Tag Archives: Slideshow

Driven by instincts and a pickup truck: An Atlantic salmon’s journey towards recovery

This is the introduction to a five-part series that follows an Atlantic salmon on its journey upstream to spawn in a tributary of Lake Champlain driven by its instincts (and a pickup truck). Learn why this species disappeared from the lake in the 19th century, and how it is making a comeback today thanks to collaboration by partners in the basin.


Ready to run: After swimming into the Boquet River from Lake Champlain, this salmon and a few others were transported above a set of cascades to spawning habitat upstream in a pickup truck. Credit: Zach Eisenhauer/FWS

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to wade into a river to release a live salmon from your hands, you get it. I don’t need to explain why so much time, research, engineering, and ingenuity has gone into the recovery of this species in the Lake Champlain Basin. Because as that fish tensed against your firm grip eager to continue its journey upstream, you could feel its will to live.

If you haven’t, believe me: these fish were born to run. For thousands of years, the survival instinct — aided by a phenomenal homing ability — has led Atlantic salmon back to the rivers and streams where they were born to spawn and, hopefully, to pass their genes onto future generations.

Just like its ancestors, the salmon I held in my hands in the Boquet River in late October was determined to make its way upstream to reproduce. But beyond the shared reproductive urge, that salmon differs from salmon of yore in a few important ways.

For one: it didn’t come back to the river where it was born, because it was born in a hatchery.

For another: it didn’t swim upstream. It rode in a pickup truck.


Carpool: A tank in the bed of a truck provides a safe way to transport live salmon upstream. Credit: Ashlee Prevost/Concordia University

Most importantly: it wouldn’t have been in the Boquet River at all if not for the dedication of local, state, and federal partners working together to get it there.

My salmon is not lazy. The collective will of Lake Champlain salmon to live hasn’t changed over the centuries. But the conditions necessary for them to do so have.

“A lot of things need to be right for salmon to have a full life cycle,” explained Bill Ardren, Senior Fish Scientist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office.

And in the 1800s, a lot of things started to go wrong: overfishing, agricultural runoff, development, and the deal breaker for a migratory fish species, the construction of dams along rivers. If salmon can’t reach the shallow, gravelly stream beds, with steadily flowing cold water that provide the right conditions for them to spawn, they simply can’t spawn.


Wading for action: Senior Fish Scientist at the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office Bill Ardren stands by ready to assist colleagues fishing for salmon below a set of cascades in the Boquet River. Credit: Nancy Milliken

Cut off from breeding grounds, salmon were effectively cut off from their reproductive destinies, and by the end of the 1800s, the native Atlantic salmon population was gone from Lake Champlain.

But not forgotten.

In 1972, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to begin a coordinated effort to restore Lake Champlain’s Atlantic salmon population.

People have rallied around this fish for good reason. Salmon are what biologists call a keystone species — what happens if you remove the keystone from an arch? CRASH! Same goes for a species like salmon; they hold aquatic ecosystems together by eating, being eaten, and contributing vital nutrients.


Move over Champy: After more than a century’s absence, Atlantic salmon are making a comeback in Lake Champlain. Credit: Steve Smith/FWS

That means actions taken to bring Atlantic salmon back to Lake Champlain benefit a range of other species that depend upon this system, including humans. Restoring riparian and headwater areas to protect spawning habitat results in cleaner water for people; controlling sea lamprey makes it possible for salmon and other species that have been parasitized by this fish, like lake trout and lake sturgeon, to survive into adulthood; and removing aquatic barriers to increase fish passage means a lower risk of flooding for communities.

There’s also the bottom line: For communities on Lake Champlain and its tributaries, the return of salmon could mean the return of a lucrative fishery. Bring salmon back to the rivers, the anglers will follow, and communities will flourish.

The salmon that entered the river from my hands is a product of the restoration effort (born in the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in North Chittenden, Vermont), a participant in the restoration effort (transported above cascades in the Boquet River via pickup truck), and a key to answering questions that can help ensure the program’s long-term success through genetic testing.

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In it together: Partners from local communities, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and universities are working together to restore Lake Champlain’s salmon population. Credit: Nancy Milliken

In this series, we will meet the partners behind the restoration work, and learn how each has contributed a critical piece to a complex restoration puzzle which when complete, will be much greater than the sum of its parts.

“One of the neat things about salmon is they are a great indicator species,” said Ardren. “So if we can get natural populations reestablished, we really will have restored these ecosystems to a level of high quality habitat overall. And we are getting really close.”

How close? The salmon I released into the Boquet River last October may be able to fulfill its destiny after all.

Part 1: Joining forces in the upstream battle for salmon

Part 2: A new hope surfaces for salmon restoration

Part 3: Hatching a plan to save salmon

Part 4: Taking cues from nature to advance salmon restoration

Part 5: A fish points to the future in Lake Champlain



Welcome to our blog!

Interested in fish, wildlife, plants and the outdoors? You’re in the right place. Our agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

You’ll find this on our blog, Conserving the Nature of the Northeast:

  • A window into the work of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region staff and partners devoted to protecting and restoring wildlife and their habitats.
  • Expert insight on the latest conservation issues.
  • Fun, engaging posts to help you learn about the environment, species, and how you can get outdoors to enjoy them.
  • At least one post a week all year long.

Read more on our About page.

My life after the internship

In our remix version of ‘where are they now?,’ we asked a few of our past interns to give us an update on where life took them after the internship. While we are lucky enough to still work with a few, some fled the nest and are working on some outstanding projects!


At the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we have a number of internship and employment programs for high school and college students and recent graduates. If you’re not involved already, find out about a few of our programs below and then check out where some of our previous interns are now after their experience with us.

Youth Conservation Corps (YCC): The Youth Conservation Corps is a summer work program designed for youth between the ages of 15 and 18 years old. Under the direction of a trained leader, youth work in summer crews on essential management issues, such as invasive species removal, trail maintenance and habitat restoration. YCC is for youth who are interested in gainful summer employment in the outdoors.

Click here to learn more about our youth programs and volunteer opportunities.

Pathways: The Pathways Program provides students in high schools, colleges, trade schools and other qualifying educational institutions with paid opportunities to work in agencies and explore federal careers while completing their education.

Career Discovery Internship Program (CDIP): Our Career Discovery Internhip Program is an award winning program created in partnership with the Student Conservation Association to help prepare the next generation of wildlife professionals and managers.

We’ll continue to update this page with posts from our past internship participants. Subscribe to our blog, or check back often and keep your eyes peeled to find out where they are now.

  • First up is Melissa Lesh, an avid outdoors woman that now puts her love for nature into film.
  • Lauren Deaderick finds a way to stay connected to the Service in her position with the Department of Transportation.
  • Erica Locher has been leading and expanding outreach and education programs on the shores of Virginia Beach.
  • Adam McNeil is lending his hand to conservation through cultural resource work at national park sites.
  • Gabriel Harper is serving as a federal wildlife officer just outside the nation’s capital.
  • Ryan Kleinert is living his dream helping to protect shorebirds in Rhode Island.