Families as Biocitizens on the Westfield River
Kurt Heidinger, Executive Director of Biocitizen School of Westhampton, MA writes:
How many times have you looked at a river thinking, how beautiful—and pulled out your camera to capture the swells of whitewater, a striking blue heron, or blazing maple tree in the autumn overhanging its banks?
A river is not just beautiful, though; it’s alive, and those who witness this life, this bios, never look at or appreciate a river the same way again. Based out of Westhampton, MA, the Biocitizen School has been training volunteers to see and understand the bios that a river is, by teaching them how to do Rapid Bioassessments. We net the benthic macro invertebrates (underwater bugs) and, by inventorying them, we can quickly assess how alive the river is.
Stonefly nymphs are a bug we want to catch. They are a primary food source for brook trout and, like trout, require clear, clean, cold oxygen-rich water. If there is too much nitrogen or potassium (from fertilizer run off) in the water, algae will bloom and suck the oxygen out of the river. You won’t find many stonefly nymphs—and therefore trout.
By doing a Rapid Bioassessment, you can monitor a river that is dear to you, year after year, to ensure that it’s healthy—and stays that way. Once you have been trained (this year), you can conduct the assessment yourself (next year); Biocitizen collects and sends your bug inventory to DEP, where it is checked and logged, becoming part of the public historical record. Such records are invaluable for scientific research and land-use decision-making.
I had the pleasure of training a few families on the Westfield river this past weekend, just downstream from the RT 143 bridge in West Chesterfield, MA. One of my favorite moments occurred at the end, after we had identified our last worm species and had the proof we needed to judge the water of “exceptional quality.” “We have bald eagles on the Westfield,” I was told; “They fly up and down the river: must have a five foot wingspans, seem almost as big as a person!” Yes. All of us lucky families have big beautiful eagles living near us. Because the water is oxygen rich, there’s an abundance of stoneflies, which gives us an abundance of trout which the eagles find yummy: enough fish so they can nest and raise their families here too!
Find out more about Biocitizens and how your family can get involved with Rapid Bioassessment, visit www.biocitizen.org.