Dragon Run Special Area Management Plan

Natural Resource Agencies and Organizations

July 16, 2002



- Topics -

1.      Welcome and Introductions


2.      Brief Description of Your Organization’s Research in the Dragon Run:

Past, Present, and Future


3.      Open Discussion


4.      Research Needs and Partnership Opportunities


5.      Adjourn






Derral Jones (DCR/Planning); Mike Vanlandingham (DCR/Soil&Water); Andy Lacatell (TNC); Teta Kain (Friends of Dragon Run); Bob Greenlee (DGIF); Julie Bixby (DEQ/Coastal); Greg Garman (VCU); Willy Reay (VIMS/CBNERR-VA); Will Smith (US FWS); Rebecca Wilson (DCR/DNH); Darren Loomis (DCR/DNH); David Fuss (MPPDC)


Welcome and Introductions


David Fuss welcomed everyone to the meeting and explained that the idea had originated with Andy Lacatell and Bob Greenlee. Held under the auspices of the Dragon Run Special Area Management Plan, the idea was to gather those agencies and organizations involved in data collection of natural resources in the watershed – past, present, and future. This should help to illuminate gaps in data collection and suggest potential partnerships between organizations. Each meeting participant was asked to summarize his/her organization’s data collection efforts or interest in the watershed.


Andy Lacatell – The Nature Conservancy’s Chesapeake Rivers Program


The Nature Conservancy uses eco-regional planning to define areas of high conservation priority. During eco-regional planning, areas are identified that should be protected because of they exhibit a representative sample of biodiversity for that ecosystem. These areas may include large forested tracts or small areas protecting rare, threatened, or endangered species. The Dragon Run Watershed represents the largest forested complex in the Chesapeake Bay region. Due to its high level of function, the Dragon Run is considered by TNC to be a high priority for protection of aquatic life. Research in the watershed is aimed at a better understanding of the ecosystems and is heavily dependent on other data sources. Currently, TNC is undertaking a quantitative assessment of beaver dams as impediments to anadromous fish passage.


Greg Garman – The Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University


Dr. Garman is involved in three projects within the Dragon Run Watershed.


1.      Research on the relationship of beavers and anadromous fish passage, sponsored by The Nature Conservancy. This consists of collection and analysis of data concerning the parameters of beaver dams (e.g. dam structure, dimensions, composition, etc.) and the passability of these structures with respect to anadromous fish (e.g. herring, shad)

2.      Virtual stream project, sponsored by VA Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (with funding from VA DEQ/Coastal Program). This research project is focused on three small watersheds in the coastal plain, spanning “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The Dragon Run represents “the good.” By measuring a large suite of candidate metrics, Dr. Garman hopes to determine which stream attributes are most important and use this to define appropriate reference conditions for restoration projects.

3.      Future aquatic resources inventory, sponsored by the Dragon Run SAMP (Mid. Pen. PDC and DEQ/Coastal Program). This project will attempt to inventory the fish assemblages in the Dragon Run system and will include partnerships with VIMS/CBNERR-VA and DGIF.


Bob Greenlee – VA Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries


Mr. Greenlee is an aquatic biologist focused on the tidal rivers of Virginia (e.g. James, York, Rappahannock, etc.). In his opinion, the Dragon Run represents the best of tidal systems in Virginia. DGIF maintains scientific collections of aquatic specimens, but there is not much from the Dragon Run/Piankatank before 1980. Most of the collections have been focused on the estuarine tidal portions of the system. There has been some backpack and boat electrofishing. Coastal plain stream studies of fish assemblages focused on the Dragon Run above Mascot, with yearly sampling from 1997 to 2000. In 1998, a comprehensive coastal plain study was performed, including 13 sites within the Dragon Run Watershed. Below U.S. Rt. 17, anadromous fish studies were performed (by Dean Fowler) in 1992 and 1995-1996. The latter study included weekly sampling, but no strong runs of herring and shad were detected. Work to assess the catfish assemblage was undertaken in 1999 and 2000, which indicated that the Dragon Run had the best assemblage of catfish in Virginia’s coastal plain and had a low population of blue catfish (non-native species). In the future, DGIF plans to study the catfish assemblage in the Dragon Run/Piankatank, looking specifically for blue catfish to predict the impact of this non-native species on the catfish assemblage.


Derral Jones – VA Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Planning and Recreation Resources


Mr. Jones is involved in recreation planning. He indicated that the Dragon Run has been a candidate for the Scenic Rivers Program since the mid-1970’s. He also mentioned that it could be a candidate for inclusion in the Blueways Program, an network of water trails for paddling. The 2002 Outdoors Plan has a goal of maintaining good access to public trust waters and indicates that access is desperately needed in the region. There are two funding sources that may be of interest – the Trails Grant Program and the Recreational Development Program.


Rebecca Wilson – VA Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage


Ms. Wilson is the land steward for Natural Area Preserves in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula region. The Division of Natural Heritage has strong interest in the Dragon Run as a unique ecosystem. In 1999 and 2000, the DNH conducted a rare species inventory and found 21 rare plant and animal species and 5 significant natural communities. Each of these rare species and communities is ranked for rarity on a system used by DNH. Yet, there are areas and types of species that have not been investigates thoroughly (e.g. mussels). DNH also provides support for the establishment of conservation easements.


Willy Reay – Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia


The Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Virginia is a federally funded program with focus on research, monitoring, and education. This program primarily focuses on Reserve properties in the York River. Recently, a new state Coastal Reserve program was formed with a focus on the Dragon Run/Piankatank River. The program is currently in the process of acquiring a parcel of land fronting the Dragon Run at Mascot. The plan is to set up a weather station and water quality monitoring station at the site. The site would also be used for educational purposes. In addition, water quality and nutrient monitoring was performed as part of a 2000 project with the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission to investigate tributary streams and the main stem of the Dragon Run. This study incorporated VA DEQ water quality data. The program is currently advocating for new monitoring stations in the Piankatank River to investigate a zone of low dissolved oxygen. There is also a possibility of establishing an educational program for professional development.


Will Smith – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not done much study in the Dragon Run. The Service is focused on threatened and endangered species. Mr. Smith works primarily with private landowners on a voluntary habitat restoration program that works to re-establish wetlands and hardwood forest. The Ecological Services office in Gloucester has several sections: contaminants; fisheries/habitat; threatened and endangered species; Clean Water Act Section 404 permit review; and private lands. The office may be able to provide asssistance with 1) fisheries surveys with federal aid program to states; and 2) contaminants with respect to spill response. They could also contribute automatic water level monitoring wells, if needed.


Teta Kain – Friends of Dragon Run


The Friends of Dragon Run is a non-profit environmental organization formed in 1985. The organization owns land and conservation easements in the watershed and is dedicated to the preservation, protection, and encouragement of wise use of Dragon Run and its watershed. The Friends actively promote research on their land, such as a sedimentation study by a graduate student at University of Virginia. They also provide volunteer services for collection information and the organization’s membership includes amateur naturalists, who keep observation records from their travels in the watershed. Studies undertaken by the Friends include: reptile and amphibian survey; fish surveys; flora studies in small, focused areas; and 3-4 years worth of monthly bird lists, including plants and animals observed. An observation was made that the Friends’ data could be used as verification of the VA DGIF habitat database, which identifies habitat that is likely to contain particular species. The Friends have recently participated in The Nature Conservancy’s beaver dam assessment project.


Julie Bixby – VA Dept. of Environmental Quality, Coastal Resources Management Program


With funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the VA Coastal Program is sponsoring the development of the Special Area Management Plan for the Dragon Run Watershed. As part of this project, an aquatic inventory is planned. Furthermore, the Coastal Program is funding DCR’s virtual stream assessment work being performed by Dr. Garman at VCU.


Mike Vanlandingham – VA Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Soil and Water Conservation


Mr. Vanlandingham works with the Shoreline Erosion Advisory Service, which offers site specific recommendations to private landowners in tidal areas. This responsibility is being expanded to cover nontidal areas, as well. Recently, the program adopted a new mission, which is to assist with the development of watershed management plans. This can take the form of stream reach assessement for shoreline erosion problems. The program also reviews consulting firm plans to solve erosion and sedimentation problems.


Other Studies


1.      Ms. Susan Barrick, Board member of Friends of Dragon Run and retired VIMS librarian, intends to establish a database of research and data collection that has been performed in the Dragon Run Watershed. This will be housed at VIMS and be available through the VIMS web site. She has encouraged agencies and organizations to contribute reports, publications, or data sets to be included in the database.

