Natural Resources

Overlook Photo

From the flowing waters of Daddys Creek to the scenic vistas at Black Mountain, Cumberland County has a multitude of natural resources and it is the responsibility of those who enjoy these resources to protect them.

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Water Quality on the Plateau

Clean, safe drinking water is essential to life on the Plateau, and the CHCP addresses water quality in several ways. One aspect is soil filtration, a natural water cleansing process that can be negatively affected by development. However, by adding stream buffers, reducing paved surfaces, and maximizing natural vegetation, we can strengthen the natural filtering processes and improve our water quality for humans and animals.

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Importance of Riparian Buffers

Riparian buffers are strips of vegetation which surround streams. These buffers help to lessen the impacts of erosion and sedimentation on streams by holding sediment within the plant root systems and allowing rainfall and runoff to filter slowly into the ground. Riparian buffers improve water quality within our local waterways for residents and also provide habitat for many of our covered species.

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Impacts of Habitat Fragmentation

The quality and extent of habitat may be compromised by habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation occurs when habitat is divided into smaller fragments by roads, development, and urbanization. This division makes it more difficult for animals to travel, find food, and reproduce.

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Planning & Project Area

The CHCP Planning Area spans 7 watersheds and 13 counties on the Plateau. This area was designated based on suitability of habitat for the covered species. The CHCP Permit Area includes all of Cumberland County and represents the area covered by the Incidental Take Permit (ITP).

CHCP Planning Area Map

Regional Metrics

The table below is intended to provide a context of scale for counties, cities, towns, wildlife management areas, and watersheds within the CHCP Planning Area.

Table of Regional Metrics

Recreational Activities

Residents of the City of Crossville and Cumberland County have a long history of caring about outdoor recreation and providing places where future generations will continue to enjoy such pleasures.

Underwater Photo by C. Sutherland Meadow Park (2,200 acres) is owned by the City of Crossville. The building of Meadow Park Lake began in 1937 to provide water for City residents and businesses, and the lake's name was chosen from a community contest because it reflected the effort to turn the surrounding land into a recreational park. Cumberland Mountain State Park (1,720 acres) was acquired in 1938 and was built by the Cumberland Homestead Community with help from the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Work Projects Administration. Other parks in Cumberland County include Centennial Park, the Cumberland Trail, Obed River Park, Obed Wild and Scenic River, and Ozone Falls State Natural Area. Together, these parks provide opportunity for hiking, picnicking, fishing, wildlife watching, rock climbing, camping, boating/rafting, and playing sports.

In 1940, the Crossville Exchange Club encouraged the state to purchase a large tract of abandoned coal mine and timber land to designate as a wildlife management area (WMA). The Tennessee Conservation Commission made the initial purchase of 63,000 acres in 1942. In 1949, the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission (now Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) established a tentative purchase boundary encompassing 90,000 acres, and the land acquisition program continues today. As a result, people have access to Catoosa WMA (79,740 acres) for big and small game hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and more. Rope Swing Photo by C. SutherlandOther WMAs located in or partially in Cumberland County include Keyes-Harrison WMA (1,740 acres), Luper Mountain WMA (2,070 acres), and Mt. Roosevelt WMA (11,000 acres).

The Cumberland HCP can aid in continuing the community's legacy of love of the outdoors through species, habitat, and water quality conservation and by potentially adding to public lands that can be used for outdoor recreation.

Forests

Forest Photo The Cumberland Plateau contains one of the largest tracts of temperate hardwood forest in the world, housing a remarkable variety of aquatic and terrestrial species. Cumberland Plateau forests are some of the most diverse in the United States, on par with the California Redwoods and tropical forests of Hawaii.

Although logging between 1880 and 1930 removed much of the original tree cover, forests on the Plateau have gone through a second growth period and most soils retain soil structure capable of supporting healthy forests. The combination of original forest fragments and areas of healthy second growth provide essential habitat to larger animals like elk and black bear and smaller animals like songbirds and bats.

Streams and Rivers

Caney Fork River Photo Many of the Cumberland Plateau's beautiful attractions and much of its biological diversity can be credited to its most important natural resource: water. As rivers and streams cut downward through the Plateau's sandstone into the more easily erodible rock layers below, they create dramatic gorges, cliffs, arches, caves, rock shelters and waterfalls.

