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Wednesday
Jan232013

Florida's Clermont Chain of Lakes Is Drying Up

 Waterfront property owners on Florida's Clermont Chain have lost their water front and want to know why. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Many of Florida’s lakes have suffered from low water levels during the past decade, but none more than the Clermont Chain of Lakes in central Florida. In fact, while other nearby fisheries have had adequate water during years of more abundant rain, this 15-lakes system that includes Minneola, Minnehaha, Susan, and Crescent has continued to dry up.

“Clermont Bait & Tackle that was here for generations is gone now,” said Dave Burkhardt, who has lived on Lake Crescent for 25 years and is owner of Trik Fish/Triple Fish line company.

“Guides are gone and so are marinas and boat businesses. Hundreds of people who are paying taxes for waterfront property don’t have water anymore.

“And yet this is supposed to be a highly protected system.”

In fact, the Clermont Chain is but 41 of the state’s rivers, lakes, lake chains, and estuarine areas to be designed as Outstanding Florida Waters.

But it certainly didn’t look that way this past fall, with shrubs and trees growing beyond boathouses and weeds carpeting dried up canals. The chain was estimated to be 2 ½ to 3 ½ feet below regulatory water levels when the Lake County Water Authority (LCWA) decided to spend $150,000 on a study by AMEC, an engineering and project management company, to find out what is happening to the water.

Mike Perry, LCWA executive director, maintains that much of the problem stems from persistent drought for the chain and its headwaters, the Green Swamp, a massive wetlands system east that stretches across a half-million acres in southern Lake and northern Polk counties east of Tampa. “The lakes are really driven by rainfall,” he said.

But property owners believe that something else is going on. Some even suspect that water is being diverted to Tampa.

“Some people don’t have all the information and they are coming up with their own answers to the problem, with things like, ‘The system is flowing the wrong way, or somebody has done something in the system to make it drain from the Clermont Chain out to the Withlacoochee River,’” Perry added.

One resident who has studied the watershed extensively countered that members of LCWA board “don’t have a clue” what is happening to the water. But he’s not in the conspiracy camp either.

“They talk about the Green Swamp being the source, but the water runs mostly north and west,” said the man who asked to remain anonymous. "We get water from just one corner of the swamp.”

And flow from that source is impeded by a number of obstacles, he said, including blocked culverts and a road that diverts water to the Withlacoochee River. “They say that it’s got to rain when what’s really going on is that the water is running out to the ocean,” he said.

Will AMEC make a similar finding?

“Whatever conclusion AMEC reaches, the authority is under obligation to respond and to take this to the next level. The ball is rolling,” said the South Lake Press in an editorial.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Monday
Jan212013

Help Your Local Shelters --- NOT the Humane Society of the United States

Click on the map to see a larger version.

I adopted Ursa, a Lab-mix, when she was about four months old. For nearly 14 years, she was an unwavering source of love, affection, and companionship, and my life was much the better for it.

She died this past spring, and I have been slow to recover and think about getting another dog.

But now I’m ready. As soon as I finish with two brief business trips, I’m heading to my local animal shelter to adopt another companion.

By the way, local shelters do great work and they deserve our support. They exist mostly on local donations. People who volunteer at these places never want to euthanize cats and dogs, but sometimes they have no alternative; they don’t have enough space and enough funding to support all of the strays and abandoned animals that come in.

Sadly, millions of people are duped every year into giving to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) instead of to their local shelters. They are fooled by commercials such as those featuring narration by actress Wendie Malick. As she speaks, pitiful animals are shown on screen with overlaid messages that say things like “When will I eat again?” and “Why do they keep beating me?”

The truth is that very little money donated to HSUS goes to helping homeless dogs and cats. Most of it goes for fund-raising, marketing, administration, and support of an animal-rights agenda that is against fishing, hunting, and use of animals in agriculture.

