CODE RED — Carp-Pocalypse Begins in Lake Michigan

June 24, 2010 — A 19-pound Asian carp has been found near the shore of Lake Michigan, above a navigation lock that regional political leaders had been demanding the Army Corps slam shut to try to keep the invaders out of the world’s largest freshwater system.

The fish confirms what DNA evidence had been telling fishery managers for months – that Asian carp had indeed breached an electric fish barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, considered the last line of defense for Lake Michigan. Read the following four articles to get the details.

“Michigan Attorney General and gubernatorial hopeful Mike Cox said the find means that the region’s “worst fears” have been realized, and he is considering further legal action.”

“We have zebra mussels which have clogged water intake pipes and whose effect on Great Lakes water users in the United States and Canada may total several billion dollars spent on machinery to stop them from clogging pipes. We have the Asian carp which are threatening to follow zebra mussels as the latest foreign species to invade and unbalance the lakes by competing for the same food supply that feeds game fish and thus supports the sport fishing industry. We have longstanding fish consumption advisories resulting from chemical contamination. So yes, it would be a very good idea for the mayors, governors, premiers, and federal governments to get together and talk about disaster plans and about the disasters we already have.”

“One invasive bighead Asian carp has been found in Lake Calumet along the Chicago Area Waterway System – the first fish that has been found above the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s electric barrier system built to keep out the voracious exotic species.”

“There’s an underwater war underway in the Midwest – an offensive to keep the ravenous Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes. On Wednesday, it became clear: The carp are winning.”

Pelicans eating Asian Carp

I spent all weekend at Dresser Island Conservation Area photographing waterfowl along the Mississippi River. While I was there I made some interesting images of white pelicans foraging on huge, silver carp. It was fascinating to watch as sometimes it took several minutes for the pelican to get the fish down. Also, when a pelican caught a fish the others converged on it to fight for the bounty. As a matter of fact, when a common merganser caught a shad the pelicans would converge on the little guy and try to take its morsel away as well.

Danny Brown
Fisheries Management Biologist
Missouri Department of Conservation

Bill would close Chicago waterways to halt Asian carp

GREAT LAKES:

On 1/21, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) introduced a bill that would close some Chicago-area waterways in an effort to halt the advance of invasive Asian carp to the Great Lakes.On 1/19, the Supreme Court denied Michigan’s request for a preliminary injunction to close the waterways, which provide the fish a link from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan.

Experts fear that the invasive carp, which have been traveling up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for decades, will devastate the $7 billion Great Lakes fisheries. The 100-pound fish have voracious appetites and rapid reproduction rates that could ravage native lake species.

“It is clear Asian Carp pose an immediate threat to the Great Lakes, its ecosystem and the 800,000 jobs it supports,” Camp said in a statement. “The failure of the Supreme Court to act yesterday jeopardizes the future of the Lakes, and it is clear we must take additional steps now.”

Researchers this week said they have for the first time found the carp’s DNA in Lake Michigan, a signal the fish already may have reached the Great Lakes.

H.R. 4472 would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to immediately close the O’Brien Lock and Dam and the Chicago Controlling Works until a controlled lock operations strategy is in place. It also would instruct the Army Corps to build barriers in several locations to keep the fish at bay. The bill directs the corps to conduct two studies: one to curb the effects of the bill on shipping commerce and another to abate the effects on Chicago flood control. The Army Corps also would receive new authority to use fish poison, netting and other means to kill or slow the carp.

The bill already is facing criticism from the shipping industry.

“The regional economy would be devastated if the Chicago-area locks were closed,” said a news release yesterday from the American Waterways Operators, the trade association for the tugboat, towboat and barge industry. “Millions of tons of critical commodities, such as coal for utilities, petroleum for heating homes and fueling vehicles and airplanes, currently move through the Chicago-area locks, and thousands of American jobs depend on regional waterborne commerce.”

The group urged Congress to allow the Obama administration to work with states and other stakeholders to develop a strategy to fight the carp.

The White House this week said it will meet with governors from Great Lakes states to devise such a plan. White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley suggested an early February meeting “to discuss strategy to combat the spread of Asian carp and ensure coordination and the most effective response across all levels of government.”

In addition to the House bill, companion legislation was introduced in the Senate on 1/22 by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich).

RIDGERUNNER REPORTS: by Jim Solberg. Swans arrive in area waterways

After visiting the new Brownsville, Minn., overlook several times without seeing much waterfowl action, it was a pleasure to hear the tundra swans hooting and hollering when I visited again on Halloween. Most of them were farther out when I arrived, but the bay below the overlook was packed with a variety of ducks, Canada geese, pelicans and a few swans.

