems reach an irresolvable level. This joint effort is already in the full process of data collection and evaluation to develop a spatially explicit model of aquatic habitats found on the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge in MS. The full spectrum of biological needs for both of the alligator gar, paddlefish, and other floodplain dependent species are found in this floodplain. The existing project is already developing remote sensing capacity to characterize all aquatic habitats found in this interior floodplain in terms of the biological needs of aquatic species. In addition, data on bathymetry, water quality parameters, flood frequency and duration periods and vegetative types are being collected in order to accurately portray and verify habitat characteristics in the spatial model. Hydro acoustic and side scan imaging will be utilized in order to deliver the highest quality data available to resource managers at the present. Quantitative biological information is necessary to complete the suite of data for the model. Abundance and distribution of selected fish needs to be collected in conjunction with environmental data in order to adequately characterize the importance of various physicochemical conditions to aquatic life. This project will collect those data on St Catherine Creek NMR. This project is currently on-going.

Importance to the Resource:
The Refuge contains approximately twenty one thousand acres of natural Mississippi
River floodplain, home to one of the most diverse assemblages of fish and aquatic species
found throughout the basin. Two of the greatest species of interest found here include the
alligator gar and the paddlefish. The full spectrum of biological needs for both of these
focal species is found in this floodplain.

The Problem:
Aquatic habitats are one of the most vulnerable resources affected by climate change,
urban sprawl, natural disasters and a host of other stressors related to modernization and
population growth in the Southeast United States. One of the most significant factors that
often passes below the radar screen of resource managers is sedimentation resulting from
runoff of development projects, agriculture crop land manipulations and timber harvest.
This type of underwater damage often goes unnoticed until the problem becomes so
severe that redial actions are often too costly to pursue in a timely manner and the rate
of floodplain habitat loss is largely unknown. Little information exists to identify which
remaining floodplain habitats are most important to floodplain-dependent species and
which need immediate conservation attention.

The Objective:
Re-routing flow patterns from surrounding watersheds into the St Catherines Creek
NWR is important to the preservation and enhancement of aquatic floodplain habitat.
This project will identify and prioritize habitats around which flow will be re-routed so
as to distribute sediment to the most beneficial locations on the refuge. By uniquely
categorizing aquatic habitat and hydrology, refuge managers can alter the landscape
to enhance diversity of aquatic and terrestrial species. The products developed in this
effort will be portable beyond the boundaries of the refuge and will allow managers on
other federal, state, and private lands to compare habitats and to develop and prioritize
conservation in a low-cost science-based manner.

FWS biologists will collect fish in various aquatic habitats on St Catherines Creek NWR
to quantify relative abundance and diversity of species using those habitats as seasonal
and hydrological changes occur and during the 2011-12 flood pulse. Data collection will
be structured to maximize utility in developing multivariate spatial models that are being
constructed by the GCPO LCC. Gill netting and electrofishing samples will be collected
at representative habitat locations where supplemental habitat and environmental

information are being collected so as to be useful in evaluating how environmental
variation influences fish populations and behavior. The GCPO LCC will participate in
site selection and frequency of data collection.


St. Catherine Creek, Mississippi

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