From the Stewardship Corner: Adaptations of Aquatic Plants

What’s so special about aquatic plants? They provide vertical structure and habitat for animals in water systems, as well as trap sediments, slow the velocity of water, and even absorb pollutants such as heavy metals and nutrient run-off. Aquatic plants, aka hydrophytes, have several unique adaptations to help them survive in the water. Photos 1: Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) at Falling Creek Mitigation Site, North Carolina; Photo 2: Soft-stemmed bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani) at Marylea Farm Mitigation Site, Maryland


Emergent plants are rooted in water and partially grow above the water surface. Broadleaf watermilfoil has two shapes of leaves. The above-water leaves are triangular, bright green, and produce axillary flowers. The filamentous form of the submerged leaves are excellent at catching fine sediment and they bear a reproductive structure called a turion. Photo 3 & 4: Broadleaf watermilfoil (Myriophyllum heterophyllum) at Dudley Mill Pond Mitigation Site, North Carolina


Submerged plants are rooted into aquatic substrate or without a root system. They regrow from buds below the water surface. Spongy tissues provide structure and buoyancy while in the water. A submerged aquatic plant quickly becomes limp outside of water. Quick tip: if you’re trying to identify an aquatic plant, it helps to keep it in a dish of water.


Floating-leaved plants are rooted into aquatic substrate with leaves that float on the water surface. The American white water-lily (Nymphea odorata) leaves are covered by a waxy cuticle that repels water. This prevents the leaves from rotting. Photo 5 & 6: American Water-Lily (Nymphaea odorata) at Dudley Mill Pond Mitigation Site, North Carolina


Free-floating plants are found suspended on water surface with no roots attached. Swollen bladderwort (Utricularia inflata) has a whorl of leaf structures called “rafts” that look and float like pool noodles! Photo 7: Swollen bladderwort at Dudley Mill Pond Mitigation Site, North Carolina


  • Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) at Falling Creek Mitigation Site

Conserving Eastern Hellbender habitat at Wildlands Engineering’s Falcon Mitigation Site

North Carolina is home to one of the largest aquatic salamanders found in the United States, the Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus a. alleganiensis). The Eastern Hellbender can grow to be more than two feet long and is found in perennial streams with fast flowing, cool, and clear water. Adult hellbenders spend most of their life under large, flat rocks that shelter them, whereas larval and juvenile hellbenders hide beneath large rocks and under small stones in gravel beds. Fine sediments from eroding stream beds and banks can harm these key habitats for this unique species. The Eastern Hellbender is currently listed as a US Federal Species of Concern (FSC) and a North Carolina Special Concern (NCSC).


Wildlands is currently working alongside state and federal agencies to provide ecological and water quality improvements at our Falcon Mitigation Site located in the western part of North Carolina. The streams within this mitigation site are part of a natural area rated as ‘high’ functioning by the NC Natural Heritage Program due to the richness of aquatic species it supports. Both Wildlands and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) noted the potential benefit of performing a restoration project within this important stream community.  To specifically benefit Eastern Hellbenders, Wildlands coordinated with NCWRC and conducted Eastern Hellbender surveys, as well as eDNA sampling during the design phase at the Site. Snorkeling within project streams was done to investigate existing habitats and try to identify any existing populations. Results from the study did not identify individual species within the project limits; however, a positive environmental DNA (eDNA) sample was recorded at the downstream end of the project which indicates that there is at least one animal within less than 1 km upstream from this point. Wildlands discussed areas that should be protected with NCWRC and is implementing species aimed habitats using large flat boulders to provide additional nesting areas within the channel post construction.


Through our restoration efforts, Wildlands will restore and enhance over 5,700 linear feet of stream by excluding livestock, creating stable stream banks, restoring a forest in agriculturally maintained buffer areas, and restoring riparian habitat. The site will also be protected in perpetuity by a 15.5-acre conservation easement. These actions will reduce fecal, nutrient, and sediment inputs to project streams, and ultimately to Cartoogechaye Creek and the Little Tennessee River, as well as reconnect instream and terrestrial habitats on the Site. Habitat and water quality are important factors for hellbender survival rates as they breathe entirely through their skin and cannot tolerate high sedimentation rates or low dissolved oxygen levels. Changes in watershed land use and streamside management have been the primary factor negatively impacting this species. During construction Wildlands and the contractor will be especially careful and observant for animals when working in the channel and relocate “out of harm’s way” per NCWRC guidance.


Wildlands is excited to be a part of this conservation effort for the Eastern Hellbender!


  • NCWRC snorkeling for Eastern Hellbenders while Wildlands employees collected GPS location data at the existing Falcon Mitigation Site.



Contacts at NCWRC: Lori Williams and Andrea Leslie


Wildlands Engineering continues to protect the dwarf-flowered heartleaf

In April of this year, Wildlands’ Double Rock Mitigation Project wrapped up construction, completed by Wildlands Construction. Located in the Catawba River basin, a unique aspect of this project is the presence of a rare species of plant called the dwarf-flowered heartleaf (Hexastylis naniflora)!


The dwarf-flowered heartleaf species is only found in several counties across North and South Carolina and is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. However, in 2021, the USFWS proposed to de-list it. When the dwarf-flowered heartleaf was initially put on the endangered species list in 1989, there were only 24 known populations, distributed across North and South Carolina. Since then, through the combined efforts of various non-profits, land conservation organizations, and private landowners, the dwarf-flowered heartleaf has made a tremendous comeback. There are currently over 120 known populations, of which several of these sites are thriving with more than 1,000 plants, many are found on protected conservation lands.


Wildlands has had the opportunity to partner with many organizations, as well as private landowners, to create, implement, and preserve these stable habitats for endangered species such as the dwarf-flowered heartleaf. The organizations that have played a key role in conserving this species are: Foothills Land Conservancy, Catawba Lands Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, Broad River Greenway, North Carolina Department of Transportation, Duke Energy, private landowners, State of North Carolina.


In 2023, Wildlands scientist identified and delineated the dwarf-flowered heartleaf population alongside USFWS within our project area. Wildlands worked closely with Wildlands Construction team to avoid any impacts to the population and conserve 3 acres of the dwarf-flowered heartleaf population and habitat that will be protected in perpetuity within the conservation easement. Wildlands is thrilled to be a part of the dwarf-flowered heartleaf’s conservation effort through the implementation of the Double Rock Mitigation Project.



A glimpse into working at Wildlands Engineering

Take an inside look at what it’s like to work at Wildlands Engineering! One of our environmental scientists, George R. DeCarvalho, shares the key aspects of his job that make each day more fulfilling and valuable.


Wildlands’ purpose is to make an impact on the environment. We do this by forming a team of driven, like-minded individuals who are passionate about restoring the environment – all while inspiring their teammates along the way.


Interested in joining our team? Check out our current job openings »


Working at Wildlands Engineering from Wildlands Engineering on Vimeo.

Wildlands Engineering Makes an Impact in the Neuse River Basin – Home of the River of the Year

American Rivers recently named the Neuse River the 2022 “River of the Year because of “outstanding progress toward a cleaner, healthier Neuse River.” Momentum has been building to improve the ecological condition of the entire Neuse River basin and Wildlands is honored to be an ongoing part of it. Since 2007, Wildlands has restored over 164,600 LF of stream and 93 of wetlands, just in the Neuse River basin. Wildlands has also completed four large-scale watershed studies that total over 700 square miles. Additionally, Wildlands also owns, manages, and operates 22 private mitigation bank sites located in the Neuse River basin. Each mitigation bank was established by restoring and enhancing degraded streams, wetlands, and riparian buffers located on private property.

This experience has allowed our team to understand the challenges and opportunities that waterways present to the local communities. Furthermore, we understand the importance of healthy natural systems to these communities. We are constantly developing unique solutions for ecological restoration to improve the environment and preserve the natural corridors that make this area of the state unique.

Located in the heart of the Neuse River basin is Wildlands’ Raleigh office. This is our second largest office with a full-service staff of project managers, professional engineers, field-oriented environmental scientists, ecologists, construction managers, GIS analysts, CAD operators, and administrative staff. With approximately 30 staff members that call this river basin home, we are dedicated to further enhancing the ecological and civic value of this well-loved watershed.

Wildlands has partnered with organizations such as NC Division of Mitigation Services, City of Raleigh, City of Durham, and Johnston County to improve the health of the Neuse River basin. The following map shows Wildlands’ projects in the Neuse River basin.


