Making shade: Students, trout boosters team up on river conservation project in Ashfield

  • Graduate student Michael Hayden uses an electrofisher to shock fish in the Bear River in Ashfield on Thursday as Todd Dubreuil of the U.S. Geological Survey looks on. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Todd Dubreuil of the U.S. Geological Survey weighs and measures fish that were caught using electrofishing in the Bear River in Ashfield on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School fifth-grade students head out to the section of the Bear River in Ashfield that was impacted by the 2017 tornado to plant trees and shrubs on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Todd Dubreuil of the U.S. Geological Survey talks with students about aquatic life in the Bear River in Ashfield on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Colton Kingsbury and Anneke Whitsett of the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School fifth-grade class plant trees and shrubs in Ashfield on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2022 5:43:14 PM

ASHFIELD — As Boris Samarov and Lauren Paquin’s fifth-grade classes made their way through brush and thorns toward the Bear River, they were greeted with open space created by a rare tornado that ripped through the area in February 2017.

The Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School students spent their Thursday morning getting their hands dirty with the Deerfield River Watershed Chapter of Trout Unlimited, planting dozens of trees and shrubs on the river’s bank to rebuild the habitat for the native brook trout who inhabit it.

“This is an important river,” said Trout Unlimited Chapter President Eric Halloran, because it is a “thermal refuge” for both native and stocked trout that live in the Bear and Deerfield rivers. The trout require colder waters to thrive and will duck into tributaries like the Bear River during a heatwave as they seek cooler temperatures.

In the case of the Bear River, the open space created by the tornado threatens to raise the temperature of the water, which in turn threatens the survival of the fish within the river. As summers get warmer due to climate change, the warmer water could threaten the existence of the brook trout, which are Massachusetts’ only native species of trout, according to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

“When water warms up, it cannot hold oxygen as well,” Halloran said, adding that too much of an increase in temperature will cause the fish to “die from a combination of stress and suffocation.”

To prevent the warming of the water for decades to come, Trout Unlimited and the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary students grabbed shovels and began planting willow and dogwood shrubs alongside the riverbank while planting red maple, black spruce and sycamore trees nearby. These plantings will provide a shady respite for the trout of the Bear River, ensuring they will have a safe, cool space to come to during the summer. Additionally, the trees and shrubs will help protect the riverbank from future erosion.

“It is absolutely investing in the future,” Halloran said. “The trees will be sequestering carbon and in the short-term, we’ll be cooling the water.”

The service-learning project between the school and Trout Unlimited was formed when Samarov reached out to numerous ecological organizations in search of a way to get students involved in the community. Samarov said he was looking for opportunities to get the children engaged in real-world projects because it’s a way to empower students to solve problems in their own communities.

Participating in community service projects, Samarov said, creates ownership of the community in children.

“When you work in a community, it’s yours,” he said.

As they were digging holes for the trees and watching U.S. Geological Survey biologists measure the trout population, students said they felt satisfied they were able to aid the trout in the river.

“I think it’s good we’re helping the trout,” said Oliver Ferris, adding “it was really cool” to see the vast knowledge of the biologists at work. “It feels good.”

Brody Cross said he really enjoyed planting the trees and seeing the fish being caught and measured.

“It was really cool,” Brody said.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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