Connecticut River Coordinator's Office
Northeast Region
Black Branch of the Nulhegan River, VT  - Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Black Branch of the Nulhegan River, VT. Credit: USFWS

The 1,000 foot wide and 20 foot deep mainstem Connecticut River is aquatic habitat to fish like striped bass and channel catfish. The 10 foot wide and 1 foot deep hillside streams are habitat for species like the brook trout, blacknose dace and young Atlantic salmon. But one thing that is important to both places is an area called the riparian buffer.

Dwarf Wedge mussel   
Dwarf Wedge mussel. Credit: USFWS  

The riparian buffer is the vegetation on and around the river bank, extending back far beyond the water. It might be 10 feet wide covered in grass and shrubs or it could be a thick tree lined forest. The riparian buffer is an important element of the habitat which sustains aquatic life. Bugs and leaves that fall out of trees into the stream are an important part of the aquatic food web. The shade provided by leaves helps to cool the water, roots hold the banks in place reducing the amount of sediment entering the stream. Extra nutrients in runoff are taken up before they can enter the stream and pollute it.

Protecting aquatic habitat does not end at the river's edge. When the riparian buffer has been destroyed by poor land use decisions, the stream suffers. Water temperatures rise, streams may widen and become shallow resulting in little habitat for fish to live, and polluted runoff goes straight into the water. The entire watershed is really just an extension of the river. Eventually, what happens on land, far from the waters edge, affects the quality of aquatic habitat of the stream or river which drains that watershed.

There are many stresses to aquatic fish and their habitat in the Connecticut River. The aquatic environment has been altered over many years by an increasing human population. However, focusing on just one stress will not bring fish back to our rivers. It is necessary to restore the entire watershed whether that involves replanting vegetation along eroded stream banks, removing barriers to fish migration, cleaning up pollution in the river or some other action. Clean streams and free-flowing rivers ensure future survival, growth, returns, and development of Connecticut River fishes.


  • 1/3 of fish species are at risk of extinction

  • 72% of freshwater mussels are imperiled

  • 400 aquatic species have or need special protection

  • 53% of wetlands are gone

  • 80% of riparian habitat has invasive vegetation

Connecticut River Watershed

Plants and animals found in and near the Connecticut River that are listed under the Endangered Species Act include:

  • Shortnose sturgeon
  • Dwarf wedge mussel
  • Puritan tiger beetle
  • Jesup’s milkvetch
  • Northern bulrush
Jesup's milkvetch    
Jesup's milkvetch. Credit: USFWS  

35 - 74% of wetlands within the watershed have been destroyed or degraded

Visit this link for a more detailed description of This link opens in a new windowhabitat for those endangered species listed above.

This link shows species that are not endangered, but have a This link opens in a new windowspecial emphasis listing for their rarity rank.


Last updated: February 23, 2016
Connecticut River Coordinator's Office
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