Protect the Harvest says this:

“The HSUS is not, and has never been, an animal shelter.  In fact, HSUS head Wayne Pacelle famously declared, ‘We never said we funded animal shelters…That’s not in our history or in our statement.’  The vast majority of Americans (71% in fact) believe HSUS to be a collection of local humane societies, but sadly, they are wrong.”

Check out the facts about HSUS at HumaneWatch.org.

And take a look at this great parody of HSUS commercials, "Lawyers in Cages," which reveals the organization’s hypocrisy. 

Friday
Jan182013

Florida's Black Bass Management Plan Shows Success

Lynn Ogle's Trophy Club bass from Lake Istokpoga. FWC photo.

One year in, the Florida’s Black Bass Management Plan “is moving forward and producing some remarkable results,” according to Bob Wattendorf of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Among the more notable were a trophy tagging study and implementation of TrophyCatch, a program to promote catch and release of trophy bass.

“FWC biologists tagged 136 trophy largemouth bass greater than 8 pounds in Florida’s public waters,” Wattendorf said. Thus far, “results are very informative,” he added, “and will help guide trophy bass management planning in the future.”

TrophyCatch officially began Oct. 1. Fifteen days later, Corey Dolan began the first entrant with a 12.3-pound bass that he caught in released at Lake Talquin. The program includes three tiers --- Lunker, Trophy, and Hall of Fame --- to encourage reporting and live release of bass heavier than 8 pounds.

Another achievement was development of a technique to spawn bass out-of-season, so advanced fingerlings of 4 inches or more are ready to stock when more abundant prey are available. “Now FWC biologists are conducting a small-lake stocking study to determine survival of advanced-fingerling bass in 11 lakes throughout Florida,” Wattendorf said.

Accomplishments also included the following:

  • Staff observed and provided guidance to three national tournament organizations, with bass survival of more than 95 percent. FWC issued more than 2,400 permits, allowing possession of bass outside the legal size limits, with requirement that all fish be released into the tournament water bodies. “FWC is strengthening partnerships with bass fishing organizations and local communities to encourage large tournaments to come to Florida and to enhance facilities,” Wattendorf said.
  • FWC teamed with other agencies to restore and enhance recreational fisheries. For example, at Lake Okeechobee, the Water Regulation Schedule was changed to benefit lake ecology. At Lake Apopka, a multi-agency task force identified five projects to restore the bass fishery, as the Florida Legislature appropriated $4.8 million for restoration work.
  • FWC developed a position statement for managing hydrilla using a risk-based approach, and now incorporates public input into management plans, as occurred at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, as well as Istokpoga, Apopka, and Orange Lakes.

Goals of the plan include ensuring healthy lakes and rivers, strengthening local economies by documenting and increasing economic benefits derived from bass fishing, and attracting major bass tournaments, which have huge economics impacts and enhance Florida’s reputation as “Black Bass Fishing Capital of the World.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Wednesday
Jan162013

Vanishing Paradise Adds Conservation Pro Staff to Help Save Delta

Beefing up efforts to educate anglers and hunters about the importance of the disappearing MississippiRiver Delta, the Vanishing Paradise coalition has assembled a 30-member volunteer promotional staff.

Land Tawney, who manages Vanishing Paradise on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, says the new group of volunteer leaders will be a vital part of the coalition’s efforts.
 

“Almost every outdoors business in America has its own pro staff,” Tawney said. “But this is the first time a conservation group has used this same idea to create a team of advocates for hunting and fishing habitat. Our pro staff members are going to be on the ground, on the airways, and on the internet fighting for the delta.”

The wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta are eroding into the Gulf of Mexico at an average rate of a football field every hour.

Vanishing Paradise is a coalition led by the National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, and the Louisiana Wildlife Federation that aims to restore the Mississippi River Delta by strategically reintroducing water and sediment from the Mississippi River into the rapidly-eroding wetlands.

These coastal wetlands provide habitat for as much as 70 percent of the waterfowl in the Mississippi and Central Flyways and are important for both inshore and deepwater saltwater fish. The Mississippi River Delta is also a nationally recognized bass fishery.

