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Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Ellington Agricultural Center
440 Hogan Road
Nashville, TN 37220
(615) 781-6500
Documenting Success: Cumberland Sandwort monitoring and education for hikers and climbers

Except for a few counties atop the Cumberland Plateau along the Tennessee and Kentucky border, Cumberland Sandwort (Minuartia cumberlandensis) exists nowhere else in the world. This diminutive plant occurs underneath moist ledges of towering sandstone cliffs and has been the focus of attention since listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1988. Because of ongoing monitoring and habitat protection at Pickett State Park and Forest, as well as the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, botanists hope to remove this species from the endangered list in the near future.

With the support of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding, botanists with the Department of Environment and Conservation's Division of Natural Areas regularly monitor known Cumberland Sandwort occurrences to ensure outdoor recreation on protected lands does not inadvertently impact known populations. The division's monitoring schedule dictates that they monitor those populations adjacent to hiking trails (designated as Tier 1 occurrences) every few years. Should they notice any needed trail improvements, railings to prevent trampling, or educational signage, Natural Areas staff works with rangers at Pickett State Park and the Big South Fork to ensure the species' continued preservation.

Sites a bit further from trails (Tier 2) are monitored less frequently, but comparing population numbers from frequently visited sites and isolated sites provides decision makers with information useful to assessing any potential impacts from visitors. This past year botanists battled thickets of rhododendron within deep gorges to gather data on the most isolated occurrences with no nearby trails and with little signs of human impact (Tier 3). Researchers had not visited these sites in at least a decade, and one occurrence had no documented visitation in nearly 30 years.

Although difficult to access, researchers were rewarded by noting stable populations of Cumberland Sandwort. Throughout the project, they even documented a few unknown sites - as well as other rare plant species - during their investigations. Cumberland Sandwort is one of a number of plant species endemic to the rockhouses of the Cumberland Plateau. Not only do scenic lands such as Pickett State Park, Twin Arches State Natural Area, and Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area provide excellent outdoor recreation, they also help protect a number of globally rare species.

View or download a photo-illustrated factsheet about Cumberland Sandwort monitoring.

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