Category Archives: Ecology

Cleaning out the inbox: Two sides.

bonefishing-key-westOne side. 

Florida’s unlike anywhere else in the continental United States- unique ecosystems harboring thousands of species found nowhere else on the planet, shaped by wind and rain, water and tides.  They’re sensitive ecosystems, plagued by human development and associated nutrients, sediment, and the introduction of dozens of non-native species.  Hell Bay Boatworks has been a tireless advocate in the conservation of Florida’s unique aquatic resources- restoring the Everglades, mitigating pollution from agriculture surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

The other. 

We don’t blink an eye at the conservation of panthers or leopards or bison or wolves- species which range hundreds of square miles, species which, globally speaking, are pretty stable.  Little things count, and they’re often ignored.  Take the Panama City Crayfish– whose entire global population covers an area about the size of Disney World.  Of all the species which need conservation attention, those inhabiting such tiny native ranges should be the easiest to protect- they’re not fuzzy or photogenic or cuddly, and when it comes to building new condos or protecting something that looks like it’s out of a sci-fi novel, the spiny-squishy-slimy critters too often lose out.  It’s a shame, because they exist- and they’re worth protecting.

Jumping the Gun.


Water warms slower, and I know when I see the empty parking lot I’m early.  Too early.  The big, gravid females move first, and I’m still too early for that.  Maybe the fish are stacked up at the mouth, waiting for the first warm spring rain to ascend.  That doesn’t help me.

So I walk the banks and wade shallow riffles looking at the empty hulls of long dead freshwater mussels.  They fish, too.  These living stones house their young in envelopes of flesh that mimic prey, twitching them on the stream bottom, enticing fish to bite.  The larval mussels clamp down on gills and fins, getting a free ride upstream or down.  It’s as bizarre and fragile as anything you’d see in the Africa or the Amazon; Attenborough should narrate.

Someone Hug Mitch McConnell.


In a part of the world decimated by logging and mining, The Nature Conservancy and Kentucky’s top Republican have partnered for a $5 million grant to protect 25,000 acres of Appalachian landscape.  The strange bedfellows’ cooperative effort will protect threatened amphibians, bats, birds, crawdads, fish, and freshwater mussels all benefit, with the mixed hardwood and hemlock forests affording carbon sequestration for generations to come.

Let’s take the win.

The Onondaga Brood.

254262_10100276547298950_5314833_nFancy a trip to New York’s Finger Lakes this spring?  Come May it’ll be the place to be, as Brood VII of periodical cicadas emerge from their burrows and flop into streams and lakes.  The thumb-sized black and orange bugs emerge when ground temperatures reach 64 degrees and trout, bass, carp, catfish- they all go nuts.  Start tying, and learn more about the emergence here.

And if you really want to nerd out and are living in southwest Ohio- look for stragglers of mysterious Brood XXII.

The Blue Heart of Europe.

Biodiversity isn’t the first thing that registers when it comes to the Balkans.  That may be even more true in the coming decades, with nearly 2800 dams slated for construction.   At risk is the region’s unique aquatic fauna- insects, freshwater mussels, and a handful of trout species found nowhere else on the planet- and these folks are making certain that loss is weighed carefully against development.

Last Best Streams: #200.


This one’s tough because it’s home.  I fished this river first, it maintained my sanity during the Recession, just out of college and underemployed.  A friend in similar circumstances would tag along, two or three times a week, sometimes, paying five bucks to stay in a nearly abandoned campground across the gravel road from the access.  Folks with full-time gigs weren’t going to risk losing them and the ones retired or underwater had bigger things on their plate; most days we had the place to ourselves.

A hundred years ago the watershed was a moonscape. Between 1888 and 1903 timber companies cut 375,000 acres of white oak and shortleaf pine, rafting logs downstream where industrial sawmills turned 800 trees a day into the beams and boards building midwestern metropolises.  By 1920 the roughest hollows and bottoms were the only timber left. After failed attempts to grow corn and wheat, locals who didn’t or couldn’t sell turned out hogs and cattle to forage what they could.  Thousands of acres burned annually, or nearly so, to rejuvenate meager pasture.


With the Depression came federal buyouts, state parks, and national forest.  The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects replanted native pine, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built roads, bridges, fire towers, park offices, picnic shelters, and campgrounds.  When the war was over, everyone from Aldo Leopold to the artist Thomas Hart Benton clamored to protect the natural beauty of this landscape, and in the 1960s those protections were codified in federal law.


A third of the watershed is now publicly owned. Mixed hardwood forests are again the dominant landcover, although fire suppression makes the forest more closed than historical conditions.  Imperiled bats and birds call the rivers home, rare flowers and ferns carpet dolomite bluffs, and hundreds of species of fish and aquatic invertebrates- some found nowhere else on the planet- call the river home.


In a century threats to the river shifted one-hundred eighty degrees.  The river is no longer threatened by logging and livestock, but by ATVs, illegal roads, and poorly maintained horse trails.  Canoers, kayakers, and jet boats rove the river throughout the warm season, dotting gravel bars with black pocks from bonfires and leaving litter in their wake.  It’s a diverse crowd- there’s not many places you’re as liable to run across a baptismal as you are a yoga retreat.  But there’s just too many for the river and the infrastructure to support, and it’s the number of visitors and their diversity which confounds management.  Open houses and public forums are met with protests and counter-protests, one recreation group pitted against another, resentment welling up along the urban-rural divide.

It’s still pretty.  And there’s still good fishing- stocked browns and a few wild rainbows up at the top end, smallmouth bass and rock bass plus panfish, pickerel, and the occasional walleye downstream.  There’s a reason people still visit.