Several other excited visitors were looking through the telescopes and shouting about the eagles and other birds they were spotting out there. I moved my tripod down toward the scopes to get a better view, and I had barely got everything set up when the birds began to fly. Soon there was a general panic as every bird in the bay eventually took flight and headed across the river.

Unfortunately, a boat was putting along under the overlook, a violation of the voluntary closure of the refuge area that began Oct. 15 and extends until the end of the duck season. There are signs, but every year some people either ignore them or are just clueless about the disturbance they cause to the migrating waterfowl. After waiting patiently for 30 minutes for the birds to return, I gave up and headed for Goose Island.

Around sunset, I again heard the hooting of tundra swans as group after group flew over the island in “V” formations to join the others along both sides of the river. They will continue to arrive for some time now, reaching a peak sometime around the middle of November.

Pool 8 Project Restores Islands to Mississippi

By Gregg Hoffmann

For several years, one of the biggest reconstruction projects in the Midwest has been going on — in the middle of the Mississippi River.

The Pool 8 project is located within the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, just west of Stoddard, Wis., and east of Brownsville, Minn. It includes constructing 26 islands, which were virtually wiped out by high water after Lock and Dam No. 8 was constructed in 1937. Higher water allowed wind and wave action to erode the islands, resulting in the loss of aquatic plants and valuable habitat for birds, reptiles, amphibians and other animals.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, U.S. Geological Survey, Minnesota and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and others have cooperated on the project, which started in 2006.

The benefits of projects like this island restoration is varied. First, the habitats for birds, fish and other animals is being restored. That has an intrinsic value that is hard to put a dollar figure on, but it also should lead to continued growth in recreation and eco-tourism industries.

By restoring the islands and more natural flows to the river, the impacts of flooding and high water periods could be reduced. Land values also tend to go up along riverways that have been restored.

The rehabilitation is quite a project. Sand and water are pumped as far as five miles along the river to the island sites. Rock and other base are installed to gather the materials. Bulldozers, which from the shore seem to be working right out of the water, shape the contours of the islands. Various cover foliage then is planted, and as one worker said, “the river plants what it wants to grow.”

“It really is a team effort out there, between various agencies and our contractors,” said James Nissen, district manager for the Refuge. “We do the designs, but the ingenuity and creativity of our contractors who are out there doing the work really get it done.”

Public tours were recently conducted of the work. “We started the tours last year,” Nissen said. “There’s a lot of interest in the project because it is visible from Highway 26. So, we take the opportunity to let people know what progress we are making.”

Visitors also come for the wildlife — the area serves as one of the migratory havens for more than 300 species of birds. Fifty percent of the world’s canvasback ducks spend time in the area.

Twenty percent of the population of Eastern Tundra Swans stop on their migratory routes from northern Canada to Chesapeake Bay.

The arrival of the swans has become an annual tourist event. The birds begin arriving in mid-October, and some stay until mid- to late-December.

“We draw people from all over, not just the Midwest but also from other states and foreign countries,” Nissen said. “It’s quite a gathering, and people always have a lot of questions.”

The area also is home to 119 species of fish. While hunting is not allowed in the Pool 8 area, fishing and other types of recreational activities are allowed, with some exceptions during peak migratory times.

About 3.7 million annual visits are made to the area for hunting where it is allowed, fishing, wildlife observation and other recreation.

Eco-tourism is a growing industry on the Big River. The Mississippi Explorer, which was used to transport some of the 300 people who showed up for the public tours, runs boats out of La Crosse, Prairie du Chien, Lansing, Iowa, and Galena, Illinois. Other nature tours are conducted in the area.

Economic Figures

The project has been rather costly. Estimated costs for the north and west islands is Pool 8 are $9.5 million. Costs for the four islands slightly further south are estimated at $5.3 million.

An east island was completed in 2006 for $780,000. The Army Corps of Engineers completed several islands in 2007-08 and several more are scheduled for completion this summer.

All this work has been funded through federal funds. Additional islands are being designed and will be built as funding becomes available. Nissen said work on those islands are scheduled to start in 2011 and be completed in 2012.

The entire Environmental Management Program, which includes much more than just the Pool 8 project, is authorized to receive $33.5 million annually. For fiscal year 2009, the allocation is $17.7 million. Project design, construction and other costs are fully paid by the federal government if the project is located on lands managed as a national wildlife refuge. For any other projects, costs are funded 65 percent by the federal government and 35 percent from non-federal sources.

“Any time you are doing marine construction, it is expensive,” Nissen said. “We have been funded through the EMP funds and could be tapping other sources. We also are receiving some stimulus money from the American Recovery Act.”

According to the Refuge web site, the Mississippi River annually contributes an estimated $1 billion in recreational benefits to the region. Refuge visitation generates nearly $90 million per year in economic output.

Visitation to the refuge, plus visits to adjacent counties in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, generates another $255 million annually.

The Pool 8 project created some controversy because of a drawdown of water in the backwater area. But, adequate water depth for commercial transportation and other navigation has been maintained in the main corridors of the river.

While Pool 8 might be getting the most attention right now, it is by no means the only project along the river. In fact, 25 projects have been completed — ranging from island reconstruction to dredging to dike construction and bank restoration — from Gutenberg, Iowa, to the Twins Cities since the EMP was authorized by an Act of Congress in 1986.

Perhaps the most valuable benefit of projects like these is summed up by a couple signs along Highway 26, on the Minnesota side of Pool 8. One reads that the Upper Mississippi Refuge is “perhaps the most important corridor of fish and wildlife habitat in the central United States.”

The second deals with the migration of the tundra swans: “You are lucky. Not everyone can say they have witnessed the spectacle of tens of thousands of tundra swans making their way on the 4,200 mile journey to and from their wintering grounds.

“Stop where swans have gathered and listen. You will hear the melodious bugling call of swans talking to each other. It is a sound you will not soon forget.”

Hoffmann has written on a variety of topics for WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com. He writes the WisBiz GreenBiz feature monthly.

RIDGERUNNER REPORTS: New river islands nearing completion

It is rare to witness the birth of islands, much less 26 of them. But we’ve had the chance to do so on the Mississippi River for the past few summers.

In fact, a couple weeks ago the La Crosse Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave a boat tour around some of the new islands being built below Brownsville, Minn., as a thank-you gesture to volunteers who had served over the past year.

The day before, they had done the same thing for the public. It was a great chance to see the results of a successful partnership between government agencies and private organizations to restore parts of the mighty Mississippi to its full potential.

Our great river system has changed a lot in the past century. During the 1930s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created a series of locks and dams to increase the depth of the main channel. This, along with other changes, has had an enormous impact on life along the river. Some of the bottomland forests were immediately inundated, but eventually many of the islands that remained above water were also lost to erosion and wind action.

The disappearance of those islands allowed winds to increase water turbidity, depriving aquatic vegetation of light. Losing those plants made parts of the river less suitable for waterfowl feeding, fish spawning and a variety of other wildlife activities. The deposition of sediments from agricultural lands also filled in backwaters, further decreasing habitat potential.

To counteract some of these detrimental effects, Congress passed a law in 1986 that implemented the Upper Mississippi River System Environmental Management Program (UMRS-EMP). This formed the working partnership between the Army Corps of Engineers, the USFWS, the U.S. Geological Survey and five states bordering the Upper Mississippi River system, including Minnesota and Wisconsin. .

One part of the EMP program features habitat rehabilitation and enhancement projects (HREPs), such as the 1,000-acre island restoration project we were touring, known as the Pool 8 Islands Phase III HREP. The new islands will bring back some of the natural habitats lost when the original islands washed away.

Heavy equipment could still be seen on the low islands and on barges along Raft Channel. The material for the 26 new islands was dredged from nearby sloughs. They are being protected from wind and river currents by rocks that could be seen along some of the shorelines and by terrestrial vegetation planted onshore.

The project will be finished for the year by the end of September, but we could already see new wild rice beds, wild celery, coontail, pondweeds, lily pads and numerous other desirable plants growing around the islands for waterfowl to feed on this fall and for fish to breed in next spring.

The area will be closed to waterfowl hunting and is under voluntary avoidance by boat traffic from Oct. 15 through the end of the duck hunting season. The purpose, of course, is to let the thousands of pelicans, tundra and trumpeter swans, geese, ducks, cormorants and various other water birds feed and rest on their southward migration.

Unfortunately, some boaters ignore the voluntary restrictions and barrel through the area anyway. Last year, I personally watched as thousands of birds were unnecessarily panicked by thoughtless boaters roaring through their midst. If intrusions continue, a full closure might have to be enforced.

It is hoped that an already important migratory stopover will become even more attractive with the new islands. The enormous flocks of birds that are visible during October and November from the Brownsville overlook have already become a world-class spectacle, and it can only get better.

U.S. Designates Upper Mississippi River Floodplains a Wetland of International Importance

In making the announcement, Secretary Salazar said, “The ecological, social, and economic values of the Upper Mississippi River make it one of the crown jewels of this nation’s wetlands. This marks the 27th U.S. wetland designated under the Convention on Wetlands. The U.S. became a party to the convention in 1987, which now includes 150 countries. It’s certainly fitting that this area has now officially received international recognition.”

The designation includes just over 300,000 acres of federal and state lands and waters of the Upper Mississippi River floodplain from near Wabasha, Minn. to north of Rock Island, Ill. The designation includes all of the 240,000-acre Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge headquartered in Winona, Minn. and the adjacent 6,226-acre Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

Other designated sites in the U.S. include such wetland icons as Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia and Florida, Everglades National Park in Florida, and Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin

Don Hultman, former refuge manager of the Upper Mississippi River refuge, said designation is aimed at strengthening public awareness and appreciation of the role wetlands play in sustaining environmental health, economic enterprise, and recreational well-being.

“The upper reach of the Mississippi River is an ecological treasure,” Hultman said.

Hultman said the refuge and surrounding public lands in the site support more than 200 nesting pairs of bald eagles, 120 species of fish, 42 species of mussels, and provide migration habitat for up to 50 percent of the world’s population of canvasback ducks.

He said the site also serves as a major navigation highway for commerce and provides millions of citizens abundant hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities.

Hultman said a Wetland of International Importance designation has no effect on current jurisdiction, authorities, or management responsibility of federal, state, or local governments that partner on management of the river. He stressed that designation does not affect current river uses.

“All commercial and recreational uses currently allowed or allowed in the future are not affected. Designation does not dictate land and water use of any kind,” Hultman said.

The designation proposal was endorsed by the Department of Natural Resources ofMinnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and seven members of Congress from the respective states.

With Fish and Wildlife Service approval, the designation package now goes to the Ramsar Secretariat located in Gland, Switzerland, for technical review and formal addition to the international list of wetlands which now numbers more than 1,600 sites. Formal designation is expected early in 2010.

For more information on the Wetlands of International Importance program, go to www.ramsar.org.

Click and You’re Surrounded by Invasive Species

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a new website devoted to invasive species.  With the click of a mouse, you can call up a primer on invasives and as well as concise information on the many, many ways the Service is confronting the invasives challenge on and off refuge lands.  Check out http://www.fws.gov/invasives/.  For additional information, contact Jenny Ericson at 703-358-2063 or Jenny_Ericson@fws.gov;  Michael Lusk at 703-358-2110 or Michael_Lusk@fws.gov ; or Donald MacLean(aquatic invasives) at 703-358-2108 or Don_MacLean@fws.gov .

Independent Analysis Finds Refuge System Struggles to Meet Goals

An independent evaluation has found that the Refuge System experienced an 11 percent decline in real purchasing power between FY 2003 and the FY 2008 requested budget.  As a result, the Refuge System has been unable to maintain its level of operational activity, according to the report from Management Systems International (MSI), which conducted the evaluation between October 2006 and September 2007.

 

The report, titled, “An Independent Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System,” rated the Refuge System as “ineffective” in meeting two strategic goals:
·         Protect resources and visitors through law enforcement.
·         Strategically grow the System.
On a positive note, MSI rated the Refuge System as “highly effective” in one strategic goal: facilitating partnerships and cooperative projects.  The consultant specifically pointed to the Refuge System’s work with volunteer and Friends organizations as well as state fish and wildlife agencies.  MSI calculated that in 2005 alone, partnerships contributed more than $50 million to the Refuge System – with more than $30 million in direct cash contributions.
Among its 11 principle recommendations, MSI advises increasing the number of full-time Refuge System law enforcement officers from the current 200 to 400.  While MSI noted that law enforcement training is “sound and improving,” the firm also noted a “critical lack of law enforcement coverage” at most field stations.  More than 70 percent of refuge managers indicated they feel law enforcement coverage is “insufficient” at the refuge they manage.
MSI also noted that the rate at which land has been added to the Refuge System had declined “significantly” over the past five years.
For a summary of the 221-page report, go to: http://www.fws.gov/refuges/policyMakers/pdfs/MSI/NWRS_EvaluationSummaryFINAL_7-15-08_508v.pdf

Ducks Respond to Changes in Upper Miss Refuge’s Closed Area System

Migrating ducks, geese and swans were provided more resting and feeding areas, combined with less human disturbance, during their stop-over on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge during the fall of 2007.

The birds responded to new management actions that modified the current system of areas closed to waterfowl hunting along the 261-mile refuge.   “The closed areas are like stepping stones for the birds as they make their way south,” said Eric Nelson, refuge biologist. Nelson explained that, “the new system takes into account decades of survey work that has shown an unequal distribution of the birds, food and hunting opportunity in Pools 4-14 of theMississippi River. Having all the ducks in a few pools is not ideal for the birds, nor ideal for waterfowl hunters.”   Birds concentrated in a few areas are susceptible to disease outbreaks, sudden habitat loss, and human disturbance. This concentration also means that the birds are not equally available for hunting or wildlife observation through the length of the Refuge.   The 2007 changes are part of the Refuge’s new 15-year Comprehensive Conservation Plan, approved in 2006. More high-energy food resources found in refuge backwaters were secured for the birds by adding new closed areas and modifying the boundaries of others.   To reduce disturbance, new management provisions do not allow the use of motors in closed areas less than 1000 acres in size and also ask people to voluntarily avoid entering all closed areas from October 15 to the end of the duck hunting season. Seven of 24 closed areas are less than 1000 acres.   Duck hunting success continued to be good even as new areas were closed to hunting.    Birds Response Was Good in Most Places One area with increased duck use was at the new Spring Lake closed area near Buffalo CityWis. in Pool 5.  Canvasback and mallard use doubled over the 2006 counts when the area was open to hunting. Counts were made by airplane and ground crews.   Bird use also increased at the existing Goose Island no hunting zone which was expanded by 108 acres in 2007. Tundra swans, gadwalls, canvasbacks and redheads were more numerous than previous years.   At the new Wisconsin River Delta special hunt area near Prairie du Chien, Wis. in Pool 10, duck hunting was closed early, November 1, nearly a month after the season opener.   Bird numbers went from 460 birds (mostly coots) in October, to 2,652 (mostly mallards) by mid-November and reached a peak of 3,275 waterfowl in late November. In recent years, before the November 1 hunting closure was in effect, counts totaled only a few hundred birds.   Change in duck use was not as dramatic at the new Kehough Slough closed area in Pool 12, north of Bellevue Iowa and the new Beaver Island closed area in Pool 14, near Clinton,Iowa. These areas had a lack of food resources caused by late-summer flooding that killed aquatic plants and more high water in October that forced birds to move on.   At the existing Elk River closed area (Pool 13, near Sabula, Iowa), effects of new voluntary avoidance provisions on bird use were inconclusive. While aerial surveys showed 40% more puddle duck use in 2007 than in 2006, use by Canada geese, tundra swans and diving ducks was lower in 2007.    Public Compliance Was High Waterfowl disturbance studies were made at eight closed areas. Observers, often perched on bluff tops over-looking the closed areas, noted boating activity and how waterfowl reacted to disturbance caused by boater intrusions.   Observer time was allocated to various mornings, evenings, weekends, weekdays, and holidays, October to December.   Nelson noted that, “Public compliance to voluntary avoidance and no motor provisions was quite good.” Observers reported no disturbance of the birds in some closed areas, includingSpring Lake in Pool 5 and Kehough Slough in Pool 12.   Disturbance did occur at the Wisconsin River Delta Special Hunt Area, as noted in 56 hours of observation. In this case, 15 of  17 boating intrusions into the area caused minor bird disturbance. These boats were destined for a fishing hot-spot at the edge of the closed area.   A detailed study at the Wisconsin Islands closed area, in Pool 8 near Brownsville, Minn.indicated that boating disturbance levels were tolerable. In 267 hours of observations, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey in La Crosse Wisc. documented 33 boating intrusions into the area. These intrusions caused an average of one major disturbance once every third day, less than the critical average of one every day, which would call for tighter restrictions in the future.   Observers were also stationed on bluffs above the Elk River closed area in Pool 13. Only three minor disturbance events were recorded in 51 hours of  observation conducted during 11 days between October 6 and November 27, 2007.   Results of disturbance studies will be used to enhance public education about the needs of migrating waterfowl on the Refuge.   More details of bird use and disturbance studies are posted on the Refuge web site: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/UpperMississippiRiver/   New updates will be posted as other reports become available.   The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov