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Watershed group to study culverts’ effects on wildlife, roads

Submitted photo
Alec Henry, a Wesleyan University environmental studies student, is leading the study of culverts along the Deerfield River.

Submitted photo Alec Henry, a Wesleyan University environmental studies student, is leading the study of culverts along the Deerfield River.

SHELBURNE — Below Elm Street, a small stream flows through a culvert leading to the Deerfield River.

The design of that culvert could have an impact well beyond its small stream — affecting the passing of wildlife upstream and the structure of roads.

This summer, the Deerfield River Watershed Association will study some of the 1,800 places in the watershed where a stream crosses under a road to find how it is impacting animals and public infrastructure.

The watershed association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation, protection and enhancement of natural resources of the watershed in southeastern Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts.

Armed with data sheets and clipboards, the association plans to complete surveys at 600 different locations or one-third of the crossings in the watershed by the end of the summer.

Leading the study is Wesleyan University environmental studies student Alec Henry.

The project — called the Stream Continuity Project — will identify the worst culverts and bridges. With the new information on the stream crossing, the association can use available funding to repair some of the culverts and bridges.

The project is twofold, Henry said. First, poorly designed crossings can impede wildlife movement.

For instance, the culvert off Elm Street is raised higher than the water bed, making it more difficult for small fish to travel through to the other end of the stream. The habitat is also fragmented between the fast moving water by the culvert and the slow movement of the stream water farther down. Once again, small fish can’t get from one side to the other.

The same culvert could potentially cause erosion of the road, jeopardizing public safety and tax dollars.

The association hopes to do the study with the help of volunteers.

Volunteers will receive training and equipment to properly record data. Teams of volunteers will spread out across the Massachusetts section of the Deerfield River watershed.

Volunteers will be handed data sheets with questions to answer. They will be asked to analyze whether the depth of the stream is consistent with the culvert, how fast the water is moving and whether there is a slope. They will also be asked to determine whether the stream supports fish and what the condition of the crossing is.

A training session is scheduled for June 26, time and location to be determined.

For those interested in volunteering, contact Henry at ahenry@westleyan.edu.

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