Tag Archives: New York

Fishing for steelhead in new (old) places

Today’s blog was co-written by Catherine Gatenby and Betsy Trometer, fish biologists at Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office. Visit them on Facebook

Chautauqua Creek emerges out of the slate bedrock and gravel of western New York and flows 15 miles north and west, emptying into Lake Erie about 50 miles south of Buffalo, New York. It’s among one of the top steelhead fisheries in the entire state because of the amount of public access, with anglers catching as many as 1 to 2 steelhead per hour. New York presently maintains 8.5 miles of public fishing easements on Chautauqua Creek, including 1.3 miles of catch and release with artificial lures just below the Westfield Water Works Dam. The steelhead fishery is supported extensively by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)  stocking programs in Lake Erie tributaries.

Steelhead trout from Lake Erie tributary stream. Credit: Jacob Cochran

Steelhead trout from Lake Erie tributary stream. Credit: Jacob Cochran

Historically, Chautauqua Creek had always been perfect habitat for trout. Soldier, lawyer, diplomat, and writer, Mr. Albion W. Tourgee wrote of the Chautauqua in 1887’s Button’s Inn: “From source to mouth there was hardly a hundred yards of quiet water …Heaven grant that the foot of the despoiler may be long delayed, and that the trout which hide in its cool waters may long continue…”

Decades ago, two dams were constructed on the Chautauqua approximately five miles upstream from its mouth at Lake Erie. These dams impeded water flow and limited fish passage and fishing opportunities. Fish and anglers were limited to  5-mile reach between the dams and Lake Erie.

The uppermost dam, the  Westfield Water Works Dam, serves to pool water routed to a reservoir used for the public by the village of Westfield. The lower dam no longer serves a purpose. Chautauqua Creek also had been experiencing erosion downstream of a railroad bridge culvert 2 miles upstream from the mouth, which created a drop and another impassable barrier to both migratory and resident fishes like smallmouth bass and white sucker.

But it’s the steelhead trout that bring the anglers to Chautauqua Creek.

Steelhead trout caught in a tributary stream to Lake Erie. Credit:Jacob Cochran

Steelhead trout caught in a tributary stream to Lake Erie. Credit:Jacob Cochran

Recently, Chautauqua Creek was targeted by state and federal partners, including the Chautauqua Soil and Water Conservation District and Trout Unlimited, for habitat restoration projects that would reduce erosion and boost the recreational fisheries. Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Great Lakes Fish Habitat Partnership was provided to open more than 10 miles of high quality spawning and nursery habitat for migratory and resident fishes, and increase the amount of angler access to this important recreational fishery. In the summers of 2015 and 2016, rock riffles were repaired at the upper dam, and new rock riffles were constructed at the lower dam and below the railroad bridge to allow fish passage. After 3 years, the rock riffles are still in place, having withstood high river flows, due to judicious pinning of boulders which kept them stable.

James Markham, fisheries biologist for the NYSDEC’s Lake Erie Unit, reported steelhead had made it to prime habitat upstream of the Westfield Water Works Dam in the fall of 2015 and 2016 . “In fact,” Jim says “last year (2017), was a great year with smallmouth and white suckers reaching previously inaccessible prime spawning habitat above the railroad bridge, and anglers catching steelhead above the dams up into the headwaters of the stream. And we are seeing lots of natural reproduction (by steelhead) up in the watershed, along with out migration of the young fish from the upper part of the creek to Lake Erie. We are fully expecting to see natural reproduction of smallmouth and white suckers in the coming years too as a result of opening a mile of good spawning habitat.”

Finally, Markham says, “by leveraging all the support and talents of our partners, we were able to accomplish a lot more than any of us could have on our own”.

We hope that Mr. Tourgee would be pleased to see us working together to restore Chautauqua Creek’s riffles and opening miles of its cool waters so trout may long continue for anglers in New York and the Great Lakes.

Below are some before and after images from the project


Bog turtles – a One Health Ambassador

A healthy bog turtle from a New York population. Credit: Sandy Doran, USFWS

A healthy bog turtle from a New York population. Credit: Sandy Doran, USFWS

The One Health Initiative promotes the idea that human, animal, and environmental health are all linked, so by changing one aspect of the triad you inevitably affect the rest.

This initiative encourages collaboration across a variety of scientific disciplines to create synergist approaches to large scale health issues. Recent mortality events in populations of the country’s smallest turtle have provided an opportunity for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do just this—to bring together partners across a variety of disciplines to explore an issue that could be affecting more than the bog turtle.

Bog turtles, the smallest turtle in North America, are federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Although these turtles are small they are mighty!

They have a lifespan of 30+ years and remain almost exclusively in the same wetlands where they hatched. They have become threatened primarily as a result of degradation, fragmentation and/or destruction of habitat, due to human activities.

In 2011, bog turtle populations in New York and Massachusetts had unexplained mortality events and individuals were showing clinical changes in their skin that included discoloration and ulceration.

State Line Fen WRP Project S. Doran with BT (3) 6.20.13

Biologist Sandy Doran holds a health bog turtle. Now you can really appreciate their small size! Credit: Sandy Doran, USFWS

This puzzled many biologists and prompted a response to figure out what was causing the mortality.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided to fund a project involving Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) veterinarians, pathologists and technicians, and state biologists to conduct health assessments on bog turtles at 4 sites in these two states.

Previous research on other turtle species suggested that infectious diseases, such as Mycoplasma (an upper respiratory tract disease), could be an important contributor to mortality.

WCS was unable to determine the actual cause of death, but the research did confirm the presence of Mycoplasma. Tests for ranavirus and herpesvirus came back negative.

Unfortunately, additional research efforts have had mixed results.

  • Additional assessments in Dutchess County, New York, were negative for ranavirus as well as Mycoplasma, but were positive for herpesvirus.
  • Data from New Jersey suggests that there is a high prevalence of herpesvirus in bog turtle populations in that state.
  • Recent results from a 2017 study in Oswego County, New York, indicated that all the sampled bog turtles were healthy.

Ultimately the disease prevalence is highly variable and additional testing is required to understand the disease distribution within a variety of bog turtle populations. The 2017 study, funded by USFWS, allowed WCS and the State University of New York College at Oswego (SUNY Oswego) to assess turtles at a site that is far removed from other parts of the bog turtle range where positive disease detections have been made; it was of particular interest to better understand if bog turtles at this site carried the same diseases.

While there were some old injuries observed, and very occasional unexplained minor discoloration of skin, the sampled turtles were in very good condition.

Continuing to study this species is important because by better understanding these unexplained mortality events we can support a more robust wetland habitat system and ideally eventually recover this species (hooray!).

There are a lot of unknowns in this project like how climate change may play a role in bog turtle populations and whether a changing climate will trigger more disease impacts.  The continuation of research efforts will allow more knowledge to be gained to help protect this species long term.

This collaborative effort remains on-going to protect this tiny turtle and to better understand the impacts to habitat and disease. The more we can encourage and work together toward common conservation goals the better we can promote and protect the biodiversity of our world, one tiny turtle at a time.

“A Hero of Mythical Proportions”

In this guest blog, Trout Unlimited’s Ron Rhodes and Rich Redman explain why U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Madeleine Lyttle was selected as the organization’s 2017 Conservation Professional of the Year.

After Tropical Storm Irene dumped nearly 10 inches of rain on New England and the Northeast in 2011, the resulting flood damage was more severe than any in recent memory. Culverts, bridges, and roads were destroyed, causing a flurry of construction and emergency river channel work that often did more harm than good.

If you had surveyed the damage in the weeks following the storm, you would never have envisioned that in the years ahead, more than 220 miles of native brook trout habitat would be reconnected, following the removal of more than 20 problematic dams and culverts that had prevented fish and aquatic organisms passage for decades.


With Madeleine Lyttle’s help, this dam was removed by a coalition of groups, including the Greater Upper Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, opening 88 miles of brook trout habitat in Vermont’s White River watershed. (Credit: Trout Unlimited)

But Madeleine Lyttle, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, could see that future, and helped turn the tragedy into a triumph for conservation through her strong guidance and steady hand in the years that followed.

MLyttle 1

Madeleine Lyttle collects information on the river at this undersized culvert so engineers can redesign a fish-friendly culvert. (Credit: USFWS)

Working hand in hand with Trout Unlimited (TU) chapters from New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire in the Lake Champlain, Hudson River, and Connecticut River watersheds, Madeleine cobbled together a complex array of partners, harnessed more than $1.5 million in grants from FEMA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the TU “Embrace A Stream” program, and other sources, and leveraged the power of TU’s grassroots network to identify, assess, plan, implement, and monitor aquatic habitat restoration projects.

And so on September 29, TU Director of Volunteer Operations for the national organization, Jeffrey Yates, presented Madeleine with the 2017 National Conservation Professional Award.

“Indeed,” Jeff told the audience, “Madeleine is a hero of mythical proportions among Trout Unlimited chapters in Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York.”


Jeff Yates, Director of Volunteer Operations for Trout Unlimited, presents the 2017 Conservation Professional award to Madeleine Lyttle (Credit: Trout Unlimited)

Thanks to her efforts, there is growing awareness of how removing and replacing dams and culverts is not only good for trout, salmon, and other fish, but is a real benefit to towns and counties in helping withstand future flood events.

One of those communities benefiting from Madeleine’s passion and expertise is in Willsboro, New York, an hour east of the infamous Lake Placid and located on the Boquet River, about a mile upriver from Lake Champlain. The Boquet River was legendary for Atlantic salmon runs prior to 1864, until the Willsboro Dam was constructed to supply power for the Willsboro Pulp Mill. The area would later be identified as a superfund site because of all the discharge dumped into the river by the Mill. Eventually the site was cleaned up, with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation oversight. Then with Madeleine’s guidance, a suite of partners, including Vic Putman with Trout Unlimited, collaborated to have the obsolete dam removed and restore the region’s valuable fisheries.


Willsboro Dam before removal (Credit: USFWS)


Willsboro after removal (Credit: USFWS)

Countless dams and culverts across New England have come tumbling down, with fish returning to their historic waters thanks to Madeleine Lyttle’s years of work – “with lots more to come,” as Jeff noted at our annual meeting. Her technical expertise and guidance are often the difference between a project foundering or moving forward. She reluctantly takes credit, however, and is quick to remind everyone that the work can only be done with partnerships such as those between TU and the Service.