The Wildlands Engineering Team is making an impact in our communities

Since its inception in 2015, Wildlands’ corporate giving and volunteer program, One + One Initiative, has matured, yet its mission has remained the same — serving the under-served in local communities. Each year, the Wildlands team collectively selects the organizations to support through this initiative. Throughout the year, Wildlands makes monetary donations and gives each employee eight hours of paid time to spend volunteering at our partner organizations.

Our internal Committee on Equality (CoE) recently provided guidance to further shape the focus of the One+One initiative. Their guidance led Wildlands in selecting its company-wide partners, Boys and Girls Club and Letters to a Pre-Scientist. Additionally, in 2022, Wildlands added opportunities to support STEM education while building upon partnerships of years past. CLICK HERE to view the organizations we are currently supporting.


Our Charleston office recently spent the day working with Charleston Waterkeeper to build an oyster reef. Charleston Waterkeeper and volunteers partnered with South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ (SCDNR) South Carolina Oyster Recycling and Enhancement (SCORE) program to use recycled oyster shells to reestablish a suitable environment for new oyster growth. Oyster reefs improve water quality by filtering water, and provide habitat for coastal animals such as fish, crabs, shrimp, and birds.


PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: McClure’s Bog Preserve Project

McClure’s Bog, a candidate for inclusion in the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge, is a French Broad River Valley Bog subtype and host to a suite of unique plant species and wildlife habitat and characterized by low nutrient groundwater-driven hydrology. Similar areas once existed in an extensive patchwork throughout the upper French Broad River Valley bottoms. Land use conversion practices, as well as changes to fire and other natural disturbance regimes, have severely impacted these features and in many cases eliminated them from the landscape. McClures Bog is one of several remnant areas with sustained populations of the unique species representative of this bog subtype. In recognition of this, McClures Bog was purchased for protection years ago, along with an adjacent natural stream corridor, by The Nature Conservancy (Conservancy) and the Natural Heritage Program of North Carolina (NC NHP). The bog has been, and continues to be, extensively managed by The Conservancy to preserve, and improve the sustainability of the species and habitats present.


The restoration project was constructed in the winter of 2019-2020 by South Core Environmental with oversight by Wildlands. The tiered wetland basins treat more than 1.5” of rainfall from the watershed, reduce surface runoff and nutrient and other pollutants to the bog, increase infiltration and create a more natural hydrologic regime and route high flows around sensitive areas of the bog. The site was treated for non-native invasive species prior to construction and planted post-construction with a robust and diverse suite of herbaceous, shrub and tree species to mimic other similar natural landscapes in the area. Post-project hydrologic monitoring and thermal groundwater investigation by University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA) has verified that the project successfully reduced stormwater inflows to sensitive plant areas and eliminated surface water runoff during most rainfall events.


The project was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Conservancy and Wildlands lead a robust design and stakeholder team and process to execute the project. This team included Peak Hydrogeologic (groundwater testing), Joe Pye Ecological Consulting & Nursery (native plant and habitat restoration), KD Ecological (invasives plant management), US Fish & Wildlife Service, NC NHP, the US Army Corps of Engineers, NC Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Henderson County, Conserving Carolina, RiverLink, and UNCA Professor Jeff Wilcox and his students. Wildlands was the project manager and design-build lead, completing gage analysis, hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, visualization graphics and stakeholder coordination, stormwater design, permitting and adaptive management components and assisting with planting plans, invasive species removal scoping, and grant reporting.


Plant photos were taken by Emily Israel, Stewardship Coordinator for Wildlands, who was involved in invasive species management at McClure’s Bog under a prior engagement. Emily is dedicated to protecting North Carolina’s natural resources and land stewardship by contributing invaluable work to the conservation sector.


Wildlands Engineering is Well-Versed in Helping Clients Fund Projects With Grants

“Wildlands’ experience and technical expertise was invaluable to Catawba Land Conservancy’s 2020 NCLWF restoration grant application. Wildlands worked with us to develop the site vision and communicated the existing site deficiencies, design, and ecological gains in a clear, concise application that resulted in the award of funds.”

