Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘habitat restoration’

Helping Native Brook Trout by Restoring a Stream

Monday, October 5th, 2020

by Nicole Porter and David Wheeler

Brook trout. Photo courtesy of Shawn Crouse.

Many of New Jersey’s streams have been manipulated by being impounded with dams or weirs, or otherwise redirected over time – decreasing their ecological habitat diversity and blocking fish passage for native brook trout and other species. Restoring these streams to a more natural state can greatly benefit wildlife. 

The Land Conservancy of New Jersey, along with assistance from Conserve Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Urbani Fisheries, worked on a stream restoration project on a highly modified part of stream flowing through the West Brook Preserve in West Milford this summer. This vital 170-acre preserve holds the headwaters of the West Brook, one of the primary sources of water for the Wanaque Reservoir, which provides drinking water for two million New Jerseyans. 

It appears that sometime in the 1950s, part of the West Brook was taken out of the original stream channel and redirected to a channelized ditch that ran alongside it. There were also several culverts installed in the stream (including one that was the size of a small grain silo) which restricted flow and acted as a blockade to fish passage. In addition, one of the unnamed tributaries leading to the mainstream channel had a pond where water was being held back by a weir, resulting in elevated water temperatures. The original channel and tributaries also needed an enhancement of a thalweg, the line of lowest elevation that the stream follows as well as the addition of pools, riffles and runs.

Removal of large instream culvert that blocked fish passage and restricted flow.

A healthy stream should have an established thalweg – a connected floodplain – as well as pools, riffles, and runs. All of these features are important in the function of the stream.  For example, pools provide areas for various aquatic species to seek refuge, while riffles aid in the reoxygenation of the water. 

Tributary to the West Brook one day after streamwork. In the picture above it shows a constructed pointbar which causes the stream to naturally meander and protects the banks.
Tributary to the West Brook one day after streamwork. In the picture above it shows the enhanced pools and riffles.

The ultimate goals of the West Brook project included restoring the native fish habitat, improving the overall water quality, and rejuvenating the macroinvertebrate population. 

The work done to accomplish this included:

  • Restoring the river back to the original stream channel. 
  • Enhancing features along the whole length of the stream.
  • Creating wetland pools out of the old ditch and within the riparian zone. 
  • Removing five culverts and the small weir. 

After the restoration, it appeared some of the site is now suitable for native brook trout, and the project has greatly improved habitat diversity in a stream that flows into a Category One trout production stream. New Jersey Fish & Wildlife and The Land Conservancy will continue to monitor the project.

Nicole Porter is a biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation.


Learn more about New Jersey’s Brook Trout here.

CWF In The News: Habitat Restoration Project in Barnegat Light a Collaborative Success

Friday, September 25th, 2020

by Ethan Gilardi

Piping plover chick foraging along wrack line in Barnegat Light.

CWF Biologist Todd Pover and the Barnegat Light Habitat Restoration Project are back in the news with a wonderful write-up by Juliet Kaszas-Hoch on TheSandpaper.net.

With major construction wrapping in late-2019, we’re now seeing the project’s positive impact on the local piping plover population. Only time will tell just how successful the restoration truly is, but until then we will continue to chart it’s progress and do what we can to make life better for New Jersey’s beach nesters.

Read an except of article here and remember to check out the video update on the project linked below!


With fall on its way, most piping plovers and other migratory coastal birds have headed south, where they will remain for the duration of the winter months. While they’re gone, other species will happily utilize the new pond feature and habitat site along the inlet in Barnegat Lighthouse State Park created specifically to benefit beach-nesting birds such as plovers.

The Barnegat Light Habitat Restoration Project is a collaborative effort led by Todd Pover, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey senior wildlife biologist, and Brooke Maslo, Rutgers University assistant professor of ecology, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife.

