Submitted by the Conservation Resource Alliance, this article describes biological monitoring along the Boardman River to measure the success of habitat restoration.
In an effort to maintain the ecological and economic benefits of northern Michigan’s rivers and streams, the Conservation Resource Alliance (CRA) works with a diverse group of partners to identify and repair water flow problems and improve both in-stream and riparian habitats. Some of these projects involve the removal of aging dam structures that impede natural river flows, cause warming of impounded waters and disrupt fish habitat. We are now working with our partners on one the largest dam removal and restoration projects in the Great Lakes Basin, including the removal of three dams on the Boardman River.
When making physical changes to a river, like those taking place with the Boardman River Dam Removal Project, we need to look beyond the structural work of taking out a dam or installing a bridge. The overall driver for making these structural changes is to improve the health of the stream, which means recreating ideal in-stream and riparian habitat that will support the re-establishment or continued growth of native flora and fauna.
We use biological surveys planned and conducted by natural resource specialists to assess our progress in restoring or recreating healthy habitat. To ensure that physical changes are having a positive impact on populations, these scientists conduct field surveys to collect information like species richness (number of species present) and population density (population size per area) both before and after a structural project is complete. Comparing the results of these biological surveys allows us to monitor changes.
And it’s amazing what you’ll find out there while monitoring. Just ask David Mifsud or “Turtle Dave” who spent a week on the Boardman River doing a herpetological survey.
“We found some great stuff out there including a juvenile milk snake. It’s been dry which means our crew has to work a little harder but we got a great start,” he noted. Reptiles and amphibians are very sensitive to environmental changes; they tell you a lot about what’s happening in the environment around them.
Boardman project partners contracted Mifsud’s company, Herpetological Resource and Management, to conduct a baseline study monitoring amphibians and reptiles in the Boardman Dam and Sabin Dam project areas.
“These surveys are a great way to check-in on how wildlife is or is not responding to restoration activities. It helps us monitor change and modify actions if needed,” noted CRA biologist Nate Winkler (pictured middle holding an eastern hog-nosed snake). “For example, if we don’t see the community composition we’d expect after the dams are removed, it may mean we need to enhance the river channel with more diverse habitat structures.”
[Here’s a red-backed salamander on the move. The video is playing at 1/2 speed!]
Consequently, the information gathered from monitoring species allows professionals to implement changes that make populations more resilient when faced with threats such as disturbance, disease, invasive species and the changes that accompany climate change.
While crews were searching for salamanders and the like, a distinct pounding could be heard in the background. Workers are in full swing building the new bridge on Cass Road.
The bridge is expected to open September 1. At that time, visitors may be surprised to find themselves traversing two bridges. The river’s current position will be moved west under the new Cass Road bridge when partners remove Boardman Dam and the old Cass Road bridge in 2017.
The removal of the Boardman River Dam as well as the installation of the Cass Road bridge will help protect water quality while improving both the instream and riparian habitat. Ultimately, these changes will preserve the benefits of the Boardman and make it a more climate-resilient river.