Protecting the threatened species in South Georgia

Threaten and endangered species live within the Flint River Basin (Source:WALB)
Threaten and endangered species live within the Flint River Basin (Source:WALB)
Scientists are studying the threaten populations (Source:WALB)
Scientists are studying the threaten populations (Source:WALB)
Jessica McGuire, Program Manager, Wildlife Resources Division (Source:WALB)
Jessica McGuire, Program Manager, Wildlife Resources Division (Source:WALB)
Richard Brown, Flint RiverQuarium Director (Source:WALB)
Richard Brown, Flint RiverQuarium Director (Source:WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The populations of some threatened species in South Georgia are continuing to lose ground.

While they may sound like exotic terms, plants and animals are getting closer to becoming endangered and extinct, but scientists are working to prevent that.

There are more than sixty protected species in the state of Georgia and some of them may be living in your own backyard.

Understanding Keystone species

Slow, and steady, a Gopher Tortoise edges its way toward a meal.

As fabled, with a little patience, the tortoise succeeds in the long run, but, for this species, time may be running out.

"It is a definite possibility," Jessica McGuire, a Program Manager at the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, said. "They don't reproduce really fast. There are a lot of things that like to eat their eggs."

The keystone species provides refuge to up to 300 different animals in its boroughs, some of which are also threatened.

McGuire said the Gopher Tortoise is listed as threatened in the state.

Development, deforestation and other issues, even people pouring gasoline into boroughs to kill rattle snakes, have led to a decline in their population.

"We've documented them staying in the same home range, using the same boroughs 20 to 30 years later," McGuire said. "So, when they have to move, it's really stressful to them. We don't think they do well."

"It's probably been moved out of its habitat and found the next greatest thing in our backyard," McGuire said.

Why it matters to you

Animal experts say the boroughs, and their creators, are critical to maintaining order in the ecosystem of South Georgia.

Flint RiverQuarium Director Richard Brown said, ultimately, that effects us.

"Our survival as a species is very dependent on everything else and its survival," Brown said. "Its all one. So, we have to be careful about how we treat the land and how we treat the animals."

Brown said dams built on Lake Seminole have made it difficult for Gulf Sturgeon to make it up the Flint River.

"These are one of the oldest types of fish," Brown said. "You can see the armor plating on their side."

That's where he says one of our areas critically threatened species, the Purple Bank Climber Mussel, depends on them.  As the sturgeon population declines, the Purple Bank Climber nears endangerment, along with other species of mussels in the Flint River Basin that are nearing extinction.

"You just have a lot of respect for these animals when you work with them," Brown said.

That's something Brown doesn't want to see. He said its not just the titans of industry that can make a dent on the survival of these animals.

"Just keep an eye out," Brown said. "If the bills are coming up that don't benefit the environment, then, you know how to vote."

Property owners can also contact the Department of Natural Resources to learn how to co-exist with threatened species, like the Gopher Tortoise, that may have cozied up beside their families.

"We're interested in our grandchildren's survival and their grandchildren's survival," Brown said. "Its all very interrelated."

A link Browns says creates an responsibility for humanity.

You can learn more about federally protected species in Georgia at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website. Those protected by the state government are listed at the Georgia DNR website.

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