Sean Bloom, Biologist and GIS Director | Catawba Lands Conservancy


As a vertically integrated ecological restoration firm, our municipal clients often call upon us to assist in securing critical project funding by identifying applicable grants, grant application writing, conceptual design creation, and developing funding strategies to leverage multiple funding sources. Wildlands has a successful track record of applying for, receiving, and implementing water resource grants for municipalities, recently including City of Charlotte, Hendersonville, Black Mountain, Morganton, and Woodfin, NC; Greenville, SC; and for non-profits, such as MountainTrue, RiverLink, Mainspring Conservation Trust, and the Catawba Lands Conservancy. These grants have included the NC Land and Water Fund (LWF), EPA Section 319, the Environmental Enhancement Grant (EEG), DWR’s Water Resources Development Grant (WRG), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Grants, Section 205j, and other public and private grant funding sources. Wildlands has also assisted with non-grant funding programs like the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), which is a low-interest loan available to local governments. READ MORE

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Carolina Crossroads Permittee-Responsible Mitigation Project

Located in the heart of South Carolina, the Carolina Crossroads I-20/26/126 Corridor Improvement Project (a.k.a., Malfunction Junction makeover) is the number one interstate improvement priority for the state of South Carolina ( Construction of the Carolina Crossroads project requires unavoidable impacts to waters (of the U.S.) under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as regulated by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) evaluated multiple mitigation alternatives to offset aquatic resource impacts. The mitigation option that SCDOT selected has offset impacts through the restoration, enhancement, and protection of more than 80,000 linear feet of stream and the protection of more than 8.6-acres of wetlands. This large-scale and unique mitigation project will also protect more than 2,600 acres of land adjacent to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Belfast Wildlife Management Area, providing future public use and wildlife management benefits.


Wildlands led site identification and acquisition, mitigation plan development, natural channel design, generation of construction documents, and construction oversight of the restoration and enhancement activities. Due to the size of the mitigation project and this project serving as the largest stream mitigation project undertaken by the SCDOT, mitigation development was a collaborative effort among multiple project partners including SCDOT, HDR, Open Space Institute, Wildlands and members of the regulatory community. The size of the project site, and availability of on-site resources, allowed Wildlands to critically evaluate on-site materials and maximize the beneficial re-use of native and natural materials during construction. This practice reduced the client’s cost by reducing material import, maintained native characteristics through the reuse of available materials, and facilitated the primary objective of natural channel design. During construction, Wildlands utilized ArcGIS Online to communicate project status with key stakeholders. The contractor completed construction activities at the mitigation site in early 2022 and Phases 1 and 2 of the Malfunction Junction makeover are underway. Wildlands is currently providing post-construction monitoring services.


Hear what our staff has to say about working at Wildlands Engineering!

Our growth rate, in terms of employees, has averaged 21% annually over the past five years. We began as a seven-person team in Charlotte, NC in 2007 and have grown to 85 full-time professionals with offices in Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville, NC; Charleston, SC; and Fairfax, VA. Our staff have dedicated their careers to improving the environment and we provide more than 15-years of experience as a firm. We recognize that people are our most valuable asset, and our firm has tenured employees that develop young talent. This approach results in low turnover and allows senior leadership to transfer knowledge, while building our internal culture.


We recently asked some staff what it is like working at Wildlands and here is what they shared:

“I enjoy working at Wildlands because I get to build my experience while working alongside professionals and experts in the field of stream restoration. At Wildlands, I appreciate having a balance between field work and office work, so that we never lose that connection, which really helps to ensure we get the best possible outcomes for our projects.”


“Working at Wildlands is exciting and engaging. The company is dynamic, innovative, and always working to improve. There are many ways to get involved and collaborating across teams, which is stimulating. Plus, co-workers feel like family and the perks are nice, too!”



“The ability to work on such a wide range of tasks throughout the year in both indoor and outdoor settings is continually refreshing. I relish the opportunity to make a direct impact through hands-on problem solving and applied resourcefulness in the reestablishment of native plant communities in my home state of North Carolina. I also love working for a company where I have room to grow in my role and work alongside people that I learn from daily and who help me succeed.”


Working at Wildlands has been exciting in ways that I never imagined. While it has definitely included more ticks than I planned for, it has also included the most accepting and supportive work environment I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. I can’t wait to see what my future holds with Wildlands, because I know it will be awesome!”


“I’ve gotten to make various maps for different stages of projects for landowners, different cities, and different counties. I love working at Wildlands and being able to work with some of the best people I’ve ever met. In working with engineers, designers, and scientists, I’ve been able to understand what goes into different phases of our projects and how to do my job better.