Members of Vanishing Paradise’s pro staff include the following: 

  • Burton Angelle, Louisiana
  • Colin Anthony, Missouri
  • Curtis Arnold, Texas
  • Chad Bell, Louisiana
  • Karen Brigman, Nevada
  • Joey Buttram, Indiana
  • Joule Charney, California
  • Kyle Doherty, Missouri
  • Charles Faircloth, Alabama
  • Mike Frenette, Louisiana
  • Jeff Giffin, Missouri
  • Joseph Gignac, Arkansas
  • Joseph Hoffmann, Minnesota
  • Michael Kaufmann, Illinois
  • Joel Lucks, New York
  • Howard Malpass, Louisiana
  • Luke McNally, Washington
  • Mike McNett, Illinois
  • Wade Middleton, Texas
  • Matthew Miller, Wisconsin
  • Robert Montgomery, Missouri
  • Philip Nelson, Florida
  • John Pollmann, South Dakota
  • Taylor Schaltenbrand, Illinois
  • Sonny Schindler, Mississippi
  • Paul Strnad, Wisconsin
  • Sean Turner, Louisiana
  • Kirby Verret, Louisiana
  • Travis Weige, Texas
  • Garrett Wishon, North Carolina

Learn more about them here.

Monday
Jan142013

Tropical Fish in South Dakota Highlights Threat Posed by Exotic Species

This tropical fish, the Jack Dempsey, now is established in South Dakota. Photo courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks.

What resource managers long have feared would happen because of irresponsible fish hobbyists has become reality: An exotic species has established itself in a waterway far north of where it should be able to survive.

Earlier this summer, biologists confirmed that the Jack Dempsey, a South American cichlid related to the peacock bass, is reproducing in South Dakota’s Fall River.

How it that possible?

“The hot springs in the river makes it perfect for cichlids,” said Mike Smith, aquatic nuisance species coordinator for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “We first found a Jack Dempsey there in 2009. Then, two weeks ago, we found multiple-year classes.

“And there’s no way that the fish could have gotten there except aquarium release.”

Water nearest the springs stays at about 70 degrees year around, which allows the exotic fish to survive brutal South Dakota winters.

In this case, the Jack Dempsey’s impact on native species likely will be minimal. Few other predators live in the shallow water, and forage species gobbled up by the aggressive cichlid can be replenished from populations outside the range of the hot spring’s influence.

But the discovery is significant because it confirms that exotics can use thermal refuges provided by springs or warm-water releases from power plants to survive in cold climates.

Jack Dempsey and another popular aquarium species, the red-rimmed melania snail, now live in the hot springs of South Dakota's Fall River because of irresponsible aquarium owners. Photo courtesy of South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks.

Could the piranha be the next exotic fish to become established? Or its much larger cousin, the pacu? Every summer, media across the country report catches of both fish in ponds, lakes, and reservoirs. For example, a pacu was caught in Illinois’ Lake Lou Yaeger in June. And at Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, piranha captures have been reported several times since 2007.

Fish hobbyists also have contributed to troublesome infestations of plants such as Brazilian elodea, parrot feather, yellow floating heart, and even hydrilla.

“At a lot of our lakes, people just dump their aquariums to get rid of whatever they don’t want anymore,” said Tim Banek, invasive species coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Bill Frazier, conservation director for the North Carolina B.A.S.S. Federation Nation, also has seen evidence of aquarium dumping while serving as monitor of water quality for the city of High Point. He thinks the time is long past for directing blame primarily at anglers, especially bass fishermen.

Much of the problem, he insists, lies squarely with aquarium hobbyists and the pet industry that supplies them, as well as with nurseries that sell exotic aquatic plants.

“I haven’t seen a single trace of any invasive (plant) at the ramps, transferred by boat in 28 years,” he said.

“I know the overall perception is that weeds can be spread by anyone with a watercraft. I am not denying this pathway,” Frazier continued. “I just do not believe it as significant as everyone would have you believe.”

