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Ducks Unlimited sees promise in tunnel project


HAMMOND – A tunnel connecting one side of the St. Lawrence River channel to the other could lead to more fishing in the area.

Ducks Unlimited, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of wildlife habitats, is building a tunnel that will connect both sides of a point east of Chippewa Bay. Ducks Unlimited regional biologist Sarah K. Fleming said the goal of the Ferguson Point project is to provide spawning habitats for northern pike and to open the area to marsh birds, waterfowl and other wetland species.

“Lake Ontario has seen a drastic loss of marsh-meadow habitat, which is a required habitat of spawning northern pike,” Ms. Fleming said. “The loss of marsh meadow and increase in non-native cattail has reduced available spawning areas.”

Cattails acted as barriers, and with reduced marsh meadow, northern pike were unable to spawn where they normally would in Lake Ontario, Ms. Fleming said.

As a way to curtail the problem, Ducks Unlimited is implementing a restoration project to help increase channels and potholes that the fish can use for spawning.

“They cut channels and potholes in the cattail to allow them to access areas that they are no longer able to reach due to the dense stands of cattail,” Ms. Fleming said.

The project is one of many taking place along the St. Lawrence River to increase fish populations.

“We have recently completed a similar project on private land in Alexandria Bay and the French Creek Wildlife Management Area,” Ms. Fleming said.

She said those projects were done through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admistration, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

SUNY-ESF has monitored plants, fish and birds post-restoration, to ensure the site is functioning as designed and benefiting the targeted wetland species. She said so far the results have been positive.

“SUNY-ESF students are already capturing juvenile pike in potholes only months after construction was completed, which is really exciting,” Ms. Flemming said.

The project will cost a little over $75,000, and will be completed as early as March 2014, pending permit approval.

Ducks Unlimited will work with a local contractor, and use a long reach excavator to cut channels and potholes within the existing cattail.

The channels and potholes will be placed in locations that mimic natural conditions.

Ducks Unlimited has partnered with state and federal agencies to complete the project, and the project was funded through the Great Lakes Initiative, through the Great Lakes Basin Fish Habitat Partnership, administered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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