September 26, 2021 |Valerie Keefer | Water

Southeast’s “Hidden” River Also one of its Most Valuable

Historically known as Rio Perdido, this infamous river was the center of multiple boundary disputes in the 18th and 19th centuries. The name “Perdido,” which in Spanish means “lost” or “hidden,” represents how long it took explorers to find the elusive waterway entrance to the Gulf of Mexico. Today, this “hidden river” forms Florida’s western border with Alabama and is better known for its importance to the ecological health of the Gulf and its surrounding communities.

Much of the Perdido’s watershed has been protected thanks to dedicated conservation efforts in both Alabama and Florida. For example, in Alabama the Perdido River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) was established in 2006 to support habitat along the river and help protect water quality in the bay. In March 2020, we worked with the Alabama Department of Conservation and National Resources (DCNR) to add roughly 2,270 acres to the WMA along the Blackwater River—a tributary of the Perdido—protecting that land in perpetuity and opening it up for public recreation like hunting and wildlife viewing. And next month, another 1,131 acres will be conveyed for permanent conservation by The Conservation Fund to DCNR.

9 26 21 Blackwater River North 1131ac Protected Lands Map 09202021Map of protected land along the Perdido, including The Conservation Fund’s effort to protect roughly 2,270 acres in 2020, and another 1,131 in 2021.

Expanding the WMA has been a cornerstone project for Alabama DCNR’s Commissioner, Chris Blankenship, who hopes to continue protecting parts of the Perdido watershed for future generations.

“The Perdido River is very important to the communities of Baldwin County,” said Commissioner Blankenship. “As one of the few undammed rivers with limited development along its banks, the area provides quality recreational opportunities in the fastest growing county in Alabama. The undeveloped land in the watershed is crucial to filter rainwater and stormwater and to provide habitat for critical species. Our goal is to acquire other ecologically sensitive and important properties within the watershed. We then will restore or improve the natural condition of the properties, convert some areas from loblolly pine to longleaf pine habitat, improve the wildlife openings—including the use of prescribed fire—and open the properties up for public outdoor recreation like hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing and kayaking, and bird watching.”

9 26 21 Aerial of Blackwater River c Cypress Environment Infrastructure 1352Perdido River at the confluence with the Blackwater River. Photo by Cypress Environment & Infrastructure. 

We will continue working with Chris to pursue additional lands along the Perdido and Blackwater Rivers to help advance the DCNR’s conservation goals along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Ever since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, land protection along the coast and Perdido watershed has been an important ecologic and economic priority for the state. Ongoing conservation along Alabama’s Gulf Coast has immense effect on recreational tourism and local businesses, especially in the seafood and hospitality industries. According to the Alabama Tourism Department Economic Impact Report of 2018, over 73,000 people along Alabama’s southern shore are employed by tourism-related occupations, and the Gulf Coast region accounts for roughly 40% of the state’s tourism—more than any other region.

Across the river in Florida, our Coastal Headwaters Forest initiative is similarly conserving land along the Perdido via working forest conservation easements and other methods. For example, the State of Florida recently approved the outright purchase of over 2,000 acres of the project as an addition to Blackwater River State Forest.

This vast forestland effort will protect waters and restore longleaf across several watersheds, including the Perdido, Escambia, and Blackwater River watersheds in Florida. In doing so, it will protect critical Gulf estuaries and add to coastal resiliency. Protecting land in key watersheds, especially in major tributaries to the Gulf, has immense importance in providing a steady flow of clean and healthy waters for people and wildlife. The Perdido’s waters and surrounding land support numerous aquatic species, migratory neotropical birds, and threatened gopher tortoises who thrive in the restored Coastal Headwaters Forest habitat.

9 26 21 Coastal Headwaters Forest Florida Val Keefer20190424 0035A gopher tortoise at Coastal Headwaters Forest. Considered a keystone species, gopher tortoise’s burrows support the stability of many other wildlife populations. Photo by Val Keefer.

These species—in addition to beautiful beaches, fishing and recreation opportunities—bring nearly 22.6 million people to northwest Florida annually. Out of the five Gulf of Mexico states, Florida has the highest rate of tourists participating in outdoor recreation and leisure activities, according to the Florida Climate Institute.

Healthy watersheds provide many ecosystem services including, but not limited to: nutrient cycling, carbon storage, erosion/sedimentation control, increased biodiversity, soil formation, wildlife movement corridors, water storage, water filtration, flood control, food, timber and recreation. With the ongoing effects of climate change increasing flooding and extreme weather around the Gulf, we look to watershed conservation as a key tool in mitigation of their harmful effects and improving conditions for the people and species who call the Perdido home.

“The Perdido River and its watershed are pristine places in Alabama and Florida,” Commissioner Blankenship added. “We have a real opportunity to protect this natural treasure forever.”

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Written by

Valerie Keefer

As Media Relations Associate for The Conservation Fund, Val conducts media outreach, drives press activities and supports messaging strategies across the organization. She enjoys sharing the Fund’s holistic approach to environmental conservation and economic growth with the community and communicating the local and global impact of the Fund’s many projects. Val is an avid nature enthusiast who loves camping, hiking and rock climbing.