Category Archives: Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration

Cooperative Project Benefits Wylie’s Brook Trout

Brook trout downstream

Credit: USFWS

Here we share a story talking about fish passage projects on Wylie Brook tributaries that opened up close to two miles of stream to the New York state fish. The original story written by Paula Piatt can be found here: http://www.outdoornews.com/2018/02/12/new-york-cooperative-project-benefits-wylies-brook-trout/

Coventry, N.Y. — For us, it’s as simple as driving over them; zipping along at 55 mph, we don’t even notice. But if you’re a brook trout, it’s an impassable barrier – the end of the road. And it doesn’t matter that miles of prime spawning and nursery habitat is on the other side.

Thanks, however, to a cooperative effort among several local, state and federal agencies, native brookies can now reach that habitat in Chenango County’s Wylie Brook watershed, and biologists expect them to thrive in the coming years.

Four recent fish passage projects on Wylie Brook tributaries have opened up close to two miles of stream to the New York state fish, and it was as easy as replacing a few road culverts. Not that it was really that simple. A coalition of partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Chenango County Highway Department, the town of Coventry and two private landowners all came together with time, funding and access to make the project a success.

“It takes a village to raise a brook trout,” said Gian Dodici, a fish and wildlife biologist with the USFWS’s field office in Cortland. “No one agency or group could get this done. We couldn’t do it without the DEC; DEC couldn’t do it without the town, and it goes on down.”

“It” is the replacement of four “perching” culverts along tributaries to Wylie Brook, a Class C watershed with 47.5 miles of main stream and tributaries, the majority of which flow through Chenango County.

The streams are in the Upper Susquehanna River drainage, a priority for the USFWS, and through another alliance, the Upper Susquehanna Conservation Alliance, Wylie was chosen for several projects that would reconnect the brook trout with their habitat upstream.

The first phase involved replacement of a culvert (purchased with Alliance funds and installed by the town of Coventry). This year, three additional projects were identified by DEC personnel.

“We identified brook trout downstream of the culverts, but there were problems in that they were one-way streets – the fish couldn’t get back (upstream),” said Dave Lemon, DEC’s Region 7 fisheries manager. “We were looking to reconnect the isolated populations. If catastrophic drought or flood, or something that happens in that system that wipes the fish out, there’s no way for that area to be repopulated.”

Perching culverts are common throughout the state. When roads cross streams, the fish and aquatic life are many times an afterthought of towns and counties under time and monetary constraints. Many of the culverts are undersized and, in the case of hillside highways, drops of two, three and even five feet are not uncommon.

The problem for the brook trout – or any other fish in the stream – is that they can’t make that jump.

“Brook trout can jump about a foot, so what we did in one section was build a series of steps,” said Lemon of one culvert that was perched five feet above the downstream bed. “We needed six structures, each dropping about a foot, with a certain space in between them.”

Stream construction work continued about 150 feet downstream to achieve the goal – all on private land. “Almost all of this was done with the cooperation of private landowners,” Lemon said.

And once the construction was finished, members of the Al Hazzard Chapter of Trout Unlimited spent some time planting willows along the streambank for stabilization and, eventually, cover.

The unnamed Wylie Brook tributaries, crossed by both county and town roads, are not “top of the list” when it comes to fishing hotspots. In fact, says Lemon, they’re not places he would send an angler looking to fish.

“These streams are really more about really good spawning and nursery habitat,” he said. “Wylie Brook itself is more fishable, but currently there is no formal public access. One section we did this year was on state forest land. Ultimately, I would like to see improved formal public access there.”

For Dodici, this was an “ecological restoration project,” aimed at bringing back prime brook trout habitat.

“What’s unique about this Wylie Brook drainage is that it’s almost exclusively native brook trout,” he said of the stream that’s only been stocked a handful of times since 1934, and then only with brook trout. The last – and final – stocking came in 1989.

“Most of the trout fisheries in that neck of the woods, there’s often a mix of brook and brown trout. At this point it’s an ecological benefit of reconnecting the watershed to all of its tribs and providing that nursery and spawning habitat, so if we ever realize the goal of the fishery in Wylie Brook itself, the ecology will be there to support that fishery,” he said.

Dodici estimates the cost of this year’s project at about $125,000, a large part of which came via in-kind services. DEC provided site identification, consulting, coordination and fish sampling work; USFWS contributed engineering, design and construction oversite, as well as $57,000 through its National Fish Passage Program for construction. The town of Coventry kicked in $10,000 for material and in-kind services.

 


Since 2009, the Service and partners have removed or replaced more than 507 barriers to fish passage from Maine to West Virginia, reconnecting more than 4,020 miles of rivers and streams and 19,300 acres of wetlands. Partners across the Northeast have matched the Service’s funding contribution nearly 5 to 1, contributing $56.1 million to the Service’s $12.5 million to restore aquatic connectivity for wildlife and protect communities.

A Conservation and Family Tradition

Judy Sefchick Edwards, Wildlife Biologist, shares the conservation and family traditions at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. 

Ducks in the air and leaves on the ground mark both the end of summer, and the beginning of a long-held tradition.  The refuge boat launch is bustling with young, smiling faces, animated chatter, and enthusiastic adults taking photos, to preserve great future memories.  It’s the start of Vermont’s duck hunting season, with the Youth Waterfowl Hunting Weekend at Missisquoi NWR!

Surrounded by the genuine fervor and excitement, I can’t help but smile.  Not only did this crew have a successful refuge hunt, but they also had a memorable family day outdoors.  Again, I’m reminded that the conservation tradition of waterfowl hunting, and the purchase of Federal Duck Stamps, has made it possible for us all to experience and enjoy our National Wildlife Refuge System.

“Missisquoi NWR has one of the northeast’s largest, natural, freshwater wetland complexes, and is one of the last truly wild places in Vermont,” says native Vermonter, Chris Smith, an avid first-generation duck hunter, and father as well as mentor, to junior duck hunters, Zach and Caleb.  Not only are the Missisquoi Delta and Bay Wetlands important stopover sites for migratory waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway, but they’re RAMSAR designated “Wetlands of International Importance” too.

What’s more, this refuge is living proof that duck stamps do more than provide a license to hunt.  With ninety-eight cents of every dollar going towards National Wildlife Refuge System lands, it’s no surprise that 87.5% of Missisquoi NWR was bought with duck stamp dollars.  Chris is proud to buy them and says, “Without duck stamps, the number of waterfowl, water birds, and other wetland-dependent species would decline, as would the opportunities to recreate in these special places.”

Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. Click image for more information about Duck Stamps.

This weekend, the Smiths arrived at the refuge with great anticipation and preparation.  Chris says, “I enjoy seeing all the ‘firsts’ for young hunters:  wearing waders, getting stuck in mud, or shooting certain ducks.”  A month earlier, the family attended the refuge’s annual Junior Waterfowl Hunter Training, to improve skills and discuss safe, ethical hunting, and wildlife conservation.  Completion of the training, and a subsequent lottery draw, gave these juniors a chance to hunt in sought-after refuge blinds.

As a mentor, Chris won’t hunt, but says, “It’s rewarding to pass along knowledge and experience, and have an opportunity for real quality time with my sons.”  He’s proud to have passed this tradition down to them.  Chris remembers when both boys shot their first banded ducks at the refuge.  “I’ll never forget their excitement and pride,” he said, then added, “Without the refuge, my hunting experiences would be greatly diminished, but the loss of wildlife would be even more devastating.”

Caleb and Zach Smith at the end of a hunt on Missisquoi NWR

Missisquoi NWR means different things to different people, but the age-old tradition of waterfowl hunting is the reason this refuge exists.  For some, like Caleb, the refuge represents a chance to observe and hunt near the greatest concentration of waterfowl in Vermont. “Seeing lots of ducks and having many opportunities to shoot, sets the refuge apart,” he said.  To others, like Zach, “It’s a place where I can get out of the house and do stuff I love—whether it’s hunting, fishing, or banding ducks with Judy.  It’s a great place.”

 

The Great Hill People of the Beautiful River and Their Conservation Efforts

This story is a part of the Native American Blog Series in observance of National Native American Heritage.

The Seneca Nation of Indians are the “Keepers of the Western Door” and are called the “Great Hill People” or “O-non-dowa-gah” in their own language. The Seneca people are culturally attached to their ancestral lands, and call the Allegheny River the “Ohi’yo” which translates into “beautiful river”. The Ohi’yo or Allegheny River joins the Monongahela River to form the Ohio River, which then the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi River. To many Seneca Native Americans, the Allegheny River and its connections are simply called Ohi’yo  River no matter what region it is in.

seneca territory

Currently, the Seneca Nation of Indians holds 53,884 acres of Tribal lands within two territories: the Allegany and the Cattaraugus, as well as the Oil Springs Reservation which is 640 acres in the state of New York.  Photo Credit: eSpatially New York, 2015

The Seneca Nation of Indians has a robust wildlife program and is undertaking many projects to protect and restore fish and wildlife cultural important to their people.  In 2015, the Seneca Nation of Indians were awarded Federal funding for a project titled “Conservation Management” through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grant (TWG) program. The goal of the project is to increase stream and shoreline restoration within the Cattaraugus Creek, to benefit sacred fish species including the brook trout and steelhead fish. According to Seneca oral histories, the Great Spirit had caught and admired the beauty of the brook trout. The Great Spirit’s touch turned the black ebony color of the trout into silvery spots and halos. Since the brook trout had been handled by the Great Spirit and spared for its beauty to live on, the Seneca Nation of Indians do not eat brook trout, but hold it as sacred in the highest regard of fish (Indian Legend received by Larry Becelia).

Additionally, a freshwater hatchery in Cattaraugus Territory, which will also serve as an educational center for the community, is being created under management of Greg Lay, Fish and Wildlife Department for the Seneca Indian Nation. The hatchery will be used for Eastern brook trout. The Seneca Nation provides power to both facilities using solar panels and other sustainable methods.

Another project the Seneca Nation of Indians is working on is to stabilize the walleye population, which is a fish that is both a culturally significant and a subsistence food for the Seneca Nation of Indians, through establishment of a fish rearing facility in the Allegany territory. The rearing facility is managed by Shane Titus, the Fishery’s Manager and and Larry Becelia, the Conservation Manager of Seneca Nation of Indians Fish and Wildlife Department. The highland Strain of Walleye (adult male and females) are caught from the Allegany Reservoir during spawning season using an electroshocking boat. After the reproductive materials have been collected by the caught adults, they are released further up the Allegany River. This location is chosen in hopes that mature walleye will stay up river and spawn in the future to increase the upstream population. When the walleye fry hatch in the rearing facility, they are released where the Allegany reservoir and Allegany River meet.

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Larry Becelia, Conservation Manager  of the Seneca Nation Fish and Wildlife Department holding a walleye.

The Seneca Nation Fish and Wildlife Department has also established a research program, in which walleye females that were caught, held, and released from the facility are tagged with URL links, identification numbers, and QR codes. This system is used in the hopes that future anglers can log the individual fish into the system and see where it has traveled on the map. One example of this form of “citizen science” was encountered when a fisherman caught a walleye female all the way in Pennsylvania! The Seneca Nation of Indians have also built a stocking pond near the facility for catch and release fishing of walleye, to ensure that traditional fishing activities are available for the Tribal community.

 

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Shane and Larry also organize a youth program in the summer to create artificial habitat for fish. Eleven- to sixteen-year olds use recycled vinyl siding, quick cement, and pipes to create a resting place for spawning fish. Using grant funds, the Seneca Nation of Indians have also been able to order large boulders to be placed into the freshwater system to provide resting pools for fish. Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring

In addition, the Seneca Nation of Indians is in partnership with Cornell University and the State of New York to research the chytrid disease in the eastern hellbender, a protected species of large salamander. Several individuals with the disease were unable to be cured, and thus, are unable to be released back into their natural system. Currently, the SNI resource managers, Shane and Titus, continue to take care of a handful of eastern hellbenders. Fortunately, several hellbenders without the chytrid disease were able to be released into their natural environment in the summer of 2017.

The O-non-dawa-gah or Seneca people have been conserving their lands for thousands of years. Through the tribal wildlife grants program, they continue to demonstrate their ancestral ties to the Ohi’yo River and its wildlife inhabitants, as well as the protection of species through their hatchery, stream-bank restoration projects, and species recovery programs. Tribal environmental managers pass on their traditional ecological knowledge and conservation skillset to Seneca youth each summer, so generations can continue O-non-dawa-gah traditions into the future.

The Seneca Indian Nation’s conservation management projects were made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Seneca Nation of Indians, other partnerships, and the Tribal Wildlife Grants program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tribal wildlife grants are funded through an annual appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. These grants have awarded more than $77 million to Tribes since 2003, which provide support for approximately 444 conservation projects throughout Indian Country. For more information about tribal wildlife grants please visit https://www.fws.gov/northeast/nativeamerican/index.html