As Pover explained in a recent blog post on conservewildlifenj.org, the goal of the project, begun two years ago, was to enhance breeding habitat near Long Beach Island’s north-end inlet “by clearing out the vegetation and re-grading the sand, because this once important breeding site had become overgrown and was no longer suitable for piping plovers to nest. Plans also called for building a shallow pond to create productive foraging habitat for chicks (to) be protected from human disturbance.”

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Award Winning Program Removes Rubble for Horseshoe Crabs

Monday, December 30th, 2019

reTURN the Favor Honored with 2019 New Jersey Governor’s Excellence Award

By: Meghan Kolk, Wildlife Biologist

Volunteers making piles of rubble at Seabreeze. Photo by Meghan Kolk.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation has been a partner in the reTURN the Favor (RTF) program since its establishment in 2013.  This multi-partner program organizes a large group of trained and dedicated volunteers who collectively spend thousands of hours covering miles of Delaware Bay beaches to rescue stranded horseshoe crabs.

This year RTF was honored with a New Jersey’s Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award, New Jersey’s premier awards program for recognizing outstanding environmental performance, programs and projects throughout the state, in the Healthy Ecosystems & Habitats Category.

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Conserving the Nature of the Northeast Blog: Restoration brings back red knots, piping plovers & saltmarsh sparrows

Thursday, December 6th, 2018
Story by Darci Palmquist, Conserving the Nature of the Northeast

A saltmarsh sparrow photographed in Delaware. Credit: Matt Tillett, creative commons.

Even if you’re not a birder, there are a lot of reasons to care about birds. There are of course their aesthetic qualities — beautiful, charming, euphonious — and their incredible feats of survival as small creatures in a big, ever-changing world.

But like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, when birds aren’t doing well it usually means their habitat is suffering in some way. And if the habitat isn’t functioning, people lose out too; on the benefits that nature provides, from clean air and water to storm defenses.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Fish and Wildlife Service invested in restoring and protecting natural systems up and down the East Coast that provide important habitat for wildlife while also creating natural defenses for people. A big part of building this stronger coast is making sure that wildlife like shorebirds have the habitat they need — the marshes, beaches and dunes — to nest, feed and raise their young.

Here are stories of how restoration efforts are helping ensure a brighter future for three bird species — red knotpiping plover and saltmarsh sparrow.

Click here to read more.

Early days on Delaware Bay – Horseshoe Crabs Just Beginning To Breed as Shorebirds Arrive

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

by Larry Niles

Horseshoe Crabs Just Beginning To Breed as Shorebirds Arrive

 

Delaware Bay horseshoe crab eggs reach sufficient levels to give red knots and other shorebirds a good start on the fat they need to fuel the last leg of their yearly journey in the first week of the stopover ( May 12-19).  Knots need at least 180 grams to fly to the Arctic and breed successfully.  This week we caught birds that weighed 93 grams which is 30 grams below fat-free weight.  These birds had just arrived from a long flight, probably from Tierra del Fuego, Chile or Maranhão, Brazil.  In the same catch, we weighed red knots as high as 176 grams or only 5 grams from the 180-gram threshold.  These birds are probably from Florida or the Caribbean wintering areas and so arrive earlier,  resulting in them having more time to gain weight.  All together it looks like a normal early migration and a modest horseshoe crab spawn, just barely enough for the birds in the bay.

shorebirds in a net

Our team prepares a catch of knots turnstones and semipalmated sandpipers for extraction to keeping cages. The birds will be covered to prevent feather abrasion before extraction (Photo by Stephanie Feigin)

However, we are still short of about half the population.  Our bay wide count won’t take place until next week on May 22 and 26. At this point it looks like we have about 14,000 knots in the bay, of which 8,000 are in New Jersey. In the last 5 years we have had a bay wide population of about 24,000 red knots.  The situation is similar for ruddy turnstones and sanderlings.  The southernly winds of the next few days will almost certainly bring in the rest of the flock by mid-week.

The Stopover Habitat is Growing

 

The condition of the stopover is mixed.

