Vail Daily column: One fish, two fish, healthy fish, new fish
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
When I’m hunting for the perfect campsite, it’s all about proximity to a river or stream. I like to hear the water rush past as I sleep, and if I can actually see its ebb and flow, well then I know I’ve landed a truly primo spot.
Camping close to water is a common, natural desire, Matt Grove of the U.S Forest Service says. But what most people don’t realize, including me, is that by using these sites over and over and by bringing vehicles to these locations that the soil becomes very compacted and eventually gets to a point where vegetation won’t grow.
“When you lose the vegetation, you lose the roots that hold the banks together and the erosive forces of water are multiplied,” Grove says. “In the case of streams this can lead to bank erosion and over-widened stream channels that can result in a reduction of quality fish habitat.”
Eagle River Watershed Council hosts Grove and Kendall Bakich of the Colorado Department of Wildlife for Water Wise Wednesdays, Jan. 26, to talk about their roles promoting a healthy fish population in the Eagle River Watershed. The event takes place at the Salt Water Cowboy in Avon at 5:30 p.m. Appetizers will be served and there will be a cash bar.
As the U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist for the Eagle/Holy Cross Rancher District, Grove works to protect and enhance aquatic habitat. Since there are many uses for Forest Service land – from camping to fishing to skiing – Grove ensures that those activities are not only safe, but also improve aquatic health and fish habitat. Most recently the program has focused on rehabilitating impacted riparian areas, enhancing in-stream fish habitat, reducing impacts from sedimentation and rangeland improvement projects. The type of restoration activity depends on what you are trying to “fix,” Grove says.
“In some cases we add large wood to the stream channel where it has been determined that such habitat is lacking. Large wood can promote scour to existing pool habitat increasing the depth of pools. It can also create new pools or simply provide hiding places for fish,” Grove says.
Grove will talk about current and future restoration projects during Water Wise Wednesdays and give tips on what people can do when using Forest Service land to help protect these precious habitats.
Colorado Department of Wildlife’s Bakich will talk about her work collecting fish population data via electrofishing. When electrofishing, or “shocking,” Bakich sends an electral field into the water using electrodes. The electricity in the water immediately around the electrodes causes muscles in nearby fish to contract and the fish actually swim toward the electrodes and roll belly-up, making them easy to see and catch, Bakich says.
Although it may not be comfortable for the fish, Bakich says, the impacts are very minimal. And in return for the shock, Bakich gains a ton of useful information about not just fish population but their whole environment.
“Because fish are entirely the subject of their environment – they don’t regulate their own body temperatures and use passive uptake of oxygen and ions from the water to breath – they are often a good measure of changes in that environment,” Bakich says. “Fish survey information in conjunction with other kinds of surveys can be used to determine if a population is being impacted by a variety of factors, including water quality, forage quality and quantity, habitat availability, overpopulation, angling pressure, stocking rates, presence of disease or parasites, reproduction, and recruitment.”
Surveys also count fish and evaluate species diversity in the water. And one find that has shocked Bakich (ok, pun intended) is that there are a species of fish in local waters that aren’t supposed to be there.
“These illegal introductions can have a huge impact on the resident food web and negatively impact a water by adding either a voracious predator or more competition for food,” Bakich says. “They can also lead to the transmission of aquatic nuisance species like quagga or zebra mussels.”
Fish tales are fascinating, so go out Wednesday and learn about our local aquatic habitat and find out how you can help to protect it and enhance it.
Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She and her husband, Captain Vacuum, own Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.