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Fisheries biologists flexing their green thumbs

It’s not the most glamorous work in the world. Slogging around in the mud and the muck planting aquatic plants makes for some long, hard workdays in the summer.

But fisheries biologists with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. Three years ago biologists began an effort to restore the aquatic vegetation around the shores of Lake Thunderbird in central Oklahoma and biologists believe that their work is beginning to pay off.

“The plants are beginning to spread outside of the areas where we have planted them and we think these new areas of aquatic vegetation may have some very positive effects on the survival of young fish,” said Gene Gilliland, senior fisheries biologist for the Wildlife Department. Wildlife Department personnel built 18 different cages to help protect the young plants from turtles and other herbivores. The 25 x 50 foot cages, or enclosures, were built using vinyl-coated chicken wire and fence posts and were placed at six different sites around the lake.

“Our primary goal, is to provide hiding places in the summer for recently hatched fish such as bass, bluegill and minnows,” Gilliland said. “Natural vegetation is just about the best nursery habitat available for these young fish.”             

Biologists planted nearly ten different types of aquatic plants including plants that grow in deeper water and plants that can survive out of the water for a brief time during the dry summer months. The plants were obtained from a wide variety of sources, including purchasing them from greenhouses, transplanting them from local ponds and propagating plants at the Department’s Fishery Research Laboratory in Norman.

“We wanted to plant a wide variety of plants so that there would be some stability in the habitat. The more plant diversity that is in the lake, the more likelihood that at least a portion of the plants can survive through a range of factors like changes in water levels or changes in water clarity,” Gilliland said.

Gilliland added that the assistance of many different volunteers proved invaluable in completing the project.

“Projects like these are relatively cheap, for the return in the investment. However, they can be quite labor intensive and we couldn’t have done it with out the help of volunteers,” Gilliland said.

Similar re-vegetation projects are also ongoing on several lakes around the state including Eufaula, Texoma, Skiatook, Kaw and Wes Watkins lakes. Landowners interested in improving aquatic habitats on their own ponds may want to log on to a habitat consultation Web site created by the American Fisheries Society. The Web site, www.sdafs.org/habitat, provides landowners with a list of the recommended plantings according to their pond description and location.

For more information about fisheries management in Oklahoma, contact the Oklahoma Fishery Laboratory at (405) 325-7288.





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