Tag Archives: hydropower

Floating Loon Rafts for Rent: One Occupied This Past Summer

loonnest_withegg

Artificial nesting platform with loon egg.  Photo: NYSDEC.

What does it take to bring back an icon to Northern New York? That’s the question that has left habitat managers scratching their heads for the past decade. After construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, much of the original habitat for shore-nesting birds was flooded out. As it turns out, with four cedar logs, some natural vegetation, and a lot of patience, there might be some hope for restoring the not-so-common loon to the St. Lawrence River.

“Here in the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project area, there are a few loons that nest in the general area, but there’s open water flowing so it’s not necessarily a great spot,” explains Mike Morgan, who manages the Habitat Improvement Projects (HIPs) on the St. Lawrence.

When the Power Project was up for relicensing back in the late 1990s, the Service, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and other agencies identified potential impacts of the power dam that should be taken into consideration. As a result, the New York Power Authority has helped fund, construct, and implement at least ten Habitat Improvement Projects targeting a variety of fish and wildlife potentially impacted by the dam.

loon-with-chick_bri

Common loon with chick.  Photo: USFWS.

One of those species is the Common Loon. “Loons are kind of a charismatic species that people care a lot about and are considered for a lot of hydropower projects” says Morgan. Loons are pretty susceptible to water level fluctuations since they generally nest close to the shoreline. “So a pretty common technique to mitigate that is to put out rafts in suitable areas for loons to nest on because the rafts will float up and down with the water and still be easy for the loons to access,” Mike explains.

After roughly five years of trying this on Lake St. Lawrence with no loons nesting on the rafts, some were ready to give up. Having a “you build it, they will come” mentality doesn’t quite work out for loons and other species, as Mike explains. It has been a process of trial-and-error to find areas where placing artificial nesting platforms most effectively meets the needs of breeding loons. Not to mention the amount of energy it takes to haul these water-logged rafts in and out each season. Some years, geese have taken up residency on the rafts before the loons could, posing some competition for breeding space.

“One of our concerns is actually bald eagles, which is kind of funny because we like to have bald eagles around and they’re a pretty charismatic species in their own right, but they’re big enough to make life unpleasant for nesting loons,” says Mike.

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First loon chick to successfully hatch and fledge from an artificial nesting platform in the St. Lawrence Power Project area.  Photo: NYSDEC.

Finally, on the tenth anniversary of the start of the HIPs, the first loon chick hatched and fledged from one of the artificial nesting platforms this past summer. That’s not the only good news – 75 osprey chicks hatched on installed nesting poles, and roughly 11,500 common tern chicks hatched on artificial nesting structures during the 10 years of management efforts for St. Lawrence River birds.

Biologists Steve Patch and Scott Schlueter from the Service continue to meet each year with other representatives from the NYSDEC, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, Northern New York Audubon Society, the Power Authority, and the local government to review progress and make future decisions about Habitat Improvement Projects on the St. Lawrence River.

 

Two men shake hands and hold an award.

Improving fish habitat one dam at a time

I'm Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You'll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York. USFWS photo with Bethany holding a bog turtle

I’m Bethany Holbrook, and I work at our New York Field Office. You’ll be hearing from me every week! Stay tuned for tales from the great state of New York.

If you enjoy fishing in the St. Lawrence River, you can thank Stephen Patch, Senior Fish and Wildlife Biologist at the New York Field Office, for his contributions to fisheries conservation.

Steve recently received the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited’s Professional Resource Award for his outstanding work in ensuring that dam operators and power producers meet rigid standards regarding water flows, fish protection and other issues affecting fish habitat and propagation.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires dam licenses to be reviewed every 30 to 50 years.  During relicensing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts environmental reviews and suggests conditions or approaches a company must make to improve fish and wildlife habitat.  Steve has played a major role in many hydroelectric project relicensings in New York, all of which have received new licenses that improve the general ecology of the stream.

Three men pose with an award

Trout Unlimited NY Chapter President, Rob Urban (left) and Region 5 Chairman and Hydro Coordinator, Bill Wellman (right), presents Steve Patch with his award at a general meeting in Cold Brook, NY.

  • St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project on the St. Lawrence River
    • Goal: Address the issue of downstream eel passage on the St. Lawrence River
    • Action: Steve helped create the Eel Passage Research Center, which will develop measures to help guide eel and collect them for passage or transport downstream around the two large dams on the river (the Moses-Saunders Dam and the Beauharnois Dam).  He was also instrumental in developing the $24 million Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Research Fund (FEMRF) to benefit multiple fish species, including eel.
    • Result: This 5-year, $3.5 million project will benefit American eel and European eel populations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  The FEMRF money has helped fund some of the eel work and improve habitat for species such as northern pike, walleye and lake sturgeon.

      Eels climb a green eel ladder to an orange trough at the top

      An eel ladder on the Moses-Saunders Dam allows eels to climb to the top, and out to the other side of the dam through a series of pipes.

  • Hogansburg dam removal
    • Goal: Remove the Hogansburg dam
    • Action: Steve helped initiate decommissioning negotiations between Brookfield Power and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe for the purpose of dam removal.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process is complex, so Steve is working with Brookfield Power, the tribe and other partners to find a workable solution for dam removal.
    • Result: Once negotiations are complete, dam removal will open up several hundred miles of mainstem and tributary habitat to a variety of fish species, including American eel, Atlantic salmon and lake sturgeon.
  • Relicensing Settlements  
    • Goal: Create settlements that will improve current and future hydroelectric projects
    • Action: Steve has helped with settlements on the St. Lawrence, Black, Beaver, Oswegatchie, Raquette, St. Regis, Saranac, Hoosic, Sacandaga, Hudson and Oswego Rivers. 
    • Results: (1.) The settlements have created hundreds of miles of new or improved aquatic habitat, allowing fish to safely pass many dams.  (2.) Established a baseline of measures that most hydro developers now strive to include in all new licenses and new project proposals.
Two men shake hands and hold an award.

“Fish and fishermen in every part of New York can be grateful to Steve Patch for his dedication and talent in protecting one of our most fragile natural resources,” said Ron Urban, Chairman of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited.

So the next time you go fishing or visit a waterway, think about all of the conservation work done to protect such an important ecosystem!

Maine Field Office's Steve Shepard. Courtesy of Steve.

What does Atlantic salmon restoration mean to me?

We’re sharing stories from our biologists and partners striving to restore the river for Atlantic salmon and other fish and ensuring it continues to provide benefits for the people of Maine. Today you’re hearing from Steve Shepard, the hydro-licensing coordinator for our agency in Maine. Steve helped us follow the removal of Great Works Dam on the blog in 2012.

Artwork on the Veazie Dam Breaching Poster from the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

Artwork on the Veazie Dam Breaching Poster from the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

This video is part of our ongoing celebration of the second dam removal in Maine’s Penobscot River restoration project! Last summer, Great Works Dam in Old Town and Bradley was taken down. On Monday, July 22, a community event will highlight the beginning of the removal of Veazie Dam, the closest dam blocking fish on the Penobscot from the ocean.

The lower river will flow freely from Milford to the sea, allowing endangered shortnose sturgeon, threatened Atlantic sturgeon, rainbow smelt, tomcod, and striped bass access to 100 percent of their historic habitat. Opening up the lower river will be a huge step forward in realizing the project’s goal to restore self-sustaining runs of all sea-run fisheries in the watershed. Learn more about the effort.

Wait – there’s more! See other videos and posts from work on Veazie and Great Works.