BY JEFF STEWART, CARTERVILLE FWCO
On March 7th I taught an ichthyology module for 31 participants of the southern Illinois Master Naturalist program. This is the first year that the program is being offered in the Southern Illinois area. The program is put on by the University of Illinois Extension, Shawnee National Forest, and the Illinois Natural History Survey. The Master Naturalist Program has a mission to provide science-based educational opportunities that connect people to nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards. Participants learn about a wide variety of natural phenomena from archaeology to zoology. Many of the participants go on to volunteer at wildlife refuges and various other nature centers.
I taught the class at the Cache River Wetlands Center located in the Cache River State Natural area and adjacent to the Cache River NWR. Participants included a wide variety of people including folks from Cypress Creek NWR, the Shawnee National Forest, and Shawnee Community College as well as a number of retired folks. We began the class indoors with an introduction to ichthyology (the study of fishes) in Illinois, an overview of the fish diversity in southern Illinois, and examples of written and online resources for fish identification. The classroom portion of the day wrapped up with lots of good questions about Asian carp from the participants. We then carpooled a short distance to the Cache River where they experienced hands on fish sampling. A number of the students donned waders and helped sample fishes in backwater and main stem habitats with mini-fyke nets and seines. Fishing was tough with very cold water temperatures but we were able to catch a number of fishes including banded pygmy sunfish in breeding colors.
BY DOUG ALOISI, GENOA NFH
Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) staff moderated a recent session at a sturgeon culture for restoration symposia at the World Aquaculture Society at Nashville, Tennessee in February. Orey Eckes, a Pathways Student Employee at Genoa NFH presented the results of his thesis on the development of a larval lake sturgeon development index over variable water temperatures. He currently is a student in the Masters of Science Program at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse. Staff with Genoa NFH also presented on the site specific design of streamside rearing units to facilitate river specific lake sturgeon restoration. Streamside rearing units have been used during the last ten years alongside Lake Michigan to restore river specific lake sturgeon stocks, and recent advances in water treatment processes and larval sturgeon rearing were disseminated at the symposia. The symposia also included papers on pallid and shovelnose sturgeon culture, Endangered Gulf sturgeon culture and Atlantic sturgeon milt cryopreservation. The experience garnered specifically by Orey should serve him well in the future as he finishes his education and begins what is anticipated to be an illustrious career in the field of fisheries conservation.
BY JOSE RIVERA, CARTERVILLE FWCO
This winter staff from the Carterville Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) took part in the annual brush pile drop at Crab Orchard Lake. At 7,000 acres, Crab Orchard Lake is the largest of three reservoirs located within the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in southern Illinois. The lake is popular with local anglers for its healthy populations of sport fish; bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, and largemouth bass are the most commonly targeted species.
The benefit of dropping brush piles in Crab Orchard Lakes is twofold. The brush piles provide needed underwater structure, which fish utilize as feeding grounds and as shelter to avoid predators. Without sufficient structure in a lake, fish can be difficult to locate, leading to poor fishing. The placements of brush piles provide more fish habitat which can help strengthen the Crab Orchard fishery. They also help to concentrate fish, making it easier for anglers to locate and catch fish. Aside from enhancing fish habitat, the annual brush pile drop also provides an outlet to recycle discarded Christmas trees. Each year the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) accepts old trees from the public (as well as unsold trees donated by local retailers) which keep the trees out of area landfills by turning them into fish habitat.
Carterville FWCO staff teamed up with the Illinois DNR, as well as with local volunteers, to construct brush piles by attaching cinder blocks to bundles of discarded trees with wire. After being loaded on to boats, the brush piles were dropped at predetermined locations throughout the lake. While these fish attracting structures can be easily found by boaters with depth/fish finders, the Illinois DNR maintains maps which are updated annually. Pinpointing the brush pile locations, these maps are provided to the public free of charge. Shore anglers were also considered, as many brush piles were placed within casting distance of accessible shore fishing spots. The annual brush pile drop at Crab Orchard Lake is great example of the re-purposing of items otherwise destined for the dump, giving a second life to discarded trees as cost-effective habitat enhancement and structure for fish. The annual event also highlights how federal and state resource agencies can join forces with the public to enhance our natural resources.
BY SHAWN SANDERS, IRON RIVER NFH
Traveling to Ashland, Wisconsin for youth hockey practice was usually a quiet event. However, on one of those many trips I got a question from the back seat, “Shawn, have you ever heard of a Central Stoneroller or Brook Silversides?”
My jaw was slightly agape with this question from (until now) an unrecognized seven-year-old, future naturalist, my son’s friend Stasz Kaszuba. This query led to some “light” fish discussion in the car, along with my interest as to how such a young child was so interested in fish. The chance to share my experiences and vocation with friends was exciting. I offered to Stasz’s parents the opportunity to bring him out for the “grand tour” of Iron River National Fish Hatchery. They were both excited, to have the chance to come out and tour a Lake and Brook Trout facility, at Iron River National Fish Hatchery. December and January are oftentimes the “slower” months for tourism; however these are the best time(s) to see the whole trout life-cycle. During this time we have adults, eggs, fry, small fingerlings, and advanced fingerlings (yearlings) on-station, this allows staff to explain what we do and how each portion of the life cycle is different on the hatchery. So, we had this chance to share the hatchery with our friends and share the story of how US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists are lending a hand in restoration of the Great Lakes. The need is there to share this vision with those that we contact and help nurture these future biologists, naturalists and citizens that they too may help spread the message of resource management and conservation.