Experts Say Flooding Has Had Impact On Fish Population

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(Host) The effect of Tropical Storm Irene on Vermont’s fish is still being assessed, but experts say both the storm – and the stream dredging that followed it – has had an impact on fish numbers and, more importantly. on habitat. 

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Rich Kirn says the state has surveyed a few streams in central Vermont since Irene and found 50 percent or less of previous fish populations. 

But Kirn says wide variations in fish numbers aren’t unusual.

(Kirn) "These populations tend to fluctuate pretty widely due to these environmental conditions; we’ll have a bad winter, we’ll have a rough spring runoff, we’ll have drought. So, these populations tend to bounce up and down. In this case, and in many cases, what we’ll probably see is that kind of low spot which they’re going to have to take a few years to recover and that’s all going to depend on the kind of habitat that’s left for them."

(Zind) Kirn says loss of fish habitat is the biggest concern. In some cases floodwaters altered habitat, but there are also worries about the excavation taking place in Vermont’s rivers to remove gravel, rocks and debris. 

The state has temporarily waived some regulations for those activities.  Kirn says his department is advising towns and the state transportation agency on best practices, but communication and oversight have been difficult because of the urgency of flood recovery efforts.

(Kirn) "That message isn’t necessarily getting out there. Everybody is spread thin; this is such a wide magnitude flood that oversight is something that is not able to be had. If you drove down the stream last month and there was an excavator in the middle of it, there would be phone calls off the hook. Now, its commonplace and people don’t know if it’s a legitimate activity that’s been reviewed and approved and what’s just something else that’s being done for other purposes."

(Zind) Officials cite the Battenkill as one river where past efforts to improve fish habitat paid off and the river is relatively unchanged by the flood.

David Deen is a legislator and the river steward for the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

Deen says some rivers will take years to recover. Others, like a small stream on his property have already bounced back.

(Deen) "Its river by river and its situation by situation. Where’s there’s been devastation like Route 4, it may take the Ottaquechee a fairly long period of time to recover in terms of the ongoing construction that’s going to be going on in that river.  In terms of my stream, a small stream; it got hit by the flood, there’s been some changes in the habitat, but as far as I’m concerned its back."

(Zind) Deen says how quickly rivers return to normal depends on when the necessary post flood excavation work can be concluded.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.   

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