Support The “Little T” As a Native Fish Conservation Area

The Sierra Club is a member of a partnership to establish The Little Tennessee River watershed as a Native Fish Conservation Areas (NFCA). On October 14, 2015 the Little Tennessee Native Fish Conservation Partnership designed the river and river basin a NFCA. Find out more.

Native Fish Conservation Areas are river basins that are managed for the conservation and restoration of native fish and other aquatic species, as well as compatible recreational and commercial uses.

NFCAs involve a non-regulatory, collaborative approach to conservation that incorporates biological needs and local community values into river basin management practices.


  • Do not add any new regulations or policies.
  • Do not incur additional costs or obligations to local taxpayers.
  • Do not change any private land rights.

Present and future citizens of the basin benefit from clean water, outstanding outdoor recreation, and a stable economic base.

In 2013 the North Carolina Wildlife Federation initiated an effort to form a partnership to create the “Little T” NFCA. In addition to the Sierra Club, the partnership includes the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, NC Department of Environment & Natural Resources, NC Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, TVA, American Rivers, Conservation Fisheries, Inc., Land Trust for the Little Tennessee River, Eastern Band of the Cherokees, GA Department of Natural Resources, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, US Forest Service.


The Little Tennessee River Basin begins in Georgia and flows 135 miles through North Carolina to Tennessee, where it joins the Tennessee River. From high elevation brook trout streams to larger rivers, the basin hosts a unique assemblage of fish, amphibians, reptiles, crayfish, and aquatic insects.  

The World Wildlife Fund identifies the “Little T” as an important global biological hotspot.  Within the basin is a significant reach of river that contains all of the aquatic wildlife that was believed to be present prior colonial settlement. There are numerous streams in the watershed that are the focus of fish reintroduction efforts.  The watershed harbors numerous rare species such as spotfin chub, sicklefin redhorse, Citico darter, yellowfin madtom, Tuckasegee stream crayfish, Appalachian elktoe mussel and the Eastern hellbender. 


Four critical elements are needed to establish a NFCA:

  1. Protection and, if necessary, restoration of watershed-scale processes that create and maintain freshwater habitat complexity, diversity, and connectivity. 
  2. The area should nurture all of the life history pathways of the fishes and other aquatic organisms being protected.
  3. The area should include a large enough watershed to provide for long-term persistence of native fish populations. 
  4. The groups supporting the NFCA must have the capabilities to provide management that is sustainable over time.

 Establishment of the NFCA will be based on the assessment of conditions throughout the basin, an outreach program to educate the public and stakeholders, and on-the-ground projects to protect riparian areas, restore adequate flows, reintroduce extirpated species, and improve habitats.


The NFCA concept works. Areas have already been established in places like the Middle Fork Salmon River in Idaho, the lower Colorado River, Otter Island area of the Flathead River in Montana, the Gila River Basin, and the Berggren watershed of the McKenzie River.


On October 14, 2015 the “Little T” was designated as a Native Fish Conservation Area. 


Contact us a let us know you’re interested in this issue. As stated above, we’re in the start up phase of the project and we’ll have more information as well as specific actions in the future.