In the five years since its inception, the State Wildlife Grant Program has played an important role in the conservation of Vermont's wildlife. The following are some projects funded through State Wildlife Grants:
Bright Futures Ahead for the Osprey, Loon & Peregrine Falcon
The osprey, common loon, and peregrine falcon were recently removed from the state's endangered species list-the first ever in Vermont. Their recoveries came about because state and federal wildlife agencies, nongovernmental organizations, electric utilities, and private landowners collaborated to address the problems that had decimated the birds' populations: habitat loss, pollutants such as lead and mercury, and pesticides that weaken eggs. Monitoring and recovery planning funded by State Wildlife Grants is an essential element to complete recovery. Inspired by these recoveries and armed with State Wildlife Grant funds, communities will go on to proactively conserve other wildlife, to enhance our quality of life, and our economies for future generations.
Lake Champlain Lake Sturgeon Restoration Project
Sturgeon numbers in Lake Champlain dropped dramatically in the first half of the 1900s due to commercial fishing and loss of spawning habitat. The lake sturgeon is now listed as an endangered species in Vermont. With funding from the State Wildlife Grants program, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department biologists documented spawning activity, by collecting sturgeon eggs or larvae, in all four rivers that had been used as spawning sites in the past. Future efforts such as improving habitat by restoring a more natural flow regime in rivers during the spawning and incubation periods, removing obstructions to historic spawning sites, public education, and continued protection efforts should put Lake Champlain's lake sturgeon on the road to recovery.
Building Fish-Friendly Roads and Improving Wildlife Passage
Fish and other aquatic wildlife require unfettered movement through streams and rivers to maintain healthy populations. Man-made obstacles such as poorly designed culverts get in their way. With funding from the Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program (the precursor to State Wildlife Grants), and in partnership with the Agency of Transportation, the Fish & Wildlife Department hosted an intensive training session with national expert Kozmo Bates, where more than 60 road managers, fisheries biologists, and others learned state-of-the-art fish and wildlife friendly road designs. Vermont's many successful wildlife-transportation projects have made the state a national leader in road ecology.
Bobcat and Landscape Ecology in the Champlain Valley
Anyone who's ever looked for a home knows how difficult it can be to find the right place. Choices are rarely simple. Would you accept a smaller living room if the view was great? What if the house were close to work? How close do shopping or schools need to be? How much privacy do you want? Clearly, finding the right place is a blend of many factors.
We're not alone. Many wildlife species face the same questions. Though some species are quite easy to satisfy-you can find squirrels in almost any forest, woodlot or suburban yard-others are more discriminating.
The bobcat is in the latter category. Although bobcats are found throughout Vermont, it is an elusive animal with special habitat needs that aren't fully understood.
It is believed a combination of steep rocky ledges, wetlands, and large undeveloped tracts of land connected by corridors are important to the future of bobcats in Vermont. However, no one is sure how bobcat reproduction and survival are impacted by the loss or degradation of these habitats. As development pressure increases in Vermont, bobcat habitat might be lost or fragmented. Wildlife biologists will tackle this home design puzzle using funding from the State Wildlife Grants program. Mark Freeman with the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension Unit, in cooperation with the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, are evaluating how ledge habitat, landscape fragmentation, road densities, and increasing human densities affect bobcat habitat use, bobcat birth rates, and bobcat survivability.
Ten to twenty bobcats in Vermont's Champlain Valley will be fitted with radio collars. The high-tech collars will record time, date, level of activity, and temperature every five hours. Biologists will be able to track the bobcats' movements over a two year period. The movements will be mapped along with habitat information collected from on-the-ground surveys and remote-sensing geographic information systems (GIS) data.
The end product will be a picture of how bobcats move through their territories and should reveal the requirements of healthy bobcat communities. This will allow land and wildlife managers to identify and manage important bobcat habitat, ensuring bobcats will be around in Vermont for future generations to enjoy.
The Hydro-Acoustic Project
The Hydro-Acoustic Project isn't the name of a band. However it will keep Bernie Pientka out late at night listening attentively. Bernie is a fisheries biologist with Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VFWD) and in this case he'll listen for fish-not Phish.
Bernie is interested in the forage fish community of Lake Champlain. Forage fish play a key role supporting much of the lake's food web. Most food webs resemble pyramids, with lots of species at the bottom eaten by fewer species at the top. However, rainbow smelt is the single dominant species of the deep-water fish community in Lake Champlain. If the smelt population were to decline, due to disease, pollution, the arrival of an invasive species or some other reason, much of the rest of the pyramid of larger fish could crash. In other words, this little three-ounce, iridescent fish with a pale green back and purple, blue and pink sides plays a pivotal role in the lake's ecosystem.
Clearly, keeping tabs on the smelt population is important, but counting fish in the sixth largest lake in the U.S. is no easy task. So, with financial support from the State Wildlife Grants program, Bernie, Dave Gibson (VFWD), Nick Staats (USFWS), Donna Parrish (VT Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit) and Lars Rudstam (Cornell University) are designing a lakewide hydro-acoustic survey to track the abundance and distribution of smelt and other forage fish in the lake.
Based on a similar method used in the Great Lakes, sonar (sound waves) is used to "photograph" the fish. Some are then netted to determine the species and their age. Biologists can then estimate the number and age of fish in the lake. Surveys are conducted at night when the fish are more uniformly distributed, using the department's 32-foot research vessel.
Tracking changes in abundance of the forage fish community more accurately adds to our understanding of the entire Lake Champlain ecosystem. Data collected will aid biologists in evaluating and responding to changes to the ecosystem, such as the impacts of new invasive species, helping to maintain a balance in a lake so important to wildlife and people