UD works to restore shad to White Clay Creek

July 3, 2013 under CANR News

UD works to restore shad population to White Clay CreekHold staff meeting. Write up report. Take apart a 236-year-old historic dam.

After Labor Day, Jerry Kauffman has an unusual item on his to-do list. As head of the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency, he has been charged with overseeing the deconstruction of a dam that has been in existence since colonial times.

Removing Dam No. 1 from the White Clay Creek will improve water flow and water quality in the creek, which was designated a National Wild and Scenic River in 2000. It also should make for some great fishing next spring and in years to come.

“Adult shad live in the Atlantic Ocean. In the spring, they travel up the Delaware River to spawn in fresh water,” says Kauffman. “But when they arrive at dams they can’t travel any further. By removing this dam, we’ll be re-opening 3 1/2 miles of spawning habitat for American shad for the first time in more than two centuries.”

The dam is located near present-day Delaware Park on land once owned by Daniel Byrnes, a Quaker preacher and miller.

American shad are richly flavored and make good eating. In the late 1890s, the Delaware River had the largest annual commercial catches of any river on the Atlantic Coast. However, the American shad catch started to decline in the early 1900s. Pollution was the biggest culprit, says Kauffman. “The Delaware was so polluted by the mid 20th century that oxygen levels were too low for migrating shad to survive,” he says.

With the passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972, water quality in the Delaware River rapidly improved, enabling more adult shad to survive in the river and more adult and juvenile shad to return to the Atlantic Ocean after spawning.

However, restoring shad populations in northern Delaware can only go so far with structures such as Dam No. 1 still blocking the shad’s passage upstream. A number of other states also have made dam deconstruction a priority. In Rising Sun, Md., the Octoraro Dam was removed in 2005 and more dams in that state are slated for removal.

Dam No. 1 will be Kauffman’s first dam removal project but it won’t be his last. Thanks to an $85,606 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the nonprofit group American Rivers, six additional northern Delaware dams will be removed, reopening 14 miles of fish passage, all the way to the Pennsylvania state line.

Because Byrnes’ dam is one of the few remaining timber-crib dams in the area, Kauffman and his team aren’t just pulling it down willy-nilly. Three years ago, when he started planning the dam’s removal, he connected with Rebecca Sheppard, associate director of UD’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design.

“We evaluate the significance of historic properties in Delaware and throughout the region but this was the first time we were asked to document a historic dam,” says Sheppard. “My grad students and I did a lot of research to learn about dams and about this dam, in particular. Then in March, we put on our hip waders and waded into the White Clay for the actual field work.”

Sheppard learned that Byrnes built his dam around 1777, which was a very busy year for the miller, as well as for the new nation. In early September of that year, shortly after the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, George Washington held a war council at Byrnes’ residence, now known as the Hale-Byrnes House. The Marquis de Lafayette and others helped Washington plan the defense of Philadelphia at this meeting.

There are plans to move portions of the dam to the Hale-Byrnes House. It could be used for school programs and during public events that are held periodically at the house.

Kauffman expects the deconstruction of the dam to go slowly, and not just because the goal is to keep portions intact for transfer to the Hale-Byrnes House.

“This dam was a high-tech, class A dam in its time,” says Kauffman. “Byrnes was a miller from Brandywine Village and he knew what he was doing. Built with just logs, stones and iron pins, the dam has stood intact for centuries. It was only during recent storms that it has started to show deterioration.”

“Once all seven dams are removed there will be new recreational activities for the public,” notes Kauffman. “We’d like to establish a kayak trail so people can travel the route of this historic waterway. There also will be opportunities to fish for shad at county parks, including one located off Old Manor Road in Wilmington and another in Windy Hills in Newark.”

Article by Margo McDonough

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UD doctoral candidate conducts wood thrush studies around Newark

May 8, 2013 under CANR News

The University of Delaware’s Zach Ladin has been studying the wood thrush for the past three years — continuing research started by Roland Roth 37 years ago and continued by Greg Shriver, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, in his Forest Fragments in Managed Ecosystems (FRAME) program – and is looking at how breeding birds can provide clues to the relative health of the environment.

