At least one endangered shortnose sturgeon has made it as far inland as Augusta this spring, according to scientists involved in a three-state effort to learn more about the breeding habits of the elusive fish.
"There was just one, in late March, but sturgeon have definitely been found at the receiver just below New Savannah Bluff Lock & Dam this season," said Bill Post, a biologist and diadromous fishes coordinator for South Carolina's Department of Natural Resources.
Post, along with scientists from the University of Georgia, North Carolina State University and other institutions, is sharing a $4.45 million grant that will enable sturgeon-tagging studies in major Southeastern river systems, including the Savannah.
The studies involve capturing sturgeon and attaching transmitters that will allow scientists to track their movement, especially during the spring and early summer, but also during winter.
The Savannah River plan includes tagging 30 shortnose sturgeon and using more than 50 receivers stationed along the river channel between Savannah and Augusta to see how far inland they travel.
The broader goal is to tag about 210 fish per year in the seven major river systems, using four-year tags that can also be detected in future seasons, Post said, adding that more than 275 receivers have been deployed so far.
Although just one shortnose sturgeon was "pinged" in Augusta, it is possible other tagged fish were detected.
"We will be downloading our more recent data soon, so we will know more in the very near future," Post said.
Sturgeon have survived as a species for 200 million years and once thrived in the Savannah, where they migrated from coastal estuaries to spawn. Today, there are few sturgeon left. The river's population is estimated at about 1,200 shortnose and unknown numbers of the larger Atlantic sturgeon, which can reach 6 feet or more in length.
The study was conceived as a multi-year project, but could be threatened by budget cuts looming for many federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"At this time, we are looking at a potential 70 percent cut for year two funding and year three is uncertain," Post said.
Final budget decisions are expected in July.
KIDS AND GUNS: Children from 6 to 16 will have an opportunity to learn about firearms and shooting safety during a free "Kids Day" on Saturday at Pinetucky Gun Club.
"The idea is to give kids a chance to shoot guns and learn about firearms, even if they aren't affiliated with hunting," said Jeff McGahee, president of the National Wild Turkey Federation's CSRA chapter, which sponsors the annual event.
"We have a gun safety class first, then we let them shoot different types of guns," he said. "It's a one-on-one process, and we have someone standing there with each child."
The hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and lunch will be provided for everyone at noon.
The event also includes demonstrations from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office canine unit and the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division's search, rescue and evidence recovery dogs.