Resource Management on the Cuyahoga River

The Cuyahoga River is a constantly evolving system that illustrates the continued success of the Cuyahoga Valley renewal. Prior to remediation efforts, the Cuyahoga River was greatly contaminated by industrial effluents, was dammed, and was an active transportation corridor for products such as oil, rubber, and steel. Now dams are removed allowing fish movement and increased oxygen levels. Industrial pollutants are also reduced as factories become obsolete or improve their waste management. These improvements led to the restoration of populations of beavers, fish, Bald Eagles, otters, Great Blue Herons, and much more. Not all of these organisms can return to the valley without assistance. One such group are freshwater mussels. Several species of freshwater mussels are native to the Cuyahoga River, but no species has been present in the National Park’s section of the river for around one hundred years. Mussels are filter feeders and can live for decades. Because of these characteristics they are vulnerable to environmental changes on the multidecadal scale. Over the past few years, park biologists and partners have determined that the Cuyahoga River can host successful mussel introductions. This summer I participated in the first experimental efforts to do so, helping attach different tags to the mussels that can be used to recover their GPS location. I also enjoyed kayaking the river to find potential sites for introduction and remnants of mussels from hundreds of years ago. Find out more about this project and the potential introduction of Sturgeon here.

Another project that I am learning about this summer is the park’s hope to create a woody debris protocol for the Cuyahoga River. My fellow Environment for the Americas intern, Sylvia Touchstone, is taking this project on this summer. The challenge with woody debris is striking a balance between protecting critical river habitat and protecting the safety of river recreationists. In order to provide a basis for these discussions, Sylvia is using GIS to map the dead trees (woody debris) that are in the river. These trees may be impassable by kayakers, creating dangerous flows, or causing erosion among other potential issues. However, they also provide nesting and roosting sites for birds, fish habitat, and benthic macroinvertebrate habitat. I go out on the river with Sylvia to test pilots of surveys for woody debris in order to understand what monitoring methods are feasible. I can’t wait to see the results of these efforts!

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