June 19, 1998 Rivers of Life: Critical Watersheds for Protecting Freshwater Biodiversity warns that the continued degradation of our nation's rivers and streams could extinguish nearly 40 percent of freshwater fish species and two-thirds of mussel species, damage human health, and harm the $16 billion dollar U.S. sport fishing industry.
The comprehensive study, produced by The Nature Conservancy in cooperation with Natural Heritage Programs and the Association for Biodiversity Information, examines data for each of the nation's approximately 2,100 watersheds. The report outlines a practical approach to conservation success: prioritizing, protecting and restoring a mere 15 percent of these watersheds could conserve populations of all vulnerable freshwater fish and mussel species.
"The condition of our nation's freshwater systems and species is alarming, but we have a great opportunity to improve the situation through taking action in these critical watersheds," said John C. Sawhill, president and chief executive officer of The Nature Conservancy. "The Conservancy is actively working with partners to protect 85 of these 327 key watersheds, but more must be done."
Rivers of Life reveals that U.S. rivers and lakes rival the tropics in their diversity of fish species and other stream life. According to the report, these animals are in danger throughout the U.S., but the largest numbers of imperiled species are in the U.S. Southeast and West. Western states have the highest proportion of extinct, imperiled and vulnerable fish species.
Deborah B. Jensen, Conservancy vice president for conservation science, said, "Protecting freshwater ecosystems will require that we become much more creative in our conservation approaches. The Nature Conservancy is responding to this challenge by creating a Freshwater Initiative that will cut across traditional scientific and conservation disciplines, and bring together local watershed practitioners to share lessons and best management practices."
"The type of national picture of freshwater health that emerges from this study makes clear the need for continued focus and investment in the fundamental inventory work that made this study possible" said Richard Warner, Executive Director of the Association for Biodiversity Information. "Only by understanding where at-risk aquatic species occur can we efficiently direct our efforts toward protecting them."
Rivers of Life is the latest report in the Conservancy's NatureServe publication series. The report was produced with support from the Regina Bauer Frankenburg Foundation. The NatureServe program is made possible by Canon U.S.A., Inc. through its Clean Earth Campaign, and is designed to promote conservation by raising public awareness and advancing scientific knowledge.
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