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Seize the Carp!
by Drew YoungeDyke

Most anglers now know not to wear felt-soled waders. We've hung them up in favor of rubber soles because we don't want to transfer organisms from one watershed to another where they don't belong. I really loved my felt-soled Cabela' s waders; they were passed down from my grandpa and worked great. Occasionally they sprung a leak and I sealed the offending seam, but then I learned about how aquatic nuisance species can hitch a ride in the felt and end up in the wrong stream. So, I bought rubber-soled waders which were a little stiff and didn't grip as well, so I have to wade a little more carefully. It's worth it, though, to know that I'm not harming the waters I love. 

I know I'm burying the lead here, but I mentioned my old waders because there is a much more serious watershed transfer threatening the entire Great Lakes, and we, as a nation,  haven't yet traded in our old waders. Asian carp have been moving up the Mississippi River since they escaped from southern fish farms in the early 90's, and now they're poised to invade Lake Michigan through the Chicago Area Waterway System, a canal system that's been used for well over a hundred years. Shippers are used to it. Chicago is used to it. The Army Corps of Engineers is used to it. But, like hanging up an old pair of felt-soled waders, we have to close the artificial connection between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds before we ruin the waters we love. 

The Army Corps of Engineers has erected an electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, but Asian carp eDNA has been found on the lake-side of the barrier since 2009. A federal lawsuit to force closure of the locks separating the canals from the lake is pending. The Corps commissioned a study on closing the inter-basin connection, due in 2015, but earlier today the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative released an independent study on the feasibility of separating the basins. You can view the report here, so I won't go too far into the details. The gist is that the cost of the proposed plans could range from $3.9 billion to $9.5 billion, depending on the plan chosen. The projects would likely have to be federally-funded, and include flood-control tunnels and alternative routes for shipping and boating. 

While this sounds like a lot of money, and it is, it is a reasonable cost to save a Great Lakes fishery which generates $7 billion in annual economic activity. Asian carp are voracious eaters and can completely conquer waters they inhabit by starving out native species, like a wedding crasher who eats all the cake. It's not only the lakes which are at risk, but all the connecting waters, too. If you're like me, you're visualizing how your favorite river connects to a Great Lake right now. As far as we know, Asian carp have not yet established a viable population in Lake Michigan, but it's only a matter of time before they do if we do nothing about it. 

Spending $4 to 9 billion to separate two watersheds sounds daunting; but when you consider the $7 billion fishery it would save, it's a no-brainer. It would be like spending $40,000 to $90,000 to obtain a college degree in order to secure a job which pays $70,000 a year. I think most rational people would make that investment, and so should we as a nation. In fact, that would be a better financial return than I've received for my law degree so far.

I miss my old waders, though they hang on my garage wall as a memento. I have to admit that it took a little while to get used to my rubber-soled waders, but now they're broken in and I don't have any problem wading Michigan rivers in them. There will also be an adjustment when we separate the watershed, and we'll have to make sacrifices to do it; some more than others, admittedly.  It will be a sound investment, though, in order to save the greatest freshwater resource in the world.   

 
 

A Day on the Water ... in January
by Drew YoungeDyke

I
’m the first to admit that I’m a terrible angler. I love fly-fishing, but fish do not love my flies. Mostly, as Robert Traver wrote in his Testament of a Fisherman, “I love the environs where trout are found.” Still, it would be nice to actually catch a fish once in a while. Part of my problem, I’m convinced, is that I do not know enough about the science of flies and rivers. So when Jason Frenzel, volunteer coordinator for the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC), told me about their winter stonefly survey, I jumped at the chance to participate.

I’ve devoured books about fly-fishing, but there’s more to learn in a current than on a page. Since moving to Ann Arbor a couple years ago, I’ve fished stretches of the Huron at random, without any clue as to where I should be fishing. The winter stonefly survey appealed to me because it would show me new stretches of water. I would have a chance to scout and learn a little about those waters, and I might even learn a little about flies. Plus, it seemed only right that if I was going to fish the watershed, I should do something to help keep it fishable.

Stoneflies are an indicator species, which means that they can only survive in high quality streams. They hide in leaf packs and in gravel bottoms underneath riffles in the winter. Some stonefly species are dormant the rest of the year. The healthy waters which harbor stoneflies also harbor a diverse mix of other flies at other times of the year, like caddisflies, mayflies, and damselflies. I’m no biologist - far from it - but it makes sense to me that an abundance of flies means an abundance of food for fish.

My team surveyed two sites in the watershed. The first was Davis Creek, also known as the South Branch of the Huron. The second site was on Greenock Creek. I volunteered to be a “collector,” because it meant that I would be in the water, wading creeks and scooping samples with a net. After training for a couple hours in the morning, I joined my team for the afternoon survey. We also had a team leader and three sorters, all very knowledgeable biology and entomology students from the University of Michigan , Eastern Michigan University, and Oakland University.

The first site on Davis Creek was off a dirt road in a wooded area. The only nearby development was a few houses uphill from the creek. I waded in at a shallow gravel point and collected samples from leafpacks under cutbanks, gravel bottoms under riffles, and scraped from fallen logs. The team sorted the samples and found an abundance of stoneflies, as well as mayflies, caddisflies, and larvae. A red-tailed hawk flew overhead, as if to accentuate the natural beauty of the site.

The second site provided a stark contrast to the first. Though the creek looked the same, it harbored no stoneflies, and very few of any other fly. This stream intersected a paved road, ran adjacent to a subdivision, and flowed downstream from a dam. Foam collected against a downed tree, and old lumber planks piled atop each other on the far side of the stream, well- hidden in a tangle. On our way back to the vehicle we walked through a swift-moving snowmelt running along the road and bound for the creek.

Dams artificially warm water temperatures and trap sediment, decreasing oxygen and reducing the natural flushing action of rivers. Runoff from developments and impervious surfaces carry pollutants, such as phosphorus from lawn fertilizers, directly into the stream, rather than filtering through the ground. Even for someone with my limited scientific background, this site illuminated the damage we’re capable of inflicting on any watershed.

Before participating in this survey, I would probably have fished the second site as soon as the first. Except for the aesthetic charm of the South Branch stretch, I wouldn’t have known the difference. Having volunteered, though, I think I’m just a little more knowledgeable about river quality than I was before, and can apply that knowledge to select better places to fish in the future. More importantly, though, hopefully I can use this understanding to advocate for the improvement of water quality in the watershed and the state as a whole.

Programs like the HRWC’s winter stonefly survey occur all across the state. Please consider volunteering for your local watershed council or conservation organization to see how you can help your nearby rivers and streams. You might even learn something and catch a few more fish.