The Emory River watershed contains four main streams--the Obed River, the Upper Emory River, Clear Creek, and Daddys Creek. The Obed River starts near Crossville and flows east through a narrow valley toward its junction with the Emory River. The two principal tributaries, Clear Creek and Daddys Creek, join the Obed a few miles above its mouth. Parts of the Emory/Obed river system were designated as part of the National Wild and Scenic River network in 1974. This designation acknowledged the aesthetic beauty and biological health of the Emory/Obed system. The Obed River is one of the best whitewater rivers in the eastern United States.

Streams and rivers also represent a major component of the global hydrologic cycle. Rain and snow fall on the Plateau and percolate through soils to the water table or aquifer. The underground water table feeds streams and provides a consistent flow in stream channels. Soil infiltration provides a natural filter whereby good bacteria and other microorganisms remove pollutants and help clean water prior to entering stream channels. Believe it or not, streams on the Plateau are fed by these underground aquifers most of the time. However, as urban and suburban development occurs, and land surfaces are converted from pervious (permeable) soils to impervious parking lots, roads, and rooftops, infiltration decreases and overland flow feeds streams. Unfortunately, overland flow rinses potential contaminants including automobile oil and gas and other chemicals directly into streams and bypasses the natural filtration capacity of soils. Water quality, therefore, is improved when soils and stream ecosystems are allowed to perform their natural functions.

Hydrologic Cycle Image from Ohio Department 
					of Natural Resources
Photo Courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Fortunately, the HCP calls for decreasing impervious surfaces to assist water in flowing through natural pathways (soil percolation and infiltration) rather than as overland flow. Decreasing impervious surfaces essentially ensures that water is filtered naturally, which is remarkably similar to what happens in water and wastewater treatment facilities!

Rope Swing Photo by C. SutherlandEnsuring good water quality does much more than protect plant and animal species. Of course, stream organisms benefit directly from maintaining natural water chemistry and reduced contaminants, but so do people. The majority of Cumberland County citizens get water from wells that directly remove water from the aquifer, which provides a naturally filtered source of drinking water. Municipal residents rely on water treatment plants to filter water. Municipal water treatment facilities benefit from pervious soils and natural filtration because they receive water that requires less treatment than water which has traveled overland, collecting surface contaminants.

Enhancing water quality on the Plateau benefits all organisms living in the area, and the HCP will help ensure clean water flows through our streams and from our faucets.

Caves and Karst

Caney Fork River Photo While most people are familiar with caves, karst may be a new term. "Karst topography" refers to a landscape dominated by springs, sinkholes, caves, and disappearing streams. The development of karst topography begins underground with a simple chemical reaction. As rainwater falls and soaks into the soil, it combines with carbon dioxide in the air and decaying vegetation to form a mild carbonic acid that slowly dissolves limestone bedrock, which underlies much of the Plateau. This process gradually enlarges small cracks and pores, allowing water to begin to pool. Over thousands of years, these small pores and cracks expand to become underground streams and caves. When underground caves collapse, sinkholes are formed. Springs form where groundwater intersects the surface and is discharged.

Karst formations are common near the escarpments and coves of the Plateau. One of the most obvious areas where karst topography can be seen is in the northern end of the Sequatchie Valley, home to Grassy Cove, the largest sinkhole in North America, and possibly the world. Grassy Cove is drained entirely by underground streams. The valley's main stream, Grassy Cove Creek, flows northward across the cove then disappears into Mill Cave on the slopes of Brady Mountain. It winds its way through a series of caves before reemerging to form the headwaters of the Sequatchie River. Over geologic time, Grassy Cove will eventually become part of the Sequatchie Valley through continued dissolution of limestone and collapse of sinkholes.

In karst areas of the Plateau, an underground landscape exists that provides habitat for many rare species, some of which are exclusively found in a particular cave or sinkhole. The Cumberland Plateau has the highest concentration of caves and cave-dwelling invertebrate species in North America. A wide variety of cave-dwelling vertebrate species also live in Plateau caves, including two species of endangered bats.

Biology

Photo of Northern Long-eared Bat With some of the largest forested blocks remaining in the southeastern United States, the rugged lands and tumbling waters of the Cumberland Mountains and Plateau are home to a rich diversity of common and rare wildlife and plants.

The forests and rivers of the Cumberlands are among the most biologically diverse temperate-zone habitats in the world, and harbor an extraordinary variety of plants, fish, mussels, salamanders, fungi, and other species--many of which are found only in the Cumberlands. Over 80 rare species of plants and animals occur in the project area, including 20 federally listed Endangered or Threatened animal species, one of the highest concentrations of protected species in the United States. The area also contains an extensive karst topographical region, with thousands of caves which support one of the most diverse assemblages of cave-dwelling animals on the planet.

The larger unfragmented forest tracts in the highest elevations in the Cumberland Mountains support some of the most abundant and productive populations of Cerulean Warblers in the US. This blue warbler is steadily declining making the Cumberlands perhaps the most important portion of their summer range. In the last few years, elk have been reintroduced into the mountains after they were extirpated from the region over a century ago. Black bears are also making their way back into the Cumberland Plateau and Mountains.

Photo of Purple Bean Freshwater fish and mussels have a unique connection to one another. Each species of mussel depends on a certain species or type of fish to complete its lifecycle. This association is intricate and unique to freshwater mussels. In addition to this truly fascinating relationship, many of the freshwater fish and mussel species found on Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau are endemic, that is, they are found nowhere else in the world. When present, many of these fish and mussel species are also considered to be excellent indicators of good water quality.

Freshwater mussels are one of the most endangered groups of organisms in the United States. Most of the species of freshwater mussels are found in the Southeastern US, and they are especially sensitive to pollution and sedimentation. At first glance these critters look to be little more than rocks; it takes a bit closer inspection and a sharp eye to see the defining features that include bright yellow and green spots, stripes, and pearlescent interiors of these fascinating creatures. That same sharp eye might spot some jewel-bright blue, orange or green object darting through the water as well. These are the freshwater fish of the Plateau. Especially during the early spring breeding season these fish are easily as colorful as tropical varieties. The waters of Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau are teaming with life.

Covered Species

Looking for general information about the covered species and additional species to benefit? Please refer to a variety of resources on this site listed below:

  1. Covered Species Photo Gallery

  2. Additional Species to Benefit

  3. Species Fact Sheets

  4. Species Spotlights in Newsletters

Species Stressors

Habitat Loss

Quarry
Habitat loss is the greatest threat to the survival of wildlife in the United States today and is the primary cause of extinction in the world. Some of the causes of habitat loss include development, road building, logging, and conversion of forested land to agriculture, grassland, or pasture. When lands that once provided wildlife habitat are converted to housing developments, roads, pastures, etc., habitats can become so degraded and fragmented that they no longer support native wildlife.

Freshwater systems are degraded by impoundments (dams) and water diversions which fragment river systems. Degradation of habitat can also be caused by pollutants such as mining waste, acid rain, fertilizers, and pesticides which concentrate in our waters and soil and can affect the survival and reproduction of wildlife.

Habitat Fragmentation

Fragmentation and Powerlines Habitat fragmentation is the loss and isolation of natural habitats. A large portion of terrestrial habitat in the U.S. and the world has been divided into fragments by agriculture, roads, development, and urbanization. Aquatic habitats have been fragmented by dams and water diversions. Many species listed on the Endangered Species Act as endangered or threatened are listed because of habitat fragmentation. The loss and fragmentation of habitat impedes migration for aquatic and terrestrial migratory species and can increase the number of predators, competitors, and parasites in an area. In addition, some species require large territories for survival, and fragments of habitat may not be large or connected enough to support these species allowing for greater possibility of extinction.

Erosion and Sedimentation

Sedimentation Photo Soil erosion is a naturally occurring process caused by water and/or wind that results in sediment being removed gradually or rapidly from the land and carried somewhere else. When sediment is removed, topsoil is removed. Topsoil is the most fertile part of the ground, so it is a valuable resource for plant growth. Erosion of topsoil is most likely to occur in the absence of a layer of plants or organic matter such as decaying leaves to protect the soil. Unsustainable agricultural practices such as overgrazing as well as other activities such as timber harvesting, road building, and development can cause erosion rates to go from gradual to rapid resulting in a large scale loss of sediment.

Erosion is the number one cause of sedimentation in streams, and sedimentation is often identified the greatest single water pollutant. In streams, fine particles of sediment can be carried with the water or deposited on the streambed. When sediment is carried in the water, there is a reduction in the amount of sunlight transferred through the water which can negatively affect aquatic plants and insects that rely on sunlight. Many stream fishes lay their eggs under rocks on the streambed, and when sediment is deposited on the streambed, eggs and developing young may become covered with sediment and suffocate. Also, sediment fills in the spaces between rocks and cobble that some fish and other aquatic organisms rely on to find food and provide shelter.

Nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, pesticides, and herbicides often attach to soil particles and can be transported with sediment, and this sediment often finds its way into streams where it can cause harm to aquatic life. Excess nutrients, like phosphorus and nitrogen, in water bodies is the major cause of algal blooms and fish kills. A 10-year water quality survey completed by the U.S. Geological Survey that assessed water quality conditions in 51 of the nation's river basins and aquifers found at least one pesticide in more than 95% of the stream samples, and about two-thirds of the samples contained five or more pesticides. These pesticides can poison food and water sources and can unintentionally also kill other animals such as pets and livestock.

Decreased Water Quality

Mine Tailings In the U.S., agriculture and development are the two main causes of poor water quality. With development, comes the creation of impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces are surfaces such as driveways, roads, rooftops, and parking lots that do not absorb rainwater. Because these surfaces do not absorb rainwater as the ground does, the water that hits these surfaces is immediately channeled into gutters, storm drains, and culverts and is not allowed to recharge groundwater. As the water moves across these impervious surfaces, it also picks up pollutants and does not have the opportunity to be filtered by the soil before it reaches our streams.

The U.S. currently has over 330 million acres of agricultural land, and when inappropriately managed, agricultural activities can negatively affect water quality. Not only does agricultural pollution impair waters in rivers and lakes, but it is also a major contributor to groundwater contamination. Excess fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from agricultural and residential areas, sedimentation from improperly managed croplands, salt from irrigation practices, and bacteria and nutrients from livestock can all impair water quality. In order to determine if water bodies are impaired, scientists investigate several water quality indicators such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, etc.

When water temperatures become too high or too low, some organisms may not survive. Many fish such as trout need cool water to survive, and when water temperatures rise, fish may die off. Water temperature can also affect the amount of oxygen in the water. Cooler water holds more oxygen than warmer water, and if water temperatures become too high there may not be enough oxygen in the water to support fish and other aquatic life that require oxygen to survive. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 and measures how acidic or basic a substance is. The pH of water affects how chemicals are dissolved and therefore how organisms are affected by those chemicals. The pH of most waters ranges from 6-8. Highly acidic conditions (low pH levels) can cause death of aquatic life.

Alterations to Streambeds and Natural Flow Regime

Culvert Photo The natural flow regime describes how a river flows in its natural, unmodified state through time. Daily and seasonal fluctuations in stream flow naturally occur in balance with local rainfall. Floods deposit nutrients to stream banks and floodplains while scouring substrate and moving cobble bars which can be occupied by native species. The cyclic changes of flow in a river throughout the year are connected with the life history strategies of the plants and animals that call it home.

A natural flow regime is a good indicator of habitat and water quality. It will assure the temperature, substrate, channel dimensions, nutrients, and oxygen content are appropriate for the animals within it.

Dams, increased impervious cover, water withdrawal and diversions, and stream channelization are among the major contributors to changing flow regime. The effects of such practices diminish habitat quality and can lead to the extirpation or extinction of species, loss of biodiversity, closures in fisheries, declining water quality, increased invasive species, and more frequent and intense flooding.

Conservation Solutions

To protect rare, threatened, and endangered species the Cumberland Habitat Conservation Plan (CHCP) aims to conserve their habitat within Cumberland County. Habitat conservation measures will ensure that development activities follow several guidelines when clearing land, building roads and bridges, and constructing buildings. A large proportion of the conservation measures involve avoiding areas near streams and wetlands to facilitate vegetative growth. The areas near streams are called riparian buffers and they protect the stream and habitat for many semi-aquatic and terrestrial species. Other conservation solutions such as low-impact development and setting aside land for conservation can be implemented to address stressors to the species covered under the CHCP.

Benefits of Buffers

Riparian Buffers
Aerial View of Riparian Buffers Riparian buffers reduce flooding by reserving an area for soil percolation during rains. By setting aside vegetated areas for soil percolation, we can encourage slow infiltration into the groundwater system, which will then provide clean water for use by residents and facilities within Cumberland County. Riparian buffers can ensure that a stream flow resembles natural conditions by reducing sediment input and stormwater runoff into the stream. Natural stream flows support healthy benthic (stream bottom) habitats and foster habitat for a broad range of aquatic species. In turn, aquatic species such as aquatic insects provide a food source for other animals such as birds and bats. Riparian buffers also reduce stream temperature via shading and provide nutrients to all animals through organic inputs of leaves, sticks, and wood.

Key Ecological Feature Buffers
Buffers are also effective at protecting key ecological features (KEF) such as rock outcrops and wetlands because they extend vegetated areas near the features. Vegetated buffers near KEFs provide shelter, foraging areas, and protection for animals such as snakes, bats, and salamanders that depend on KEFs for survival. Additionally, by buffering wetland KEFs, we can ensure that adequate moisture and light required by many wetland plants are maintained should development occur.

Benefits of Low Impact Development (LID) Practices

Soccer Complex Low-impact development (LID) refers to practices that reduce the environmental footprint of development. A primary LID approach is to reduce the extent of structures and impervious surfaces, such as rooftops, parking lots, and sidewalks. More permeable materials that allow rainwater to percolate into the underlying soils and ultimately into the groundwater are often used in place of hard, impervious surfaces. LID techniques such as grassed swales (low, hollowed areas), infiltration trenches, and rain gardens serve to capture rainfall that runs off directly from these surfaces; they promote slow infiltration into the ground and reduce the impact of stormwater runoff.

LID techniques also serve to maintain the natural flow regime (or stream flow) near areas of development. By reducing the extent and composition of impervious surfaces and by maintaining natural vegetation on site, LID techniques can decrease flood volumes, flood frequency, and erosion. To aquatic species, high flows can be extremely detrimental by directly washing organisms downstream, removing pebbles and gravel from stream bottoms (and thus reducing habitat quality), and introducing sediment that can scour gills of aquatic animals. Similarly, aquatic plant seeds can be carried too far downstream if stream flow is unnaturally high. LID techniques may also reduce the volume of sediment found in storm water runoff by encouraging slow percolation through more permeable materials. Slow infiltration reduces erosion of materials. Collectively, these types of LID techniques reduce flooding and help ensure that clean water stays on the Plateau.

Soccer Complex Another LID technique, which takes a more holistic approach to development, is site planning and design. By building in accordance with the landscape, incorporating vegetated areas into the design, and choosing appropriate structural designs and materials, impacts to the environment can be minimized. In general, the more rooted vegetation that remains on a development site, the more naturally the landscape will perform with respect to soil percolation and decreased storm water runoff. Simply leaving a portion of natural vegetation (trees, shrubs, native grasses) can make a big difference in the amount of water that percolates into the ground. Additionally, making use of other LID techniques such as roof leader disconnections (removal or rerouting of gutter downspouts), rooftop gardens, and organic filters can ensure that clean rainwater reaches our groundwater system and streams effectively.


Benefits of Setting Aside Land for Conservation:

A common approach to habitat conservation is simply setting aside good quality habitat for protection. Land can be set aside through a variety of mechanisms such as: conservation easements, preserves, and parks. By setting aside some of these areas we can help ensure that species will have the resources necessary to travel, feed, and reproduce into the future. Technology such as GIS (digital mapping using species and habitat information) helps scientists to assess the quality of habitat in broad geographic areas and allows them to identify future habitat for species based on their needs. However, this conservation solution requires a commitment from the community and other associated agencies to set aside and manage land.
Overlook Photo