The North Carolina water expert has found parrot feather upstream of a submerged roadbed, where boats can’t go. He has discovered water hyacinth just downstream from a farmer’s market that featured the exotic in a water fountain. And he has seen a discarded aquarium underneath a parrot feather infestation, where the shoreline borders a large apartment complex.

“Some time later, a bank fisherman caught a skillet-sized pacu there,” he added.

And while anglers and the fishing industry pay license fees and excise taxes to finance management of aquatic resources degraded by aquatic invaders, these special interests are allowed to escape responsibility for the damage they do.

“This is what we need to be attacking and taxing,” he said.

The North Carolina conservation director added that waterfowl, wading birds, and even mammals can spread plants as well.

“I have seen beavers moving this stuff from decorative ponds to natural lakes,” Frazier said. “I watched a momma beaver taking parrot feather by the truckload from a decorative pond to a stream below --- and her den.”

Water quality expert Bill Frazier found invasive water hyacinth at this farmers market, just a short distance from a river. Photo by Bill Frazier.

Yes, anglers do contribute, transporting plant fragments and --- more likely --- mussels on boats, trailers, and tow vehicles, as do owners of jet skis, cabin cruisers, and pontoon pleasure boats. Resource managers are combating this threat with both mandatory and voluntary boat inspections at put-in and take-out sites, as well as check points at state borders.

“This year alone, nearly 80 infested boats have been stopped on the borders of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, most coming from Lake Mead,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

In those western states, mussels are considered the primary danger, because they can impede water flow by blocking intakes at major reservoirs.

For much of the country, though, Asian carp are the major concern. They are spreading up the Missouri and Mississippi and east and south in the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee River systems, well as threatening to enter the Great Lakes.

“Asian carp are the No. 1 threat for us,” said Missouri’s Banek. “The floods of 2011 made it worse, and they have the potential to be more detrimental than zebra mussels.”

South Dakota’s Smith echoes that sentiment. “We’re seeing exponential growth in their numbers,” he said.

And while floods have helped bighead and silver carp move into new areas, anglers also might have contributed.

“Most people don’t know how to identify fish,” Banek explained. “In collecting bait below dams, they could be getting juvenile Asian carp as well as shad.”

Uneducated anglers might even unknowingly move adult Asian carp from one fishery to another, as a South Dakota creel survey clerk learned on Lewis and Clark Reservoir.

He approached two young anglers who said that they had fished all day and caught “only one walleye and one salmon.”

That “salmon” turned out to be a bighead carp that the two had caught in the river below the dam, before they moved their boat up into the lake in the afternoon.

The clerk reported that the anglers never had heard of Asian carp.

“This is what we are up against in trying to stop the spread of these fish,” said South Dakota biologist Sam Stukel. “It’s going to take a miracle.”

Bait fishermen also are unknowingly spreading invasive crawfish species. About half of U.S. states and Canadian provinces have restricted use, sale, and transport of crawfish, or are considering doing so because the threat that these invaders pose to native crawfish and the fisheries that they inhabit.

In considering regulations to prohibit the import and sale of crawfish, the Missouri Department of Conservation discovered 25 invasions in its streams. It also learned that 40 percent of anglers surveyed release live bait that they don’t use, more than 50 percent of bait shops sell species not native to regions where they are sold, and 97 percent of bait shop owners admitted or showed that they didn’t know what species they were selling.

“It is important for anglers to understand that any crawfish species moved from its natural range to new water bodies has the potential to become invasive in those new waters and to adversely affect fisheries,” said Missouri biologist Bob DiStefano.

Not surprisingly, the aquaculture industry and Farm Bureau oppose Missouri’s proposed regulations, citing economic hardship for those who import, grow, and/or sell crawfish. In the Mid-South years ago, fish farmers made the same argument in convincing resource managers to allow them to import and sell bighead and silver carp.

 Combating the Invasion

 TexasInvasives.org  provides tips to boaters, anglers, pet owners, gardeners, and others to prevent spread of invasive aquatic species. It also contains helpful information on identifying invasives.

 (This article ran originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)