Richard B. Russell Dam and Lake

Natural Resources


2012 Richard B. Russell Lake Hunting Map


Unavoidable and significant loss of wildlife and fisheries resources occurred due to the construction of the dams along the Savannah River. Terrestrial habitats of wildlife were converted to open water and fish habitat was converted from streams to open water. The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1958 required the Corps to mitigate for the loss of habitat due to the construction of Russell Dam. Lands purchased to mitigate for the loss of habitat at Russell are specifically managed for wildlife. They consist of 20,590 acres around Russell Lake (300-foot buffer lands), 6,858 acres at Thurmond, and 21,788 acres of “separable” land located away from the lake and managed by Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Natural Resources (DNR). The total area of mitigation land is 49,236 acres, which compensates for the loss of 26,650 acres of fish and wildlife habitat. In addition, specific fisheries mitigation measures include habitat structures, tree shelters, and fish stocking.

Thurmond and Hartwell have active wildlife management programs; however, they were not required to purchase and manage additional mitigation land to compensate for habitat loss since these projects were authorized and construction initiated before passage of the Fish and Wildlife coordination Act of 1958.

The Russell Project Environmental Impact Statement identified significant potential impacts to wildlife habitat and populations due to project construction. The Savannah District funded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to undertake an extensive survey to determine the need for and the extent of mitigation required. Using the most advanced state-of-the-art habitat evaluation procedure, an interagency team of biologists from the Corps, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Georgia and South Carolina wildlife agencies evaluated the project area and proposed mitigation sites.

The wildlife management program centers on approximately 20,500 acres of public lands surrounding the lake. This acreage represents a significant portion of the mitigation lands associated with project construction and is intensely managed for both game and non-game wildlife species. In addition to the mitigation lands surrounding Russell Lake, the staff also has financial and administrative responsibilities for the separate mitigation lands in Georgia and South Carolina, totaling an additional 28,646 acres.

Wildlife management activities are outlined in the operational management plan and mini-management plans. These unique mini-management plans are individual documents that focus on the large tracts of land and describe detailed management goals and objectives for them. Each management area contains 200 to 500 acres.

Portions of Corps land around the lake is planted in food plots in the spring and fall to enhance wildlife habitat by providing valuable sources of food and cover for deer, duck, turkey, dove, quail, and a variety of songbirds. Thousands of ducks use the impoundment, adjacent ponds, and wetlands as staging areas for feeding and resting as they migrate south for the winter. Small impoundments, designed and managed specifically for waterfowl are located at Lake Russell. Nesting boxes are provided for the resident wood ducks. Appropriate management techniques are used to protect and improve rare plant and animal communities. Biologists and park rangers conduct surveys to evaluate populations and nesting success of both eagle and osprey.

During planning and construction, providing excellent fish habitat was a high priority. Some forested areas were left standing to be inundated while other areas with trees were topped 13 feet below normal full pool to provide cover to optimize fish habitat. By taking advantage of the relatively stable water levels, normally fluctuating no more than 5 feet, more cover could be left in the lake than in most impoundments its size. Although the lake is not managed exclusively for fishing, it is an important part of the multi-use management program of the project. Russell Lake has gone through the classic new lake cycle and has settled into a quality fishery, dominated by anglers fishing for largemouth bass and crappie.

Fisheries management at Lake Russell blends programs carried out by both the Georgia and South Carolina DNR in concert with the Corps. The states regulate fishermen and stock fish, while the Corps operates the dams and manages the surrounding federal land affecting fishermen, fish and their habitat. Overall, the fisheries management program objectives are: maintain lake conditions favorable to fish spawning and survival, coordinate and assist state agency personnel with population surveys and other activities, and encourage and accommodate public use and appreciation of the fisheries resource.

Fishing Related Links

The forest management plan for Russell Lake includes intensive site-specific management details as well as general, project-wide management guidelines. Forest management follows traditional, time-proven methods using a project compartment system approach where one compartment is examined yearly for management needs. The pine ecosystem is managed for species diversity, wildlife, aesthetics, and other benefits. Harvesting or “thinning” the pine stand is important to allow enough sunlight to reach the forest floor to produce plants desirable for wildlife food and cover. Pine thinning improves the growth and health of the remaining trees, making the trees more resistant to insects. Along with thinning, prescribed burning helps to manage the forest – many plants require fire to germinate. In contrast, hardwood forests are not harvested but are maintained to provide diversity and produce valuable wildlife foods such as acorns. The goals are to maintain healthy forests to provide ground-cover protection for water quality, aesthetic value enhancement for the visiting public and to improve wildlife habitat. By maintaining healthy forests, the overall ecosystem is enhanced. Not only is water quality improved, growing plants improve air quality by removing carbon dioxide and pollutants from the atmosphere in the growth process and return clean oxygen.

AQUATIC PLANT MANAGEMENT - at Richard B. Russell, Hartwell and J. Strom Thurmond Lakes
Aquatic plants are an important component of an aquatic ecosystem, providing habitat for fish and waterfowl. However, when fast-growing plant species become well established, they can reach nuisance levels. This occurs when aquatic plants impact common uses of an impoundment such as hydropower production, recreation, or navigation. Management of aquatic vegetation is necessary to maintain the value of multiple uses in many large reservoirs where nuisance levels of aquatic plants have been reached. An example of a nuisance aquatic plant in our area is Hydrilla verticillata, commonly referred to as hydrilla.

Hydrilla is native to Africa and is considered a noxious aquatic weed throughout much of the United States. This is due to the plant’s fast growth rate and ability to spread rapidly, often reaching nuisance levels that can require costly management and negatively impact reservoir purposes. Hydrilla often forms dense mats on the water surface, which limits shoreline uses by swimmers, bank fishermen, and boaters.

Hydrilla has not been located in Richard B. Russell and Hartwell Lakes. However, in late 1995, 55 acres of hydrilla were located in J. Strom Thurmond Lake (hydrilla has also been located in the Duke Power Company’s Keowee Lake which is located upstream of Hartwell Lake). In spite of aggressive aquatic herbicide treatments at Thurmond Lake, the known distribution of hydrilla has increased to approximately 4,985 acres.

At Thurmond Lake, hydrilla is present along approximately 305 miles of shoreline in Georgia and 105 miles of shoreline in South Carolina. Hydrilla can be found in areas of suitable substrate throughout Little River, GA, from the confluence of the Savannah River to upstream of Raysville Campground, including most tributaries. Along the Savannah River portion of the lake, hydrilla is present from Thurmond Dam to Elijah Clark State Park in Georgia and from the dam to Plum Branch Yacht Club in South Carolina. The known distribution of hydrilla has affected between 3 - 4 percent of Thurmond's 71,100-acre reservoir.
Fortunately in Thurmond Lake, hydrilla has not caused some of the problems associated with shallow lakes in the Southeast where it is present. The primary reason is that Thurmond Lake is relatively deep, with an average depth of 36 feet. Hydrilla typically cannot grow in waters greater than 20 feet. Second, most of the hydrilla present in the lake is the monoecious variety, which grows laterally along the lake bottom for most of the growing season before growing up to the surface in late August and September. It is estimated that 20 - 30 percent of the lake may eventually be affected by hydrilla. The effects will be most noticeable in the larger, shallow coves.

In response to the presence of hydrilla in Thurmond Lake as well as other aquatic plants of concern in Richard B. Russell Lake, Hartwell Lake and the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, the Aquatic Plant Management Plan (APMP) for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District Water Resources Projects was prepared in 1998. The APMP was coordinated with numerous state, federal, and local interests. The plan established treatment priorities based on impacts to authorized project purposes, funding, treatments by others, and environmental impacts. Treatment plans are prepared in January, based on plant distribution the previous summer and estimated funding. The plans are revised during the summer to reflect changes in plant abundance and available funding.


It is the goal of the aquatic plant management program to minimize impacts to authorized project purposes caused by nuisance levels of aquatic vegetation. However, all programs must compete for limited funding. Therefore, the Army Corps of Engineers will not be able to treat all areas where aquatic vegetation reaches nuisance levels. Furthermore, as stewards of taxpayer money, it is understood that the benefits derived from treatment should exceed the cost of treatment. It is imperative that strong partnerships with state agencies, county governments, and private concessionaires be formed in order to meet public use demands.

Hydrilla is expected to eventually migrate to all areas of suitable habitat within Thurmond Lake. Up to 20% to 30% of the lake’s surface area could be affected. Efforts to eradicate hydrilla in other large Southeastern U.S. lakes have proved ineffective and expensive. The Corps of Engineers at J. Strom Thurmond Lake will treat or allow others (permit required) to treat hydrilla with herbicides in areas of high public use. Such areas include shorelines around recreation areas, campgrounds, boat ramps, private docks, and municipal water intakes.

Adjoining property owners at J. Strom Thurmond Lake may treat hydrilla around their docks provided they obtain a permit from the J. Strom Thurmond Project Office. There is no charge for the permit. An individual who is licensed by the state in the aquatic herbicide category must apply the herbicide. Permits are not required for the cutting and removing of aquatic vegetation from around private boat docks and single lane boat channels if work is accomplished with hand tools only.
Help prevent the spread of aquatic plants! Hydrilla and other aquatic plants are often transported unintentionally when boats are towed from one lake to another. Boaters are reminded to make sure their boat, boat trailer, and live well are free of aquatic plants before leaving the launching area of any lake. Place any plants you remove into a garbage container. DO NOT put them back into the lake. NEVER intentionally plant hydrilla or other nuisance aquatic plants in any waters. By doing these simple things, you can help protect the lakes you use and the aquatic resources within them. Please help ensure the quality of our lakes for future generations.

Learn more about nuisance aquatic plants! There are numerous other aquatic plants that have the potential to negatively impact our lakes if they are accidentally introduced. These plants include water hyacinth, eurasian watermilfoil, water lettus, and giant salvinia.

For more information on aquatic plants visit the following web sites:
Like private companies, state agencies, and local governments, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must follow the numerous public laws which safeguard the environment. Programs and trained personnel are in place to assure compliance with these laws. Prior to any ground disturbing activity at Richard B. Russell Lake, Hartwell Lake and J. Strom Thurmond Lakes, endangered species surveys, wetlands delineation, and cultural resources surveys are conducted. When concerns are identified, plans are modified to reduce or eliminate possible environmental impacts. For new undertakings not covered by the existing Environmental Impact Statement and Master Plan, either an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement is prepared as appropriate.

Over the past 10 years, numerous changes have been made within the power plant to reduce environmental concerns. Environmental friendly cleaners and lubricants are being used whenever possible. Controls are in place to reduce the potential of a lubricant spill into the Savannah River below the dam. Finally, whenever hazardous materials must be disposed of, it is done so in accordance with all federal and state laws.

The public is encouraged to take an active role in environmental stewardship at the lake during each and every visit by protecting the land and water from trash, gray water, and other pollutants. Groups and individuals are welcome to volunteer in a variety of capacities to assist in the care of the many resources at the lakes. Annual lake clean-ups take place each August - September at Richard B. Russell, Hartwell and J. Strom Thurmond Lakes. To reach the Volunteer Coordinators call the appropriate lake office.