Chuck Denney, Narrator (UT Institute of Agriculture)
Turning back time by a century. That’s just about what’s happened to the Pigeon River in the Tennessee Smokies. For some 80 years, a paper mill in North Carolina dumped toxins and dyes into the water, killing almost everything that lived here. But today it’s a much different situation.

Dr. Larry Wilson (UT Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries)
“Fish consumption advisories have been lifted. Dissolved oxygen in the river is five parts per million or better in many places. So the water is really cleaning up.”

Chuck Denney, Narrator
Dr. Larry Wilson of UT’s Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries leads a team of fisheries biologists bringing life back to the river. Over the years, they’ve introduced snails and mussels to these waters.

Dr. Larry Wilson
“These are sort of the vacuum cleaners of the stream…”

Chuck Denney, Narrator
The water quality here improved greatly after environmental cleanup efforts by industry and government. Soon life appeared like aquatic insects and crayfish. Fish populations also were introduced by the UT experts, and today we have species like this prehistoric-looking sculpin, as well as shiners and sport fish.

Dr. Larry Wilson
“We have added about 30,000 fish back to the river of twenty different species. And to date, there are nine species that are reproducing in the river.”

Chuck Denney, Narrator
Over the years, pollution and dirty water wiped out almost all the aquatic life here – close to 100 species of fish. The effort to restore these fish to these waters really got going around the year 2000, and today we’re seeing the results. In terms of aquatic life, the Pigeon River is now about what it was 100 years ago. That’s not a snake or an eel, but a lamprey. It has a suction cup mouth, and can attach itself to another living thing.

Dr. Larry Wilson
“These guys are kind of like aquatic earthworms.”

Chuck Denney, Narrator
Again, that’s not a species you would have found here in the recent past. Minnows and darters as colorful as tropical fish are also back. When you add these smaller species, the bigger ones that like to eat them also return. We’re now seeing bass, trout and other game fish here as well.

Joyce Coombs (UT Forestry, Wildlife & Fisheries)
“By putting in more of those little non-game fish, we actually caused the game fish population to grow.”

Chuck Denney, Narrator
UT’s Joyce Coombs says it’s encouraging to find so many fish again in the Pigeon River.

Joyce Coombs
“Every year is like a treasure hunt. You get to go out there and see where the fish are this time, and how many? Are they growing? Do we have a second population?"

Chuck Denney, Narrator
UT experts plan to introduce another dozen species into the Pigeon River within the next few years. Previous results are much like the water here – very clear. This river will now support life.


OF NOTE: You can learn more about the Pigeon River Recovery project at this web site… https://tiny.utk.edu/PigeonRiver