Tag Archives: partnership

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 Success Story: A Landowner’s Perspective

Today we’re sharing the story of Tom McAvoy and his success in creating habitat for the New England cottontail and many other species.  The original story by Denise Coffey can be found here. 

When Tom McAvoy moved into a 1760 farmhouse on 115 acres in Scotland, his goal was to restore the land to what it looked like when it was a working dairy farm.

McAvoy had a soft spot in his heart for the land. His friend’s grandparents owned it, and McAvoy and his friend used to hunt there when they were younger.

When the opportunity presented itself, McAvoy secured the farm. He wanted to clear the overgrown pastures.

“My objective was simply to bring it back to the 1960s,” he said.

In the process of bulldozing the barways between the pastures, he had a visitor: biologist Travis Goodie, from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Goodie asked McAvoy if he could conduct a study on the property, to see if New England cottontail rabbits lived there. McAvoy, who didn’t know much about the rabbit, agreed. A year-long study revealed significant populations of the species.

Goodie asked McAvoy if he’d be willing to talk with some people about a restoration program for the rabbit. He agreed. One day, 12 vehicles pulled into his driveway. Representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency walked the property with McAvoy.

The discussion that ensued centered around the importance of preserving the habitat for the New England cottontail, a species of rabbit headed for listing on the Endangered Species Act.

“I still didn’t know why it was important,” McAvoy admitted. “I thought there were plenty of rabbits.”

The truth is, there are plenty of eastern cottontails, but not plenty of New England cottontails, the only species native to New England. And while the two species share many of the same characteristics, the latter has experienced a population decline because of habitat loss and fragmentation. New England Cottontails need early successional forests, rather than mature forests. They require thickets and shrubs, both for food sources and cover from predation.

McAvoy learned that the Scotland property was perfect for restoration efforts. Significant populations of the New England cottontail were found on 75 acres of the farm. He would be eligible for about 75 percent of the project’s cost. The catch was that funding would be taxable to McAvoy.

That prospect raised red flags for the banker and estate planner. But he told them he would consider it. USFWS Biologist Ted Kendziora offered to talk with McAvoy about all of his options and help assist and coordinate the agencies involved.

That assistance was important to McAvoy, who eventually agreed to the plan. Seven years, 25 contracts, and more than $50,000 later, the property has been made even more hospitable to the New England cottontail. But it was a labor intensive project that was developed in phases. The property was divided into sections and one section at a time was ‘transformed’ so as not to disturb the rabbits already there.

Non-native invasives like autumn olive, multiflora rose, and bittersweet had spread throughout land that had once been pasture. The plants grew quick and strong, leaving canopies that crowded out any other plants that might have tried to take a foothold in the understory.

The invasives crowded out native plants that provided food and protection for the rabbits. So one of the first orders of business was to pull the invasives up by their roots, leave the plants to die in the field, and let their bulk offer thickets for the rabbits to hide in.

Native shrubs were planted, and fencing put around them to keep deer from eating them. Piles of boulders were established on the property to provide habitat for the rabbits. Native shrubs were planted around those boulders and browse protection put in place. Protective channels were created where hedgerows existed between open fields. Trees and invasives were taken down so the rabbits could move more safely. Trees in a wooded lot were cleared and in their place, wild blueberry and raspberry flourished.

This is a New England cottontail. Credit: Tom Barnes / USFWS

“Improving habitat for the New England cottontail actually improved the habitat for lots of species,” McAvoy said.

Visitors to the farm have found acres of milkweed and monarch butterflies that depend on it for food. Rare birds have been identified. McAvoy said the land supports populations of turkey, deer, hawks, bobcat, and fisher cats.

“Anything we do to improve habitat is beneficial to a range of species,” he said.

It will take time to gauge the success of the restoration program, but McAvoy has traveled to Maine and Colorado to speak about its success with other conservation agencies and organizations. That has given him an opportunity to learn about habitat improvement projects around the nation.

In New England, projects are typically smaller, because of the size of available land parcels and the fragmentation due to denser human populations. But recognizing contiguous parcels of land and developing partnerships with private landowners has shown great promise.

“It’s critical to have a strategic approach,” McAvoy said. “And agencies have to be accountable to the public. You can’t just spend money without results.”

It Takes a Village to Raze a Dam

Nestled between the rolling green foothills of Burke Mountain and the rushing waters of the Passumpsic River, East Burke is in many ways the quintessential Vermont ski village.

Viewed from above, one stretch of road cuts through the center of town, jam-packed with tourists’ and locals’ cars parked along its side. Crowded with bakeries, cafes, bed and breakfasts, ski lodges, and sporting stores, the little town appears lively and teeming with activity.