The work of Niles & Smith Conservation Services, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, and American Littoral Society continues to supply high-quality habitat for horseshoe crabs. We have developed an efficient system for maintaining the essential requirements of a good spawning beach, deep and large grain sand with berm heights that prevent over washing in a way that keeps cost down. First, by creating low oyster reefs to break waves in lower tides, thus protecting beaches from wind waves at low and mid tides.  Second, by placing sand on beaches that typically erode fast losing sands to adjacent creek inlets and the next beach south.  This way we can use one restoration to restore three different places.  For example, Cooks Beach loses sand to South Reeds.

 

restored beach in Delaware Bay

Thompsons beach before and after restoration by American Littoral Society and partners. (Photo by Larry Niles)

Oddly these successes may be contributing to the next big problem for the birds. The state of Delaware has been carrying out much larger scale beach replenishment projects that have added significant new sandy beach for crabs spawning.  At the same time the Atlantic States Marine Fish Commission has failed to deliver on its promise to increase the number of crabs.  The population is still 1/3 below carrying capacity or the number that existed 20 years ago.  The same number of crab divided by more beach equals decreasing crab densities.  Decreasing densities means fewer eggs reaching the surface because crabs are not digging up existing eggs to lay their own.

In other words, we need more crabs.

The Industry Finds New Ways around the ARM Quota

 

But the resource agencies seem perfectly happy to keep killing adult crabs for both bait and bleeding at near historically high numbers. Bait harvests recorded as coming from the bay have stayed the same, however other states such as NY are still taking and landing large numbers of crabs despite having no known crab historic population of their own. Additionally, Virginia states that a crab population still exists in the state, even though most field biologists consider them lost.  The truth is they are very likely taking Delaware Bay crabs and landing them as their own.

The Conservation groups are no longer satisfied with this loose regulation and are calling for regulations similar to those used for Striped Bass.  The Delaware Bay harvest should be restricted to just the quota agreed upon by everyone through the Adaptive Resource Management system.  All other landed crabs should be genetically linked to a source population, and if they do in fact come from Delaware Bay they should be taken out of the ARM quota. No one should be allowed to get away with killing our crabs outside the quota.

Or just stop the senseless killing of these valuable animals as bait for the dying couch fishery.

 

crab eggs graph on Delaware Bay

This graph compares the finding of Botton et al 1994 from horsesoe crab egg surveys done in 1990 and recent counts done in 2017

 

The same goes for the killing of crabs by the companies bleeding crabs.  The industry makes untold millions (the numbers are hidden from the public) but does virtually nothing to conserve the crabs while killing thousands. Their own estimate is well over 65,000 a year, but independent estimates double that.  This killing could also stop because a new synthetic lysate is available and can be used now, potentially cutting the need for natural lysate by 90%.

An Ecosystem Collapse and the Need for More Crabs

 

Why kill such a valuable animal?  It all started because the fishing industries saw little value and figured why not destroy the population until they are no longer economically viable.  Its called economic extinction and sadly it’s a tradition amongst Delaware Bay fishers still carried out this to this day on eels, conch, and other species.  But they didn’t know back in the early 90’s they would wrecking the entire ecosystem.

In 1991, we counted an average of 80,000 horseshoe crabs/meter squared.  Now we count 8,000.  Then the eggs stayed at that level for all of May and June then hatched young at similar densities. In other words, the horseshoe crab was a keystone producer of an abundant resource that maintained the bay ecosystem.  It was not just chance that at the same time the bay has one of the most productive weakfish and blue claw crab fisheries in the Atlantic coast.  Fish populations blossomed with the flush of horseshoe crab eggs and hatched young each year.

Now we must bring it back.  For the birds, for the fish, and for the people who love to bird and fish.

 

storm delaware bay horseshoe crabs

A storm looms over Delaware Bay. The last 4 days have been rain, some intense and cold. The water temperature needs to be 59 degrees or so for Crabs to spawn. On Saturday the 19th the water temperature fell below and the spawn virtually stopped in many places. It should resume with the warmer temperatures of Saturday and Sunday.

We are grateful to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other donors who make this project possible.

Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.