Rutman Creek Watershed Restoration Project Update

On January 16th 2018, LMG staff members made the trek from Wilmington to one of the most unique (and largest at a little over 4000 acres) mitigation sites thus completed by LMG. The site's namesake is Rutman Creek, which can be found on the south-western portion of the property and was part of the sites overall restoration. The creek was given new life years after having its upper reaches filled in and its headwater wetlands drained for agriculture long before the rules governing such activities were adopted.

A little backstory is helpful to allow for the full appreciation as to why Rutman Creek is so special an area. The site falls within the confines of the Albemarle Peninsula , an area which is home to an assortment of wildlife and ecosystems unlike any other found in North Carolina. The Albemarle Peninsula is a climatically dynamic area influenced by the Albemarle Sound to the North and the Pamlico Sound to the South and East, and much of the area lies anywhere from inches to a foot or two above sea-level.

The soils here are considered to be some of the most agriculturally productive in the state with a rich organic content, the result of being historically wet forest communities consisting of Atlantic White Cedar, Pond Pine, Loblolly Pine, and Bald Cypress. Some of these forests are still found in isolated pockets on the multiple refuges and game land properties, but as a whole, they are widely non-existent due to habitat conversion and use of the Cedar tree in home construction.  The Peninsula is also home to the largest series of natural lakes in North Carolina, one of which being Pungo Lake which the Rutman Restoration Project shares a border with.

In the fall and winter, hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl including Tundra Swans and Snow Geese take up residence on these lakes and adjoining properties feeding on spent crops and a range of other food sources.


The Peninsula is also the year-round host to some of the largest Black Bears in the world; additionally, the only population of the federally endangered Red Wolf currently in the wild may be found here, or heard howling! This area is also home to some very unconventional Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, a federally endangered woodpecker that is more commonly associated with upland pine habitats than the wet pine forests and swamps of the Albemarle Peninsula.

Now that the Albemarle primer is out of the way, let’s get back to Rutman. Restoration of the site meant converting nearly  4300  acres from agricultural land to a mosaic of native trees and blocking off the vast network of ditches that had previously existed to control the water. Approximately  2 million  trees were planted in three phases from 2010-2012, including Atlantic White Cedar and Bald Cypress in an effort to restore the historic forest type found here.

On the day of the visit, a fog had settled in but gradually cleared out by mid-morning. Our reason for being at the site was to document the growth of the trees, fly our drone, and collect more reference data on how the planted trees were doing deep in the stands that have limited access by foot or ATV.

An interesting note to mention is that the habitat restoration has been prolific and on a landscape level scale it has actually produced more habitat for the resident Red Wolves found here .
Overall, the Rutman Restoration Project appears to be performing very well.  Vast areas of headwater wetlands that had been historically drained and converted to commodity crop production have been restored. As a part of the watershed restoration effort, the hydrologic regime of first-order and zero-order tributaries that had been previously disconnected from their headwaters (via diversion canals) has been re-established. 

Given the intensive land-use practices of the area prior to restoration work, the canals and downstream receiving waters were susceptible to water quality impairments via nutrient (e.g. N and P) loading, sediment run-off, and herbicide/pesticide contamination.  Restoration work has removed the intensive land-use practice and associated stressors to water quality.  In addition, planting of all the fields provides water quality benefits via: (1) reducing overland flow velocities; (2) stabilizing soil; and (3) promoting the uptake and transformation of nutrients/contaminants.  Removal or plugging of canals provides for increased flood water storage, increased hydrologic residency, and associated nutrient/sediment retention.  Lastly, the restoration site provides significant habitat benefits as well as habitat connectivity between Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the riverine swamp forests of Rutman Creek and the Pungo River.
As always, the staff of LMG is ready and willing to assists landowners utilize their land to its highest potential, no matter the size. Call or click to speak with one of our knowledgeable professionals today! 

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