Like so many villages that thrive in the shadow of Vermont’s mountains, East Burke relies on the recreation economy from Burke Mountain’s ski slopes in winter, and on the popular mountain bike trails and swift paddling waters of the Passumpsic River in summer.

“This area is to cyclists and kayakers what Stowe is to skiers,” said Service biologist Madeleine Lyttle. “Recreation is their bread and butter.”

East Burke Above

East Burke as seen from above – dam at far left (Credit: Google Earth)

But over the years, there had always been one thing barring those waters from reaching their full potential: a crumbling old mill dam on the river, long bereft of its mill and looming 16 feet above any fish attempting to pass.

For decades, the East Burke Dam stood as the last reminder of the town’s saw mill, which burned to the ground in 1958. The concrete structure, which was built atop a wood dam from the 1820s, had often contributed to regular flooding in the town.

But after almost 200 years on the Passumpsic River, it took just five weeks for the Connecticut River Conservancy, the Service, and other conservation partners to dismantle the dam, reopening ninety-nine miles of the river. The project’s completion marks the end of a long history of blocked fish migrations and severe flooding in the community of Burke.

“Homes and businesses downstream should feel safer,” said Ron Rhodes of CRC. “Without the dam raising the water level, the riverbanks will provide natural flood resistance.”


Crews begin to remove the dam (Credit: USFWS)

After taking out the large concrete chunks that made up the dam itself, partners also removed 623 truckloads of sediment from the river – lowering the flood elevation level by four feet – restored a 600-foot section of the riverbed, and removed a number of sunken logs that likely originated from the saw mill.

“Now people should be able to fish, kayak, or swim all the way through the area,” said Rhodes.


The East Burke Dam before and after removal (Credit: USFWS)


Rather than being sent to a landfill, the raw materials taken from the site will be recycled: the chunks of concrete from the structure, as well as sand and gravel, have been given to the town of Burke for use in future road work, and the logs found underneath the dam are also being repurposed – local artisans have taken chunks of it to make salad bowls, tables, planks, and even paintings.

“I like the idea of recycling 100-year-old materials,” said Rhodes. “It’s always a plus when we can help the environment while also helping the town.”


Brook trout are on of many aquatic species that will benefit from the dam’s removal (Credit: Robert S. Michelson)

The project was initiated by the Passumpsic Valley Land Trust – the owners of the dam – but has since attracted a laundry list of almost 20 different state, local, and federal partners. According to Rhodes, each one has made small contributions of either money or resources, which have collectively allowed the project to go forward.

“It takes all of us coming together, with everyone pitching in where they can,” Rhodes said. “That’s how we get these projects done.”

The finished project will not only provide a guard against future flooding, but will also allow fish to migrate freely, improve access to whitewater paddling, and provide more opportunities for swimmers. Partners have also fortified a nearby bridge for winter snowmobile traffic, and will add access steps leading down to the river, making recreation safer for the many families who come to the area.

“The water will be cooler and less stagnant, and way more fun for tubers and kayakers, swimmers – they’re gonna have a blast,” said Lyttle.


East Burke is a popular recreation hotspot for mountain bikers, who use the Passumpsic River to cool off (Credit: USFWS)

But if you ask either partner, the biggest benefit of the project is for the wildlife.

“Ninety-nine miles of open river — that’s the easy answer,” said Rhodes. “It’s a big habitat improvement, and we don’t often get this many miles with one project.”

Since construction concluded in mid-November, Rhodes said that there have already been more brook trout spotted in an area where few had been seen before. While the project will primarily benefit brook trout, other aquatic species in the river are also expected to see a boost from the open water. According to Lyttle, this should mean better fishing prospects for locals and tourists.

In spring 2018, the Service and partners will finish planting native trees along the riverbank, providing more habitat for returning wildlife and creating a buffer against soil erosion. Partners are also hoping to use some of the foraged wood to construct a kiosk, which will explain the history of the town, the mill, and the Passumpsic River.

“Anything we can do to improve the area, to leave it better than we found it, we want to do that every chance we get,” said Lyttle.


Partners and volunteers clear invasive species near the snowmobile bridge

Partners on this project include:

American Rivers, Caledonia County Natural Resources Conservation District, Connecticut River Conservancy, Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, Essex County Natural Resources Conservation District, EPA, USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Passumpsic Valley Land Trust, Region 5 Fish Passage Engineers, Town of Burke, Trout Unlimited (Mad Dog Chapter), Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund, USACE, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont Dam Taskforce, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, Vermont Natural Resource Council, Vermont State Historic Preservation Office

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.