Public-Private Partnership Conserves Red Hills Salamander Habitat in South Alabama

Red Hills salamander

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently awarded the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF) of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) nearly $9 million in land conservation grants authorized by Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act to apply toward the purchase of two land tracts totaling 4,911 acres of critical Red Hills salamander (RHS) habitat in Monroe County, Alabama. The Forever Wild Land Trust will provide the remainder of the funding for the acquisitions.

The land acquisitions – known as the Red Hills Brown-Schutt Trust tract and the Red Hills Flat Creek Phase III tract – are part of a long-term conservation goal of delisting the RHS, which has been federally listed as a threatened species since 1977.

The tracts are located near the community of Franklin in Monroe County, Alabama, and join the 6,120-acre Forever Wild Red Hills Complex in the effort to increase the amount of protected RHS habitat. In addition to habitat conservation, these tracts will eventually be accessible to the public for outdoor recreation including hunting, wildlife watching, and birding.

Partners in the acquisitions include the USFWS, ADCNR, the Forever Wild Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, Conservation Resources, and the Brown-Schutt Trust.

"This is a great acquisition, and not just for Alabama," said Leopoldo Miranda, USFWS Southeast Regional Director. "The state's commitment to conservation means that everyone – the residents of Alabama, as well as the visitors from elsewhere, people who hunt and fish or just like to get outside – have a chance to experience nature at its finest. And, last but not least, so do the animals that benefit from these purchases.”

Christopher M. Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner, echoes Director Miranda’s statement.

“I am so excited for the partnerships that have led to these very important land acquisitions,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “These projects continue the work that we and our partners began several years ago to acquire enough land to conserve habitat for the long-term success of the Red Hills salamander. When state and federal governments, conservation groups, and industry work this well together, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.”

The Nature Conservancy in Alabama has worked with landowners, ADCNR, and other partners in the Red Hills region for more than 10 years to conserve RHS habitat.

“We have partnered for many years with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Forever Wild, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the endangered Red Hills salamander in Monroe County,” said Keith Tassin, Interim Director of The Nature Conservancy in Alabama. “We are very excited to see these efforts really moving the needle for the conservation of this species, and we look forward to our continued efforts to restore and protect this unique habitat.”

Conservation Resources, an investment organization that offers investment opportunities in land with significant conservation and natural resource value, helped facilitate the Flat Creek Phase III acquisition.

Managing Director of Conservation Resources Kent Gilges said his organization is proud to be involved in the effort to protect habitat for endangered species and help create new areas for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.

“When private companies, public agencies, and conservation organizations work together, we can conserve enough area to assure the future of Alabama’s rich natural heritage,” Gilges said.

Projects like these acquisitions help create a better understanding of the natural world and have the potential to benefit not only the plants and animals they protect but also the communities located near public lands.

Al Stokes is a Regional Director for Senator Doug Jones’ office. He is based in Mobile, Alabama, but grew up in the community of Franklin near the Brown-Schutt and Flat Creek tracts.

“These acquisitions are very significant to the vitality and growth of conservation in the state, particularly in communities that many are unfamiliar with such as the Red Hills region of Alabama,” Stokes said. “Now, through these conservation efforts, the world can learn more about the Red Hills and the Franklin community.”

In addition to conserving RHS habitat, many other rare animals are potentially present or have the potential for reintroduction on the Brown-Schutt Trust and Flat Creek tracts. These species include the Bachman’s sparrow, worm-eating warbler, endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise, southern hognose snake, coral snake, eastern fox squirrel, as well as many aquatic species that may be present in headwater streams located on or near the newly protected land.

About the Red Hills Salamander

One of the largest lungless salamanders in the world, the RHS can grow up to 10 inches long. Its translucent purple skin helps make the RHS a strikingly beautiful animal, but you’re unlikely to catch a glimpse of this creature. It spends most of its time hunkered down in a subterranean burrow, only venturing out at night to ambush small prey like crickets, spiders, and earthworms.

The known range of the RHS consists of a small strip of land in the Red Hills region of Alabama. It is found nowhere else in the world. This geographic isolation allowed the animal to evolve independently from other salamander species millions of years ago, making it the only member of its genus. Due in part to its very limited range, low reproductive rates and specific habitat requirements, the RHS is federally listed as a threatened species.

Since 2000, the RHS has been recognized as Alabama’s official state amphibian thanks to a group of Fairhope Elementary School third graders who campaigned for the designation.

The RHS inhabits the forested slopes and valleys below the steep bluff of the Red Hills, which stretch across Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Butler, Monroe, and Wilcox counties. The region’s steep slopes are covered in mixed hardwood and provide the shade, cover, and moisture needed for the salamander to survive. Habitat fragmentation is considered one of the primary challenges to the survival of the RHS.

For more information about the RHS, visit www.outdooralabama.com/salamanders/red-hills-salamander.

Learn more about the Forever Wild Red Hills Complex at www.alabamaforeverwild.com/red-hills-complex.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.