The Altamaha River Corridor is bounded by the Alapaha River and follows the Lower Ocmulgee River, Lower Oconee and the mighty Altamaha River. Within this corridor are 11 Georgia counties: Telfair, Appling, Glynn, Jeff Davis, Long, McIntosh, Montgomery, Wheeler, Tattnall, Toombs and Wayne. The corridor stretches from the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve in Telfair County to Fort Stewart. This corridor contains extremely important habitat within the Longleaf Pine natural communities that support rare and endangered species such as Eastern Indigo Snakes and Gopher Tortoises.
The ARC ecosystem once covered approximately 70 million acres across the southeast within the Longleaf Pine range. The ARC is defined as a significant geographic area because of the amount of Longleaf habitat that remains on the landscape. It is either geographically isolated or has succumbed to changes in land-use practices such as fire exclusion, short-rotational forestry, urbanization, agricultural land conversion and commercial harvesting of Longleaf Pine.
Aeolian sands (sandhills) are located on the eastern and northeastern banks of the river systems throughout the ARC. This natural community serves as an important habitat for Eastern Indigo Snakes because they provide critical overwintering sites in this part of their range.
The scientific name of the Eastern Indigo Snake, Drymarchon couperi, roughly translates into “Emperor of the Forest.“ As one of the largest snakes in North America, this majestic nonvenomous animal truly lives up to its name. Despite its docile nature when handled by humans, the Eastern Indigo Snake is a top predator and an icon for conservation. The Indigo Snake uses a variety of habitats, including Longleaf Pine ecosystems such as sandhills and pine flatwoods as well as hammocks, bays and a variety of wetland habitats including floodplain forests. In conserving the Eastern Indigo Snake, we are not only saving this species, but also the ecosystems it inhabits.
The Gopher Tortoise is one of the most important species of the Longleaf Pine ecosystem. Gopher Tortoises dig extensive burrows in sandy soil which offer refuge to Eastern Indigo Snakes and over 300 other species including the elusive Gopher Frog. In the northern half of its range (north Florida and southern Georgia), the Eastern Indigo Snake requires tortoise burrow refugia seasonally for dens, egg-laying sites, foraging and lairs prior to shedding its skin.
A beautiful species, the aptly-named Spotted Turtle is a small bluish-black turtle with small yellowish spots on the upper shell and orange and yellow spots on the head. Their attractive characteristics have resulted in the over-collection of Spotted Turtles for the pet trade in some regions, and in 2012 the species was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity for Federal Listing status as “Threatened.” Many populations have become isolated, declined or disappeared due to habitat loss and adverse impacts to wetlands, and the species is now protected from collection (or collection is regulated) in the states in which it occurs. The Spotted Turtle was recently petitioned for federal listing and is currently state-listed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR).
The Southeastern United States early settlers found is vastly different from what we see today. In these days past the majestic Longleaf Pine was dominant, standing tall from southwest Virginia southward through nine states to east Texas. These beautiful forests were characterized by tall trees, little to no midstory vegetation, and a diversity of understory groundcover including wiregrass and numerous wildflowers and forbs. Mother Nature helped this forest thrive, providing frequent fires that would spread across the forest floor. These fires helped create a bare seed bed on the forest floor where Longleaf Pine seeds fell, leading to the next generation of these forest kings.
Today, Longleaf Pine sandhills are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States with less than two percent remaining. Longleaf Pine was harvested heavily for commercial use and replanted with faster growing species, such as Loblolly and Slash Pine. Natural Fires are being suppressed, stunting the reproduction of what remains of Longleaf Forests.
Numerous wildlife species rely on this ecosystem to persist, including several declining or endangered species such as the Eastern Indigo Snake, Gopher Tortoise and Spotted Turtle. We are dedicated to conserving these species, the Longleaf Pine ecosystem and all the other species that inhabit this great but declining landscape.
The third largest watershed on the east coast, the Altamaha River Corridor has been recognized as one of the “75 Last Great Places in the World” by The Nature Conservancy.
The Altamaha River Corridor (ARC) is the focal landscape of our Longleaf Savannas Initiative and contains the Orianne Indigo Snake Preserve (OISP). This area has extensive sandhills and tracts of Longleaf Pine used by Eastern Indigo Snakes, Gopher Tortoises, and Spotted Turtles. In fact, the ARC is part of the Altamaha-Ocmulgee-Ohoopee River Corridors Priority Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Area that is considered one of the most important habitats in the range of these species. The OISP is in the western portion of the ARC and is comprised of approximately 48,704 acres. Of the 48,704, 2,607 acres are owned by The Orianne Society and a further 46,097 acres are managed through conservation partners or cooperating private landowners.
Throughout this landscape, The Orianne Society is committed to increasing our conservation footprint through the combination of additional land protection and partnering with private landowners to protect and restore their properties. Land management activities focus on prescribed burning (essential for maintaining the Longleaf Pine ecosystem and open sandhills), planting of Longleaf Pine seedlings, and restoration of appropriate ground cover. These activities promote Gopher Tortoise populations and the burrows that species such as Indigo Snakes and Diamondback Rattlesnakes rely upon. In addition to land management, we are conducting field research on imperiled reptiles and amphibians in the region, including monitoring the population status of priority species.