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December 9, 2004

Bill Rice Ranch deemed state natural area to protect rock cress, snow wreath

From: Daily News Journal, TN - Dec 9, 2004

By Erin Edgemon DNJ Staff Writer

A federally endangered plant and another listed as threatened in Tennessee were recently discovered on a Murfreesboro area ranch.

Approximately 500 acres of the 1,300-acre Bill Rice Ranch has been established as a registered state natural area through a cooperative agreement between the ranch and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's State Natural Areas Program.

The Braun's rock cress and the Alabama snow-wreath are located on the high knobs on the Indian and Scales mountains on the ranch property about five miles west of Murfreesboro on state Route 96 West (Franklin Road).

The federally endangered Braun's rock cress — a perennial herb in the mustard family — is known only to grow in Rutherford and Wilson Counties in Tennessee and three counties in Kentucky.

"It has an interesting distribution," said David Lincicone, rare species protection program administrator for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). TDEC does not know how or why the limited distribution of the plant occurred.

Through the new agreement with Bill Rice Ranch, the known amount of the plant has tripled, he said.

TDEC previously entered into an agreement with the Bill Rice Ranch in 2003 for Braun's rock cress discovered on a small portion of the ranch.

Discovered in the 1940s by E. Lucy Braun — one of the first female ecologists — the Braun's rock cress grows in small groups or is scattered on limestone rock outcrops and slopes, Lincicone said.

The plant has a small rosette with leaves that look like turnip greens, arranged in a whirl, he said. The rock cress has "scraggly" stems about a foot and a half long and produces white flowers.

"It is not a super showy plant by any means," Lincicone said.

"The Alabama snow-wreath is much prettier," he said calling it a "nice landscape scrub." The deciduous species from the rose family typically grows in large clumps up to 1 to 2 meters in height and produces white flowers.

The threatened plant is found in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama. It was first discovered in Alabama in 1857.

Reggie Reeves, director of the Division of Natural Heritage at TDEC, explained the importance of preserving the rare plants.

"No one knows what secrets may be held by some plants," Reeves said, adding many medicines are derived from plants.

Lincicone said right now the Braun's rock cress and the Alabama snow-wreath have no commercial value.

"It may be sometime down the road that they determine (the plant) has some value to us," he said, but even if they do not have a known value TDEC believes each species plays an important role in the environment.

Therefore, it is important for TDEC to preserve the plant so the natural systems continue to work, he said.

Reeves said TDEC identifies areas throughout the state that are of ecological and biological significance. As in the case of the Bill Rice Ranch, the department forms partnerships with the land owner.

In the state's non-binding agreement with the ranch, land owners are not restricted in their use of the area, said Dale Stover, ministries coordinator for the Bill Rice Ranch, who added that the area was not heavily trafficked anyway.

Founded in 1953 as a ministry serving the deaf, the Bill Rice Ranch is currently a year-round Christian-based revival ministry.

Stover said the ranch agreed to let state officials visit the ranch once or twice a year to view the plants.

Lincicone said the plants are found in forested areas. To preserve the plant, the state usually works to determine if the rare plants are threatened by exotic or invasive plant species. If so, the state works with the land owner to eradicate or control the exotic plants.

If the land owner is considering logging, TDEC asks the owner to watch logging in the areas with the rare plants.

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