Tag Archives: VFW

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

Honoring our Veterans 2015

On Veterans Day, we honor the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. Here in the Northeast Region, we have many brave veterans who are still serving our nation by protecting and defending America’s wildlife. Below are just a few of their stories.

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Cheryl Smith

Cheryl Smith joined the U.S. Air Force in 2008 and spent her first two years of service at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. She later transferred to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, where she met her fiancé Jason. Cheryl says of her time in the military, “It was the best decision I could have ever made.” Cheryl is currently the administrative assistant for the information technology department for the region and a mom to a precious little girl.

Gary Probst

Gary Probst

Gary Probst started a career in the Air Force in July of 1991 that would lead him to serve in various posts. He began as a medical technician specialist during Operation Desert Storm and he advanced to a position as enlisted accessions flight chief, where he was responsible for all human resource management activities. Currently, Gary is an administrative officer for the Coastal Delaware National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

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Kristen Dusseault

Kristen Dusseault enlisted in the Air National Guard at the young age of 17, transferring to the Army National Guard at 19. She served in the Signal Corps in West Germany as a second lieutenant for three years. Kristen’s 30-year government career serving in the military, the U.S. Postal Service, and currently as an information technology specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided her with life lessons that she continues to draw upon daily.

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John Eaton

John Eaton enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1973 as a 17-year-old high school student. He served in the 8th Communication Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and later transferred to the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine to guard the “special weapons” compound. John feels honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country as a U.S. Marine, and he now works as a cartographer/data manager for the Service in the northeast.

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JeDawn Kennedy

JeDawn Kennedy joined the U.S. Army in 2000 and spent four years as active duty and six years in the reserves. She was stationed in Hanau, Germany, while on active duty. JeDawn came to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is now the administrative officer at the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in New York.

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Nate Bush

Nate Bush joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2002, shortly after the events of 9/11. He served as a rifleman in an amphibious infantry company during two tours in Iraq – Fallujah 2004 and Ramadi 2005. In 2008, Nathan joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard as a combat engineer, serving with the 182nd engineer company in Florence, Massachusetts. He is currently working for the Service as a GIS specialist for the National Wildlife Refuge System, based in the Service’s Northeast Regional Office.

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Brenda VonPlinsky

Brenda VonPlinsky served as an Arabic linguist in the Regular Army from 1998-2002, primarily with the 101st Air Assault Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. During her military service, she divided her time between decoding and translating messages (primarily radio), using direction-finding equipment to locate the source of transmissions, and fixing trucks.  Brenda currently works as a financial specialist in the Northeast Region’s budget and finance department.

David Smith

David Smith

David Smith started his military career in 1988 with the U.S. Army as a telecommunications center operator. He served in a variety of locations throughout the U.S., as well as three years in Weisbaden, Germany. David also worked as an intelligence analyst and was in the 7th Military Intelligence Detachment, 7th Special Forces Group. He started working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003 and is currently a regional IT security manager for the Northeast Region.

Mike Barrick

Mike Barrick

Mike Barrick enlisted in the Air Force in 1982 and spent much of his service stationed at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts. He was activated five times for Operation Desert Shield/Storm and Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom and spent time deployed overseas after September 11, 2001. Mike achieved the rank of Chief Master Sergeant and retired in 2010, after 28 years of service, as the Westover Aircraft Maintenance Flight Chief. His wife of 28 years, Laura Barrick, is a Human Resources Assistant for the Northeast Region.

Glenn Davis

Glenn Davis

Glenn Davis served in the U.S. Air Force as part of the mission crew aboard the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System. This picture was taken in 1999 at the end of Operation Allied Force in Geilenkirchen, Germany, where he supported NATO by providing surveillance, command, control, and communications capability to joint and allied air forces. Glenn is now the regional deputy assistant regional director for budget and administration. He actively serves as a traditional guardsman in the New York Air National Guard in Syracuse, N.Y.

Steve Boska

Steve Boska

Steve Boska served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years. In 1968, he was stationed at Bien Hoa AB Vietnam, working in the medical field. His final assignment for the Air Force was as chief of administration in the U.S. Air Force Surgeon General’s Office in Washington D.C. Today, Steve is a maintenance mechanic at Potomac National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Virginia. He says of his job with the Service, “I feel there is a purposeful meaning to the job and when I close the shop door at night I have that sense of job satisfaction.”

Robert Meehan

Robert Meehan

Robert Meehan enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1972 and spent most of his military career stationed at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina as a medical administrative specialist. One of his duties included being a liaison officer at a large naval hospital. Robert now works in the maintenance division at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. He says of his job at Chincoteague, “I am pleased to be a part of keeping a terrific resource intact for future generations.”

We would like to thank all of our veterans for their many heroic contributions to this nation, both then and now. To see more of our employees in action, please visit the service-wide Flickr page for veterans here.