“We use birds as environmental indicators,” said Ladin, a doctoral candidate in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “When you go to the doctor, they take different measurements, like blood pressure. By itself, your blood pressure may not mean anything but it gives the doctor insight into whether you’re going to have a heart attack soon or whether you’re suffering from some sort of heart disease, or any number of diseases that might be associated with that. So we’re using birds as a window into the health of the forest.”

To do that, Ladin has expanded the territory of the study originated by Roth.

While Roth’s initial study focused solely on the ecology woods located east of Delaware Stadium, Ladin’s study has spread out all over the city of Newark. Using 21 sites around Newark, Ladin looks at how the birds respond to human impacts in an urban landscape, using areas like Iron Hill, the Newark reservoir and White Clay Creek, among others.

Ladin said that Newark is the “ideal place to study urbanization since we’re right in this Mid-Atlantic region. We’re interested in how these birds are responding to an urban landscape.”

Zach Ladin studies wood thrush in UD's ecology woodsSome sites, like Iron Hill, are doing very well when it comes to having large populations of wood thrush, while other sites, such as the small patch of woods across from the hotel at the intersection of Routes 4 and 896, are completely devoid of wood thrush.

Just because a site has a large number of the birds does not necessarily mean that it is a healthy habitat, however. It could simply mean that the wood thrush are “getting pushed out of all the very high quality spots,” said Ladin. “Maybe they were pushed out of White Clay Creek or Iron Hill and this is a last resort for them, so you end up seeing the refugees getting shoved into a very small and isolated spot. It could be a bad sign.”

Ladin explained he trains crews of students that try to locate wood thrush nests, doing so by listening for audible cues, such as when the birds make an alarm call when the researchers get too close to their nests. Once they find the nests, they input the GPS coordinates and monitor the nest every three or four days.

“We keep close track of the eggs,” said Ladin, explaining that sometimes crew members will find eggs from a different species in the wood thrush’s nest. “There’s actually another type of bird called the brown-headed cowbird that will lay its eggs in other species’ nests. It’s called brood parasitism where they’ve evolved a really clever technique. They don’t raise their own chicks, they just go around and lay eggs in other birds’ nests and let those birds raise their chicks.”

Ladin said that while some species can recognize cowbird eggs and remove them from their nests, the wood thrush do not. “There’s an evolutionary arms race going on and the wood thrush have not figured that out quite yet.”

As far as the number of wood thrush breeding in UD’s ecology woods, Ladin said that there are currently around 20 birds per year, which is down considerably from the peak numbers of 70-80 during the 1990s.

Ladin’s research is trying to determine why the numbers are decreasing not just in the sites around Newark but across the eastern United States.

“One of the things we’re looking at is if the soil calcium is a limiting factor for birds, since they need it for their eggshells and the nestlings need it to grow their bones, and this is one of the highest concentrated areas of acid rain in the country,” said Ladin.

Ladin also wants his research to highlight the fact that on the East Coast, especially around the I-95 corridor, there may not be big patches of forests but there are lots of little patches that play an integral role in improving the environment.

“If you add up all these tiny patches of forests that have been subdivided, it’s actually over 1.2 million acres of forest,” said Ladin. “My motivation is to show people that this is highly critical habitat and that you can’t just discount a small patch of forest because its only three or four acres. Those patches provide really important services for us — like helping clean the water, and helping sequester carbon, reducing CO2 from the atmosphere — so we have to make sure we’re out to conserve their proper functioning. Studying the bird response in those patches is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to do that.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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UD researchers use weevils to check spread of prolific mile-a-minute weed

July 2, 2012 under CANR News

Mile-a-minute weed has declared war on Doug Tallamy’s yard. This non-native, invasive vine is growing up his trees, scrambling over shrubs and smothering tree seedlings. By blocking sunlight, it weakens a plant by reducing its ability to photosynthesize.

Mile-a-minute doesn’t care one whit that Tallamy, professor and chair of the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, is a highly respected proponent of native gardening who doesn’t believe in planting any non-natives, let alone a highly invasive non-native.

“The deer brought mile-a-minute from our neighbor’s yard three years after we moved in,” says Tallamy. “We had just a few plants the first year, a few hundred the second year, and 20 trillion the third year.”

Accidentally introduced to the U.S. from China in the 1930s, mile-a-minute doesn’t actually grow a mile per minute but it definitely is prolific. Studies show it can grow six inches per day. In addition to Tallamy’s yard, it has waged battle on countless other area yards as well as on Pea Patch Island, at White Clay Creek State Park, at Coverdale Farm Preserve and at other important natural areas.

Chemical control measures aren’t very effective and native insects don’t like to eat mile-a-minute. So Tallamy hand pulls mile-a-minute and, in areas where it has spread widely, whacks it with a scythe. But thanks to UD colleague Judy Hough-Goldstein, Tallamy has another tool in his arsenal, a weevil known as Rhinoncomimus latipes.

Weevils are beetles that have snouts. The itsy-bitsy Rhinoncomimus latipes, a native of China, is host-specific to mile-a-minute; it won’t eat any other plant. Since 2004, Hough-Goldstein and cooperators have released Rhinoncomimus latipes at numerous sites in Delaware and in Chester County, Pa., including Tallamy’s backyard.

A professor of entomology who has spearheaded a number of groundbreaking research projects into the biological control of invasive plants, Hough-Goldstein had to conduct eight years of laboratory testing in quarantine before the federal government would permit fieldwork to be carried out.

She was the first researcher in the world to obtain a permit to release a biological control agent of mile-a-minute weed. Today, her lab is still the only one in the U.S. — and one of a handful in the world — attempting to control this invasive plant through biological means.

Results, thus far, have been encouraging. The weevil establishes easily because it produces multiple generations per year. Thus, only a couple hundred weevils need to be released at any one site. Adult weevils and their larvae eat and damage mile-a-minute, but even more importantly, appear to suppress seed production in the plant.

“We had a problem with mile-a-minute at Burrows Run, which is part of Coverdale Farm Preserve,” notes Dave Pro, a land and facilities steward for the Delaware Nature Society. “We participated in UD’s early field studies with Rhinoncomimus latipes and followed up with a second weevil release. Since then, we’ve seen a reduction of mile-a-minute vine and weevils have been found actively feeding.”

In June, Hough-Goldstein kicked off a new phase of her research. The U.S. Forest Service is funding a study that compares the performance of weevils already in the field against lab-reared weevils and field weevils direct from China.

“Currently, weevils that are sent to cooperators throughout the northeastern U.S. come from a Beneficial Insect Laboratory operated by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture,” says Hough-Goldstein. “However, insects that are lab-reared for 10 or more generations adapt to lab conditions and this can sometimes affect their field performance. We’ll compare the survival, longevity and reproductive abilities of the three different populations of weevils to see if it may be desirable to add wild-type genetic material to the rearing stock.”

Amanda Stout is a rising junior at UD who is participating in the Summer Scholar research program. Throughout the summer, she will be responsible for most of the fieldwork for the new project.

To her delight, she has discovered that this means doing a bit of everything. “With Dr. Hough-Goldstein’s help, I designed and constructed rearing tubs for the weevils,” says Stout. “I also spent several days installing ‘bug dorms’ in full sun as well as in full shade.”

“I really gain intellectual satisfaction out of my work at the end of the day. It’s really exciting to get results,” she says.

As for Tallamy’s backyard, weevils are making in-roads in the ongoing war against mile-a-minute, with certain limitations.

“My assessment of the weevil is that it is quite effective in dry years,” says Tallamy. “But it doesn’t outpace mile-a-minute in wet years, such as last year when we had 12 more inches of rain than usual. However, the weevils are munching away at mile-a-minute this summer, so I’m happy to have them in my yard.”

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Delaware nature-lovers share their favorite places to enjoy summer in the state

June 27, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time. — John Lubbock

Officially, June 20 was the first day of summer, even though the unofficial signs of the season — flip flops, hammocks, water ice — blossomed weeks ago. For most of us, the workaday routine means we’re stuck inside a lot more than we’d like. When the weekend rolls around, we’re itching to get outside.

So where should we spend our precious free hours? We asked area birders, entomologists, horticulturalists and other nature-lovers about their favorite places to enjoy summer in Delaware.

Here’s what they told us:

Nature with a side of history 

My favorite spot is Brandywine Springs Park, which was an amusement park in the early 20th century and is now a county natural area.  I enjoy the sound of the water rushing through Hyde Run, a tributary of the Red Clay Creek, as I take long walks among the old trees. Since I am a history buff and a member of Friends of Brandywine Springs, I especially like the historical aspect of walking the old boardwalk area. Spending a few hours taking in the sights and sounds there refreshes me.

Eileen Boyle, horticulturalist, Hagley Museum

Flitting dragonflies

I enjoy Millstone Pond in White Clay Creek State Park. There is a small rock outcrop overlooking the pond and a nice place to sit in the shade on a sultry summer afternoon contemplating of the world around — dragonflies coursing over the pond, birds in the trees, wild flowers blooming. Just outside Delaware in Caroline County, Md., is Idylwild Wildlife Management Area. When I want to see many rare dragonflies and damselflies native to the Delmarva Peninsula that is where I go. However, one may need to suffer to be rewarded. One needs to bring water, be willing to hike a ways, and carry insect repellant.

Hal White, University of Delaware professor and author of “Natural History of Delmarva: Dragonflies and Damselflies”

A riot of blooms 

In summer, I love the rainbow of blooms in the Color Trial Garden at UD’s Botanic Gardens. Mid- to late July, it’s probably at its peak. Commercial seed companies rely on trial gardens such as this one to provide unbiased feedback about new varieties. For the public, the garden provides a sneak peek at more than a hundred yet-to-be-introduced varieties of annuals and perennials. It’s not uncommon to see people wandering through the trial garden with pencil and paper in hand to write down their favorites.

Valann Budischak, volunteer and education coordinator, UD Botanic Gardens

Cool running 

I run a lot at White Clay Creek State Park but recently I also have been working out at Lums Pond.  Especially in the summer, it is really nice to run (or walk) near a body of water. Even if you aren’t in the water, the sight and sound of water is cooling. As to plants I enjoy now, Delaware is mostly green at this point. Ferns are probably the prettiest vegetation in the summer.

Sue Barton, triathlete and UD Cooperative Extension specialist in ornamental horticulture

Sunset on the water

I like canoeing up the headwaters of Haven Lake, outside of Milford, from a public boat ramp off Williamsville Road. It features narrow channels and small islands and teems with birds, beavers, dragonflies and damselflies. You can even see insectivorous sundew and pitcher plants. Sunset is my favorite time to be on the water.

Jason Beale, manager, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford

A park that’s got it all

I like to go to Bellevue State Park because as a family it meets all our needs. Bellevue has gardens, nature trails, meadows, a pond, playgrounds, horses, community vegetable garden plots and more. My daughter, Teagan, is almost 3 years old and she likes the diversity of so many different things to look at. She is just fascinated by the horses. I jog on the trails and I also like to check out the garden plots. Many Master Gardeners have plots at Bellevue and I love to see what people are growing and how they are growing it.

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension

Biking the by-ways

I moved to Delaware in January so I still consider myself new to the state. I enjoyed Cape Henlopen many times before I moved here and now I’m making new discoveries. On summer weekend mornings, I have found that the scenic by-ways following the Red Clay and Brandywine creeks are surprisingly quiet and great for road biking.  Traveling by bike, you see so much more of the creeks, historic homes, fields and forests than when traveling by car.

Brian Winslow, executive director, Delaware Nature Society 

Woodpecker and eagle hang-out 

My favorite place at Hagley is the area that extends from the steam engine display to the boat house. The view of the iron bridge, the Brandywine, the dam and the woods is spectacular. You may even see an eagle flying over the river or our pair of pileated woodpeckers feeding in the large maple next to the boat house.

Richard Pratt, supervisor of gardens and grounds, Hagley Museum 

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

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CANR student helps WRA try to improve shad population in White Clay Creek

October 5, 2011 under CANR News

While some students spent their summer vacations taking a break from college course work, Chelsea Halley was immersed in an eight-week study aimed at improving the shad population in White Clay Creek.

The internship was funded by the Delaware Water Resources Center, within the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), and Halley, a senior in the college, was part of a research team that surveyed seven dams along White Clay Creek that restrict fish passage.

