Richmond Hill Woods City Park

This blog is dedicated to preserving Asheville, NC's largest wooded green space, Richmond Hill Park, from becoming an athletic field complex and National Guard armory. If you want to Save this wooded park WRITE, CALL or email all City Council and Parks and Recreation TODAY. TEll them you oppose the ball fields in this unique, hilly and amazing wooded park. There are better places for ball fields than in the exceptional city park.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Rare species found, will our city respond with strong environmental stewardship? or something less?

April 14, 2006

To whom it may concern:

I examined the EIS for the Richmond Hills Park development and found
the biotic component to be grossly inadequate. The report appears to
rely almost entirely on records from the Natural Heritage database,
which are widely acknowledged as being unreliable for assessing the
biota of small isolated sites such as Richmond Hills that have rarely,
if ever, been visited by trained field biologists. As mentioned in a
previous correspondence, Richmond Hills Park contains two seasonal
ponds that provide critical habitat for rare vertebrates and
invertebrates. The inadequacy of the biotic component of the EIS is
obvious, since the authors apparently were not even aware of the
existence of seasonal ponds on site, and made no attempt to survey the
flora and fauna to determine if rare species are present.
I made a single visit to the site in winter 2006 and found two
regionally rare species, the marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) and
the eastern fairy shrimp (Eubranchipus holmanii). The marbled
salamander was probably common in the Blue Ridge of western North
Carolina before the wholesale destruction of seasonal wetlands in the
mountains. This species is currently at risk of regional extinction
from the Blue Ridge, where only three remaining populations are known.
The Richmond Hills population constitutes the fourth.
The eastern fairy shrimp is extremely rare in North Carolina. The
North Carolina Museum has no records of this species for the state and
I have been unable to find any records elsewhere, such as in the
Smithsonian collection, USFWS records, or the Natural Heritage database
for North Carolina. Based on correspondence with Joan Jass (Milwaukee
Public Museum), who recently completed an atlas of county and state
records for fairy shrimp in the US, this appear to be the only known
population of the eastern fairy shrimp in North Carolina. A
comprehensive survey of plants and animals on site will likely yield
other regionally rare or unique species. For example, the southern
nodding trillium (Trillium rugelii) was observed on site. This is a
rare regional endemic that is on the North Carolina watch list.
Numerous scientific studies indicate that seasonal pond communities
are highly sensitive to disturbance within watersheds. Amphibians such
as ambystomatid salamanders and wood frogs require large forested
buffers to maintain adult populations outside of the breeding season.
In addition, disturbances in the upper watersheds from timbering, road
construction, and urbanization can result in the long-term degradation
of seasonal ponds. Estimates are that watershed disturbance that is as
far as one-half to one mile from ponds will ultimately degrade pond
habitats.
The City Council is aware of the need to consider a watershed as a
single functional ecosystem that entails both the forested watershed
and the associated drainage systems. They are also fully aware of the
fact that disturbances in the upper watershed may ultimately affect the
quality of water resources below. This is the basis for providing full
protection for the Asheville watershed. The proposed construction
activities at Richmond Hills will in all likelihood have long-term
adverse effects on seasonal pond communities on site due to altered
hydrology, the loss of forest, compaction of soils from human traffic
(golf course), the input of nutrients from fertilizers applies to ball
fields, and the input of chemical pollutants from automobiles (e.g.,
oil that leaks from engines). These habitats will be best protected by
maintaining the park as a nature preserve or for other low-impact uses
such as environmental education. With an active program to control
exotic invasive plants on site, and limited forest management to
improve stand quality, the site could fulfill the duel role of
protecting rare ecological communities and providing a large green
space and nature preserve for future generations to enjoy. I encourage
the City Council, Parks and Recreation, and other interested parties to
aggressively pursue an alternative site for construction of ball fields
and other needs. At the very least, a comprehensive inventory of the
flora and fauna of the site is in order before any decision is made
concerning future development. Respectfully, Jim Petranka (Professor
of Biology, UNC-Asheville).

James W. Petranka
Department of Biology

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