BY SCOTT RALL
The Globe outdoors columnist
I got a call the other day from Kimberly Emerson from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She is a wildlife biologist based in Windom.
The wildlife service people were calling to see if they could enter my property to do some sampling in the oxbows that were installed there for the benefit if the Topeka shiner.
The shiner is a minnow on the endangered species list. I said, “Sure,” and asked when they would be there.
The USFWS dug three oxbows attached to the Little Rock Creek that runs through my property. They are areas where, when the water is high the pond, re-connects to the stream flow. When the water recedes, the fish that swam into the little pond are stranded there until the water comes up again.
The reasoning behind the idea is that Topeka shiners can reproduce in the area with little pressure from other fish that would like to eat them. When the water comes up again, they are flushed back into the stream to help maintain and rebuild the rare minnow’s population.
There were six team members, and they all had a different responsibility. They ran a minnow seine down the length of the pond and then transferred all of the catch into a floating holding basket. They got to wrestle with a big snapping turtle before they could start counting.
They counted each and every fish in the basket. There were lots of species you would recognize. There were bullheads, fathead minnows, and sunfish of three different varieties. There were white suckers, common shiners and several others I can’t remember.
Guess what, they even found some Topeka shiners. There were hundreds of minnows and fish to be counted. They found Topeka shiners in four of the seven oxbows they surveyed.
It is not just the Topeka shiner that benefits from the more than 100 completed aquatic habitat projects. Other species of special concern like the plains top minnow and the Iowa darter are also sampled in different project areas. The Minnesota DNR even found a Blanchard’s cricket frog which had not been seen in southwest Minnesota for more than 50 years and was thought extirpated from the area.
Reptiles like salamanders, frogs, turtles and toads also live there.
They have sampled more than 30 different species of fish in the project areas. They have 30 other oxbow projects that have been funded and are waiting for water levels to recede in order to start on them.
They found Topeka shiners in one of the three projects located in my property and in three of the four located right next door to the north.
The program is working. One of the oxbows on my land struck a cold-water spring and as a result the water temperature near the bottom stays at 52 degrees. That is too cold for shiners to reproduce in.
The USFWS is engaged in many other projects. They improve adjacent wetlands and uplands in near proximity of Topeka shiner streams. In some cases, they will pay the landowner for an easement to protect the lands adjacent to Topeka waters.
If you live in southwest Minnesota and would like to see if your site might be suitable for a Topeka shiner oxbow or other habitat improvements, you can call the Windom office at 507-831-2220.
The average person never thinks about what is under the water’s surface unless they are trying to catch a walleye.
The underwater habitat world is an amazing place. All you have to do is look. It was great to hook up with Kimberly Emerson again, and I applaud the work they are doing.
There are many professional resource workers giving it their all to keep our natural world in sync. Hats off to the USFWS.