His work to save a tiny, endangered snail native to Franklin County has earned a state zoologist a national award.
David Withers, a zoologist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), received the 2019 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ (USFWS) Recovery Champion Award during a ceremony held Friday, May 17, at the South Cumberland State Park’s (SCSP) Sherwood Forest. The award is given to two individuals each year across the nation.
Withers was recognized for his work to protect the Painted Snake-Coiled Forest Snail, known to live exclusively in the Sherwood area of Franklin County and on the federal endangered species list.
According to Geoff Call, USFWS endangered species recovery coordinator, 840 acres in the Sherwood Forest region is home to 900,000 of the rare, air-breathing land snails.
According to the Tennessee Ecological Services Field Office, the snail has long been thought to be native to one cove on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, near the town of Sherwood. The cove is heavily forested and studded with limestone outcrops, and it has a creek running through. The snail still occurs at this cove and it is abundant there. Recent surveys have shown that it also lives a few miles past the cove. Until recently, its entire distribution was located on privately owned land.
In 2017, 4,061 acres in Sherwood Forest came under state protection following a five-year project involving a partnership with The Conservation Fund, the state of Tennessee and The Land Trust for Tennessee; with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and help from the Open Space Institute. More than 980 acres of the tract were added to Franklin State Forest, with the remainder adjoining the existing 375-acre Carter State Natural Area in the SCSP.
With the addition of Sherwood Forest, SCSP has officially become Tennessee’s largest state park, totaling 30,837 acres in four counties – Franklin, Grundy, Marion and Sequatchie.
In addition to the Painted Snake-Coiled Forest Snail, Sherwood Forest is home to the endangered Morefield’s Leather Flower, a population of Cumberland Rosinweed, a type of sunflower found only on the Cumberland Plateau, and two endangered animal species, the Eastern Small-Footed Bat and the Allegheny Woodrat. All of these species have been recorded on the property, along with Four-Toed Salamanders, Barking Tree Frogs, and Rafinesque’s Big-Eared Bat, which are all state-protected animals.
Sherwood Forest also now protects the Griffin Rock Shelter, presently the only excavated prehistoric rock art site in Tennessee. The Griffin site, estimated to be approximately 1,000 years old, includes four panels of elaborate and deeply incised petroglyphs, as well as artifacts used to carve the art and perform sacred activities.
A new, 3-mile loop trail which leads to the Lost Cove Overlook is now open to hikers. The Sherwood Forest addition was honored by former Gov. Bill Haslam and TDEC as one of the winners of the 2017 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards.