The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently awarded the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) a grant to land conservation of nearly $2.57 million authorized by Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act. toward the purchase of 1,728 acres of Red Hills Salamander Critical Habitat (RHS) in Monroe County, Alabama. The Forever Wild Land Trust voted to provide the remainder of the funding for the acquisition at its November 3, 2022 meeting.
The land acquisition, known as the Phase V Tract of Red Hills Flat Creek, will be added to the existing 11,063-acre Red Hills Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in an effort to increase the amount of ‘RHS protected habitat as well as increase access to the outdoors. recreational opportunities such as hunting, wildlife viewing, and bird watching.
“With the creation and expansion of the Red Hills Wildlife Management Area, our goal has been to work toward the possible delisting of the Red Hills salamander as threatened and to provide additional recreational opportunities for the great outdoors for Alabamians,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner and Forever Wild Land Trust Board Chair. “This WMA is a great example of how you can provide sanctuary for threatened species while expanding access to outdoor recreation. We are grateful for the partnerships that helped make this project possible.”
Partners in the Red Hills Flat Creek Phase V acquisition include USFWS, ADCNR, Forever Wild Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, and Conservation Resources.
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 see this creature. It spends most of its time in an underground burrow, only venturing out at night to ambush small prey such as 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 not found anywhere else in the world.
Federally listed as a threatened species since 1977, habitat fragmentation has long been a factor that continues to threaten the future of the species. In addition to the Flat Creek Phase V tract, the ADCNR is in the process of closing an additional 760 acres (Flat Creek Phase IV tract) to be added to the WMA. When the acquisitions are completed, the Red Hills WMA will provide 13,551 contiguous acres for RHS habitat and outdoor recreation access.
Many other endangered animals are potentially present or have the potential for reintroduction in the Red Hills WMA. These species include Bachman’s sparrow, worm-eating warbler, endangered red woodpecker, gopher tortoise, southern hognose snake, coral snake, and eastern fox squirrel, as well as many aquatic species that may be present in headwater streams located in the WMA.
The ADCNR promotes the wise management, stewardship, and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.