Saving the sturgeon

1,200 acres of habitat created for endangered fish
Thursday, July 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

If you’re familiar with the terrain of local riverside conservation sites, you may notice some changes next time you pay a visit to the banks of the Missouri River. The bank areas have been dug out and trees have been uprooted in hopes of reviving an endangered fish and at least temporarily resolving a long-debated issue on managing the longest river in North America.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has finished construction of 1,200 acres of shallow-water habitat along the Missouri River from Ponca State Park in Nebraska to the Osage River in Missouri. Boone County is home to two of the project’s sites — Diana Bend and Eagle Bluffs conservation areas. Marion Bottoms and Franklin Island, two other areas managed by the state Department of Conservation, are also sites in mid-Missouri targeted for the habitat restoration.

These shallow-water areas are being created at the urging of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help the survival of the pallid sturgeon, a federally endangered fish. The diversity of shallow-water habitats is necessary for the feeding and spawning habits of the pallid sturgeon and is also designed to benefit other fish and wildlife.

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the corps hope to eventually establish 20,000 acres of these shallow-water habitats along the Missouri River during the next 20 years. The original shallow-water habitats were lost when the Missouri River was channelized for navigation.

By agreeing to build the habitats, the corps will not be required to lower water levels in the Missouri during the late summer. The habitat projects are in exchange for trying to keep river levels high enough to allow barges to continue to use the river.

Shallow-water habitats are areas with slow moving water less than 5 feet deep. There are four different methods that are being used to create these habitats: dike notches, bank notches, pilot channels and chutes.

The corps has budgeted $13 million for restoration work that was started April 15. The Franklin Island and Diana Bend sites have been done by the corps. The WA Ellis Construction Co. was contracted for work at Marion Bottoms and Eagle Bluffs.

Bank notches have been used to create habitats on the east bank of the river at Eagle Bluffs,south of Columbia. In bank-notching, areas are dug out to cause erosion that will deposit sediment in the river to create sandbars. This process requires that some of the vegetation be torn up around the areas and the soil turned up. The amount of sediment will be fairly slight, according to conservation officials, and will not obstruct river traffic.

Tim James, who works for the state Conservation Department at Eagle Bluffs, said his agency is not concerned about the areas that have been cleared out for the construction. New cottonwoods and other trees will grow quickly and increase the diversity, he said, adding that the habitat restoration also will be good for nesting.

Denise Garnier of the Conservation Department said her agency is pleased that the work is being done on this stretch of the river.

There have been similar projects done on the river to increase the pallid sturgeon habitat at Overton Bottoms near Interstate 70. That site has been used as a prototype.

Mike Chapman of the Army Corps of Engineers said the Overton Bottoms site had good results. In early June, the corps submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service a summary of what would be done and a recommendation for meeting the July 1 deadline. The summary and recommendations were approved June 24.

”This is proven beneficial habitat work that we would like to do ourselves if we had the time or the money,” Garnier said.

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