Tag Archives: fish and aquatic conservation

Unleash the trout: impaired stream ready for brook trout

Today we’re sharing a story written by reporter Karen Blackledge of The Danville News from Pennsylvania’s Central Susquehanna Valley. The news story features our efforts to assist private landowners in restoring homes for wildlife, including the eastern brook trout!


Thanks to habitat restoration, brook trout like this one will soon make their home in Limestone Run, a tributary of the West Branch Susquehanna River. Credit: Jaime Masterson/USFWS

LIMESTONEVILLE — For the first time ever, wild brook trout will soon be swimming in Limestone Run.

They are part of a stream restoration project in the works for  about 15 years, said Sean Levan, district manager and bay technician at the Montour County Conservation District.

He and other officials Wednesday showed work done on the farm of Jeff Smith where the state Fish and Boat Commission plans to release about 150 trout Oct. 7. They will range from fingerlings to about 9 inches long.

Dave Keller, a habitat manager, said there is no record of wild brook trout ever being in the stream. “The temperature in the last four years has been conducive to them surviving in the stream,” he said of the only trout native to Pennsylvania which is losing its foothold in habitats in the state.


Logs have been placed alongside and in Limestone Run to improve habit for insects, fish and other life. Photo courtesy of Karen Blackledge, The Danville News.

He said the drought shouldn’t affect introducing them to the stream.

Andy Shiels, director of fisheries for the fish and boat commission, expects multiple releases of fish for several years. They will remove fish from other streams.

Limestone Run, which is considered an impaired stream by the Environmental Protection Agency due to agriculture practices, currently has fish considered bait fish for wild brook trout.

Mark Roberts, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said numerous partners, including federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, the Montour County Conservation District and universities, worked on the project to create buffer trees to keep cattle out and to install logs around the stream and in the stream.


Mark Roberts of our Pennsylvania field office stands by Limestone Run. Photo courtesy of Karen Blackledge, The Danville News.

Smith was one of the first farmers to work with the groups on creating shade to keep temperatures down in Limestone Run, he said. The logs create deeper pools and places for fish to hide.

Roberts credited the landowners along the run with working with them. “Without them, it would not have been possible,” he said of the voluntary program.

“It’s great to see where this has come,” said Levan who has been part of the project for 11 years.

He said the Chillisquaque-Limestone Watershed Association “got the ball rolling.” Tom Benfer, who taught biology and has a small farm betwen Exchange and White Hall, serves as president.

There is only one farm remaining with animals having access to the run and it is in Northumberland County, he said.

Jason Fellon, watershed manager with the state Department of Environmental Resources, said the the types of insects found in the run shows the quality is improving. The run is now impaired by too much sediment from embankment erosion, he said.

Levan said the work wasn’t expensive with the hemlock logs at $55 each and logs totaling 175 along with 200 tons of rock used. The Fish and Wildlife Service provided equipment with labor done by interns, Fellon said.

LeVan said the project was to improve the stream, from Seven Springs Farm in Montour County and continuing to Milton borough in Northumberland County, began with a biology teacher at Milton High School.

“The biggest thing was talking with landlowners who were willing to work with us,” he said of at least a dozen farmers whose properties are along the stream.

Another important part was working with Milton officials concerning Brown Avenue Park where kids now fish for trout.

“It’s great to see that many people working together,” he said.

Buffers and trees have been planted to keep animals out of the stream. Logs in the stream provide more oxygen and shaded areas.

The partners hope to create an environment for wild trout to reproduce. Next year, they will return to shock the water so the fish come to the surface. They will identify them and count them.

“We will see how they survived the year,” Levan said.

The stream currently is home to warm water fish including suckers, black- and red-nosed daces, shiners and chubs. He said they will be able to live in a now cooler stream and use the structures in place. “They improve the water quality of all fish there,” he said.

Besides landowners, partners in the Limestone Run Watershed include Mike Yeage and Karen Avery of Milton High School, the Chillisquaque/Limestone Watershed Association, DEP Growing Greener, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Fish and Boat Commission, Renee Carey of the Northcentral PA Conservancy, Montour County Conservation District, Northumberland County Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Susquehanna University and Bloomsburg University.

The Limestone Run work is the 10th project since the partnership began seven years ago of the state Department of Envrionmental Protection, fish and boat commission and conservation organizations.

More than 90 projects have been completed along nearly seven miles of agricultually impaired streams in North Central Pennsylvania. They won a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2014.

Check out the original story on The Daily Item’s website. You can reach the writer at  kblackledge@thedanvillenews.com.

Super-highways for invasive species

Heidi Himes

Heidi Himes is a fish biologist at the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.

