Aquatic Habitat Conservation
Few resource agencies conduct aquatic habitat protection, restoration and enhancement on the same scale as the BLM. The BLM manages among the highest diversity of aquatic ecosystems and habitat throughout the nation. Since 2000, the BLM and its partners have improved an annual average of 250 miles of stream, 2,600 acres of lakes and reservoirs and conducts maintenance on about 300 fish habitat projects habitat each year.
Aquatic Organism Passage Improvement
Fish and other aquatic organism movement is vitally important to many species. Anadromous and other native fish and invertebrates must be able to move to spawning and other seasonal areas to complete critical life-cycle requirements such as reproduction and overwintering. In addition, ensuring aquatic habitat connectivity helps maintain population resiliency and gene flow within and among populations.
As part of the BLM’s efforts to improve and reconnect aquatic habitat, the Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation Program is addressing fish and other organism passage problems that occur at stream culverts associated with the 78,000 miles of roads on BLM-managed lands. The agency also works to eliminate passage problems at water diversions, channel head-cuts, and low water stream crossings.
The Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation Program is working with its State, Federal, and private partners, focusing its efforts on reconnecting high priority habitats throughout the West. This work includes identifying problematic sites through inventories, designing solutions to fix impediments, constructing new crossings on priority sites, researching the effectiveness of “fish friendly” culvert designs, and adaptively maintaining and monitoring projects.
Aquatic Invasive Species
The spread of aquatic invasive species poses a major threat to our Nation’s economy as well as the viability of native ecosystems and fish communities by transforming entire food webs and clogging water pipes. The spread of aquatic invasive species, such as the quagga and zebra mussel, New Zealand mudsnail, and multiple other plants, vertebrate and invertebrate species is largely due to recreational use (e.g. boating, fishing gear, waders); water development projects (e.g. transwatershed diversions); and fire suppression (e.g. use and transport of infected water in watersheds not yet infected).
The BLM Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation Program addresses these threats in part by working with counterparts in State and other Federal agencies through the national interagency Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and its Western Regional Panel to develop strategies and programs to combat the ecological and economic threats Nation-wide caused by aquatic nuisance species.
Habitat Improvement Case Study: Lake Fork Gunnison River
The Gunnison River in southwestern Colorado contains one of the country's premiere fly-fishing destinations. However, several years ago, whirling disease significantly impacted the rainbow trout population Gunnison Gorge, through which the river flows. Trout Unlimited's local chapter, Gunnison Gorge Anglers, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife have since introduced disease resistant rainbow trout and today, the future looks good for the species.
The BLM manages important habitat for this and other fish species and conducts numerous habitat improvement projects throughout the year. In one example, the BLM’s Gunnison Field Office called in the heavy equipment to enhance habitat for the brown and rainbow trout in the popular Lake Fork Gunnison River. This is a tributary to the Gunnison River. Boulders and rock collected from the surrounding area were placed in the river as pool forming structures to increase holding habitat, slower-moving water used for resting and cover by both juvenile and adult fish. This project also complements ongoing efforts by the BLM to acquire private lands and conservation easements to increase angler access to blue ribbon fisheries streams.
Top photo: Lake Fork Gunnison River - Photo courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife