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Solving Problems with Nature - Naturally

Certified Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife Author - Wildlife Lecturer - Wildlife Photographer
Non-Lethal Control of Bats since 1983

NH Nature

New Hampshire Nature Notes by Eric Orff

Wednesday 11/17/2004 Suncook River sorrow scene.

As I gaze out my window this morning, it is a sorry sight for wildlife along the banks of the Suncook River. I have said for years that NH's rivers are the "Rodney Dangerfield Waters" as they just don't get any respect. The view this morning confirms that. The annual river drawdown has taken place recently as the dam boards at the Pembroke dam have been removed dropping the water level in the Suncook River in Epsom 3 or 4 feet.

A bank beaver lodge has existed on the North bank of the Suncook for 20 years, where a small unnamed brook feeds into the river creating a wonderful backwater meadow. Today the food the beaver has diligently collected over the last couple of months blossoms well out of the water along the exposed sandy shore. When the ice comes in a few weeks the beavers will be shut out from the families food supply. It happens every winter. Some years the beavers will gnaw a hole through the ice to feed on top, exposing themselves to predation. In the meadow the water has been drained away leaving the muddy bottom exposed that will soon freeze solid as well.

The water level in the lakes and rivers are controlled by dams and each year the levels are dropped to "winter levels." On Northwood Lake the shore is laid bare so that docks are not subject to ice that would damage them. DES notes that shore owners can work on their shoreline free of water as well. To a lesser degree the same can be said for the river drawdown or is touted as helping to prevent spring floods. DES means well by these practices and they have been doing it for decades.

The problem is there is only the human factors considered and fish and wildlife concerns are not considered. The fact is, the Suncook River is totally mismanaged for wildlife by default. Just like practically every other river. The wishes of the camp, and now house, owners around the lakes pretty much hold sway on the water management in total disregard for the river fish and wildlife. There are actually many more miles of river frontage and wildlife using it, but this fact is ignored.

So this morning the beavers winter food supply awaits being shut out from the beavers use, and survival, this winter. In the meadow, the cold fall temperatures have weeks ago driven the frogs and turtles to seek refuge in the mud UNDER THE WATER , but now it lays exposed and will freeze probably killing them.

If the water level needs to be drawn down each fall, which I doubt, then it should be at the winter level before cold temperature send the animals into winter hibernation and before the beavers begin collecting their food. September. But no, the folks want water in the lake until after Labor Day and the drawdown doesn't actually begin until mid October, dooming the wildlife downstream. It happens every fall.

Actually, when I first moved here 25 years ago, the river was not drawn down for several years. The meadow below was full of frogs, especially a chorus of bull frogs. Now one or two croak in the late spring there. The simple reason is bull frog tadpoles do not mature for two or three years and need to overwinter in the mud of the meadow. They all die because of the drawdown! The river below my house has been striped of life the last decade.

And it's not just the fall drawdown that's a problem. In the spring the runoff will raise the river level again just as the pickerel, yellow perch, and frogs are laying their eggs in the cove of the meadow. Invariably that is just when the stop logs are put back into Northwood and Suncook Lakes. Overnight the water level drops by 3 or 4 feet again leaving all the eggs high AND DRY killing them. Yes, the water level returns in a few days but all they eggs are dead by then. The fishing is terrible in the Suncook River compared to what it should, and could, be. Wildlife is wiped out twice a year in the meadow below.

I hope someday to get an actual management plan written for the Suncook River to address these problems. I don't believe they are done on purpose, just no one has considered the fish and wildlife needs of the river when deciding on water level changes. It is done out of ignorance but is devastating to the wildlife. I can only shake my head in disbelief every time I look at the river. When will the wildlife count?


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2004-11-12 Back to the deer bio checking station and a 3-legged deer.

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2004-11-22 Slowly slipping into winter with a few fall hiccups along the way.

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