2.      Dr. Bryan Watts, Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary, has been involved in ornithology studies in the Dragon Run. They perform a helicopter survey for bald eagle nests each year and have found 2 nests in the Dragon Run this year. Neither was productive, but both were active. In 1993, a colonial bird survey was completed and 3 heron colonies were located in the Dragon Run. This survey will be repeated in 2003. No ground surveys for breeding passerine birds have been completed. A survey of bank nesting birds and ospreys was completed for the Chesapeake Bay region, but this did not extend into the Dragon Run – only into the Piankatank River.

3.      VA Dept. of Environmental Quality maintains water quality monitoring stations and the data is available online at the VA DEQ web site. The Dragon Run was recently listed as impaired for pH and fecal coliform, most likely due to natural sources.

4.      U.S. Geological Survey maintains a stream gaging station at Mascot and the data is available online.


Open Discussion


There is a distinct need for studies of mussel populations in the Dragon Run (DGIF, US FWS?).


There is likely to be an expansion of the virtual stream assessment work being performed by DCR/VCU within the next 12-15 years. Mussel research could be incorporated into this work.


What kinds of efforts are underway to acquire conservation easements and conservation land?

·         Virginia Outdoors Foundation

·         US Fish and Wildlife Service has assisted states in acquiring eagle nesting areas, but state must apply for funding

·         Friends of Dragon Run held workshops concerning easements, but these were generally viewed as unsuccessful


Research should be driving the identification of high priority areas. It was noted that DNH has identified conservation sites based on the habitat needs of the natural heritage resources that DNH has documented.


Sustainable Forestry Practices – VA Dept. of Forestry – concerns are clearcluts, conversion to pine, and canopy retention


US Environmental Protection Agency’s Watershed Initiative is a new program just being developed. There is ~$21 million available and each state can nominate a watershed. EPA is looking for comment on the criteria for the grant program. The Nature Conservancy is commenting and is leaning towards advocating functional watersheds. Proposals will be submitted by the Governor by February 2003. The Dragon Run might be a good candidate for this program (the other is the Clinch River in SW Virginia). Funding might focus on blue catfish invasion or mussel research.


Discussion of water quality in the Dragon Run. The listing of the Dragon Run as impaired for pH and fecal coliform must be due to natural conditions. More concern should be paid to nutrients and sediment load. There are a lot of fine sediments in the system. Are these resulting from in-stream processes or erosion?


There would be a great benefit to a data/research repository. This would mean one location for the data with the list of partners driving the collection and storage and analysis of the data. Once communication lines have been established and partnerships develop, then the group can decide how to proceed.


Invasive species are a major concern, primarily blue catfish. Blue catfish could be introduced naturally from the Rappahannock River. The Dragon Run is so undisturbed that it might be possible to keep an invasion from occurring. A suggestion was raised to undertake a public relations campaign to prevent human-induced introduction of blue catfish to the Dragon Run by posting signs at fishing spots.


Dr. Garman indicated that he likes to use the concept of a “time capsule” to describe the Dragon Run. He believes that the Dragon Run is representative of what coastal plain streams looked like about 100 years ago, particularly with regard to fish assemblages.


What about mercury contamination? VA DEQ found one sample of fish tissue with mercury levels above the accepted level. Ongoing research projects could provide fish tissue samples for the fish tissue monitoring program.


Discussion about forest cover composition (i.e. hardwood, pine, mixed). Concern about private landowners converting hardwood to pine.


Discussion of mussel populations and relationship between fish diversity and healthy mussel populations.


Research Needs and Partnership Opportunities


The key research needs were identified as follows:


1.      Mussels

2.      Invasive species (blue catfish)

3.      Mercury (heavy metals)

4.      Sedimentation

5.      Identification of high priority conservation areas


Partnership opportunities include:


1.      Volunteer effort to catalog data collection efforts in the watershed

2.      Fisheries studies coordination between VCU and DGIF, with water quality work by VIMS/CBNERR-VA as a complement – could collect dead mussel shell specimens for identification and share information about occurrences of blue catfish

3.      U.S. EPA Watershed Initiative

4.      DCR Shoreline Erosion assessment with VIMS/CBNERR-VA water quality work

5.      Provide fish tissue samples from fisheries studies for DEQ tissue monitoring program

6.      Periodic conference of science/research for scientific community and local governments – held at VIMS?




The meeting adjourned with David Fuss promising to distribute a list of contact information for those who attended and those who were not able to attend.