The shad restoration project is being overseen by the University’s Water Resources Agency, a program unit of the Institute for Public Administration.

Halley explained that some of the dams were built in the 1700s and that they once served a purpose, such as diverting water to mills, but have long since been rendered unnecessary.

Because of this, a five-year plan was created in order to remove all seven dams from White Clay Creek, with the first dam being removed in November. Halley explained that removing the dams is vital to restore the shad populations because “shad must swim upstream to spawn, but are restricted because of the dams. American shad and hickory shad were once a thriving fish in the White Clay Creek, but their population has diminished significantly. Downstream from the dams, some shad have been detected, but upstream none have been found.”

Unlike salmon, which are able to leap over the dams, shad can’t make it over the structures and Halley explained, “It is imperative to their survival that we remove the dams.”

Halley estimated that she worked between 20-25 hours per week and she measured the dams using diverse tools ranging from a large measuring stick to an electronic level. She even used a kayak and measuring tape to figure out the depth at 10-foot intervals along each dam’s cross section. Said Halley, “We surveyed 100-foot cross sections of the creek 1,000 feet downstream and 1,000 feet upstream of each dam.”

Halley then would input the results into a computer model and diagram each cross section that was measured.

After discovering the internship through the UD website, Halley contacted Gerald J. Kaufman, director of the Water Resources Agency, and was drawn to the shad restoration project because it involved a lot of hands-on field work, which she said has been the most beneficial aspect of her internship.

Kauffman became Halley’s adviser for the research project, which began in June and runs through the spring of 2012. Halley now works at the Water Resources Agency office for about 10 hours a week as she continues to work on the shad restoration project and other WRA projects.

After the first dam is removed in November, Halley explained that they will start comparing the new data about “the water quality and shape of the creek to the data that my research team and I collected over the summer.”

Halley said that she is proud that her internship allowed her to be a part of Delaware’s history, explaining that shad were once very plentiful and of great economic importance in the First State. “It is a great feeling knowing that the work we did is being used to benefit the environment in such a monumental project. This will be the first time in hundreds of years that shad will really have a shot at multiplying and succeeding.”

For now, Halley is relishing the opportunity to put to use all of the techniques that she learned over the summer in the field of water resources and to continue her education in the field.

Other students involved in the project include: Sarah Ackerman, a CANR senior; Seth Olson, an environmental studies student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment; Katherine Adami, a senior environmental studies major with a concentration in environmental law, policy and politics; Kayla Iuliano, a junior Honors Program student majoring in environmental science; Ian Kaliakin, a sophomore environmental science major; and Erica Addonizio, a sophomore chemical engineering major.

Article by Adam Thomas

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CANR fights stormwater runoff to help White Clay Creek

May 17, 2011 under CANR News

After the storm has passed, the damage isn’t done. In fact, for White Clay Creek, the destruction is just beginning.

Much of the University of Delaware’s campus, including the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) farm, drains into Cool Run, a tributary of White Clay Creek. Because the creek has been designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, a designation spearhead by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., a UD alumnus, the University now has the distinction of being one of only two universities in the country to have a National Wild and Scenic River run through its campus. Because of this, there is an urgency to quell the impact of stormwater runoff into the creek.

Stormwater runoff, unfiltered water that reaches bodies of water by flowing across impervious surfaces, enters White Clay Creek through multiple sources throughout the city of Newark and the UD campus. Because of this, CANR has teamed with partners from across the University and the city to see what can be done to help reduce the University’s contribution to the problem, activity that has led to the formation of the University of Delaware Watershed Action Team for Ecological Restoration (UD WATER).

UD WATER is led by Tom Sims, deputy dean of the college and the T.A. Baker Professor of Soil and Environmental Chemistry, and Gerald Kauffman, state water coordinator and director of the Water Resources Agency, a unit of the Institute for Public Administration. It includes faculty members from the University as well as members from the city and the Delaware Geological Survey and UD student interns.

In addition to many other projects undertaken on the CANR farm to stop stormwater pollutants from reaching White Clay Creek, the UD WATER team decided another step to curb stormwater runoff was to create a biological filtration system on the CANR campus.

Read more at UDaily > >

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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