It’s National Invasive Species Awareness Week, a time to call attention to and identify solutions for combating the adverse impacts of invasive species on the ecological and economic health of our natural resources. Heidi Himes, along with other biologists at the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office are diligently working to detect and prevent the spread of aquatic invasive  species in the Lake Erie and Lake Ontario drainage basins, and the Erie Canal. Today Heidi shares some insight into their invasive journey. 

Many of the canal systems of the world were designed to increase the flow of goods across countries and continents, thereby fueling national and global economies. The Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and the Erie Canal are some of the most well known.

A map of the Erie Canal, 1840.

A map of the Erie Canal, 1840.

Not only do these canal systems increase the flow of goods, they also contribute to the flow of species across watersheds and across the globe to the detriment of many native species. So in essence, canals can act as super-highways for invasive species, granting access to areas that otherwise would have been inaccessible or impassable due to natural geographic barriers.

For example, the most recent glacial retreat 12,000 years ago left Lake Ontario separated from Lake Erie by a not too small barrier called Niagara Falls. Then, in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, construction of the Chambly and Champlain Canals in Vermont, the Erie Canal in New York and the Welland Canal in Canada bypassed the natural barriers glaciation had created – allowing species such as the sea lamprey to migrate into Lake Ontario and westward all the way to Lake Superior. The introduction of sea lamprey into new waters contributed to the decimation of native lake trout in the Great Lakes.

Biologists from the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office monitor fish species in the Erie Canal. Photo credit: USFWS

Biologists from the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office monitor fish species in the Erie Canal. Photo credit: USFWS

The invasive round goby also has caused impacts upon the economy and ecology of the Great Lakes since it’s arrival in the 1990s. In addition to eating lake trout eggs, they out-compete native fish species like darters and sculpins, which are essential food items for larger sport fish. The round goby is now spreading eastward to the Finger Lakes and the Hudson River through the Erie Canal.

Fish biologist Kelly McDonald, delineates the extent of the hydrilla infestation. Photo credit: USFWS

Fish biologist Kelly McDonald, delineates the extent of the hydrilla infestation. Photo credit: USFWS

Non-native aquatic plants such as hydrilla, water hyacinth and water chestnut also have the potential to spread across New York through the Erie Canal. These aquatic plants crowd out native plants, damaging habitat for fish, amphibians and birds.

Luckily, wildlife and fisheries biologists have learned that with early detection they are better able to eliminate and control the spread of these harmful species.

A team of biologists from the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in Basom, New York are hard at work monitoring invasive fish and plant species at several connection points along the Erie Canal. Two such locations are the intersection of the canal and the Genesee River in Rochester and the Seneca-Cayuga Canal which links the Erie Canal to the beautiful Finger Lakes region.

“Early detection at these critical junctions can help us respond rapidly to prevent invasive species from spreading to a new water body, “ says Sandra Keppner, the Northeast Regional Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator. “While we observed the round goby near Utica, New York – over half way from Lake Erie to the Hudson River, the good news is that we haven’t seen any new invasive species.”

The western end of the Erie Canal was infested with water chestnut in 2010. Photo credit: USFWS

The western end of the Erie Canal was infested with water chestnut in 2010. Photo credit: USFWS

Biologists are also helping control hydrilla, one of the most rapidly spreading invasive plants threatening recreational fishing and boating. Hydrilla chokes valuable fish habitat, which can reduce oxygen levels and cause fish kills.

They first found hydrilla at the western end of the Erie Canal in 2012. Heavy recreational traffic cuts the plants into fragments, like cuttings for new houseplants, which flow along the canal and establish more colonies. After biologists found hydrilla a few miles further east in the canal in 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led a collaborative effort with the New York State Canal Corporation, the Lower Great Lakes FWCO and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to remove hydrilla in the 15-mile section from the Niagara River east to Lockport, New York. “We are pleased to report that treatments applied in 2014 and 2015 greatly reduced the mass of hydrilla in this area” says Sandra.

After one season of using a mechanical harvester to remove water chestnut, we can see the surface of the Erie Canal again and pathways created by fish moving through the matted canal. Photo credit: USFWS

After one season of using a mechanical harvester to remove water chestnut, we can see the surface of the Erie Canal again and pathways created by fish moving through the matted canal. Photo credit: USFWS

Another successful effort in our battle against invasives is the control of water chestnut in the western end of the Erie Canal before it enters the upper Niagara River. “Back in 2010, we were mechanically removing this plant by the cubic yard, with amounts weighing 100,000 lbs. Local residents would say they saw ‘squirrels running on the water’, when the water chestnut was so dense. Today, we are removing 200-400 plants in an entire summer, using just our hands which allows us to remove the root along with floating leaves,” says Mike Goehle, Deputy Manager, Lower Great Lakes FWCO.

After two seasons of mechanical removal, the western end of the Erie Canal is nearly free of water chestnut. Photo credit: USFWS

After two seasons of mechanical removal, the western end of the Erie Canal is nearly free of water chestnut. Photo credit: USFWS

Aquatic species invasions are no joke, they can be vectors of viruses and disease to which native species have no resistance, they can decimate native species and destroy habitat. Canals systems are likely here to stay, and will continue to act as super-highways for aquatic species. Outreach and education to raise awareness of the problems and how to prevent the spread of invasive speciescan help make the positive changes needed to protect aquatic landscapes.

Fishing with veterans teaches life long lessons

Josie is spending her summer working at the Barrett Fishway on the Connecticut River in Holyoke, Massachusetts, counting fish that pass through and head upstream. Photo credit: USFWS

Josie is spending her summer working at the Barrett Fishway on the Connecticut River in Holyoke, Massachusetts, counting fish that pass through as they head upstream. Photo credit: USFWS

Today we continue our recognition of National Fishing and Boating Week with a personal story from Josie Cicia. Josie is a longtime volunteer with the Service, dedicating much of her free time to helping those who dedicated their lives to protecting our country: U.S. military veterans. Read how Josie’s work with the veterans fishing program at the Richard Cronin National Salmon Station helped shape decisions in her life.

I grew up living next door to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Richard Cronin National Salmon Station in Sunderland, Massachusetts. Throughout my childhood my older sister and I would venture down to the station on a regular basis, exploring the world and work that surrounded us there.

Cronin Vet Fishing Program2_2015

Volunteers are a critical part of the veterans fishing program. Photo credit: Jennifer Lapis, USFWS

I was always so interested in everything that happened at the station. When I was about five years old my mom started to let me walk down and visit by myself. I felt so fortunate and privileged to live right across the street from this fascinating facility. When the station was active in the Atlantic salmon restoration program, the manager, Micky Novak, always welcomed me (along with anyone else) with open arms. I grew up learning about the station, and the important conservation work that happened there.

I volunteered at the station for 13 years. The station wasn’t just a place for me to go to, it became part of my life, and it was my second home.

Volunteering at the station introduced me to many Service programs. But the one program that stood out for me the most was the Wounded Veterans Fishing Program, held once a month throughout the summer at Veteran’s Pond on the station’s property.  I am so thankful to Micky for introducing me to the program and giving me the chance to became part of this invaluable opportunity offered to the veterans who have sacrificed and served our country.


Cronin Vet Fishing Program_2015_close up

Getting outside to enjoy a day of fishing is the highlight of many veterans’ week. Photo credit: Jennifer Lapis, USFWS

Working with veterans is an honor. They fought to keep our country safe, and now I get to help them have fun and enjoy time outside fishing, socializing and having a cook out. One of my favorite parts of spending time with the veterans is when they share their stories with me. Their stories have actually influenced some of the choices I’ve made for my own life.

Volunteering wasn’t just a passing interest to me. It became part of everything I did. It was so important to me that I would bring my friends along to the program to share this wonderful experience with them.  I liked to tell them that volunteering is more than just a good experience. It makes you feel so much better because you are honoring veterans who live in nursing homes, by helping them fish and enjoy time being outside. My closest friend used to always say “you don’t know Josie until you’ve seen her working down at the salmon station.”

Vet Holding Fish

One participant shows off his big catch of the day. Photo credit: USFWS

When I first learned that the station was no longer going to be active in Atlantic salmon restoration, I was scared and sad that the veterans fishing program might also come to an end. But much to my relief, the program is continuing this year, as it has every year since Micky held the first event in 1992.

I am now 19 years old, and just finished my first year at college. I still continue to volunteer at the veterans fishing program because it is an amazing opportunity. We just held the first event of this year, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. It is hard to describe the feeling of happiness and sincerity I felt being back at the pond getting ready for all the veterans to come and reunite with all the other volunteers who have watched me grow up.

Cronin Vet Fishing Program_2015_rock2

This plaque, located at the edge of Veteran’s Pond, honors all those who served in the armed forces and dedicated their lives to protecting our country’s freedoms. Photo credit: Jennifer Lapis/ USFWS

The veterans fishing program helped me realize that I want to go to school to study environmental science. It has shown me how important it is to protect wildlife and the natural environment around us. I often talk with some of the veterans and volunteers about how the environment has changed so much in their lifetime. Hearing their stories always makes me sad, which has helped me to realize what I want to study in college. The environmental field has so much to offer. I plan to someday, continue my volunteer journey and show younger generations how important it is for all of us.

National Fishing and Boating Week

USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation