Healthy Ecosystems

Healthy Ecosystems

GOAL: The Lake Champlain Basin’s ecosystems will provide intact habitats for diverse fish and wildlife populations that are resilient to disturbance and free of aquatic invasive species, and will provide natural functions to sustain clean water and vibrant communities.

Healthy ecosystems provide invaluable services such as native species habitat, nutrient filtration, flood resilience, and sediment retention. Diverse ecosystems in the Lake Champlain Basin support a lake that provides clean water for drinking and recreating, and healthy fish and wildlife populations. This goal will strengthen the aquatic ecosystem of Lake Champlain with increased understanding of climate impacts, evaluating restoration programs, improving connectivity, supporting restoration efforts for species of concern, and reducing the risk of new invasions by non-native species. 


The effects of climate change on ecosystem health have been widely documented in the Lake Champlain Basin. Supporting climate change research can inform how increasing air and water temperatures, lake levels, flood events, less frequent and persistent ice cover, and changing land use all combine with other pressures that threaten habitats and species in the Basin. To respond to these pressures, it is necessary to better understand their effects and then adapt to minimize negative impacts. This new Climate Change objective will support and interpret research that identifies the impacts of changes in climate to the Lake’s habitats and species, economic and ecological impacts of aquatic invasive species, refugia sites for species of conservation need, and impacts to lake trout. The objective also supports adaptation to climate change impacts by building and maintaining healthy soils in a range of habitats that support ecosystem functions.

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Resource managers, businesses, organizations, and landowners in the Basin are investing in restoration projects to protect priority habitats and species of concern. Monitoring and evaluation of restoration projects including wetland and retention pond project installations, riparian buffers and plantings, dam removal, in-stream management, and tracking species of greatest conservation need are critical to informing the most effective and efficient use of limited resources. It is also important to support research and identify gaps that are needed to align policy with healthy ecosystems goals.

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Natural communities face many threats and have experienced significant changes in biodiversity and abundance during the last few centuries. These threats include loss, degradation and fragmentation of wetland and riparian habitat, overexploitation of highly valued species, introduction of new species to the ecosystem, and climate change.

Conservation of riparian corridors, floodplains, lake shorelands, wetlands, and supporting headwater connectivity in the Basin protects and restores these habitats so they can provide ecosystem functions and support a greater diversity of species. For example, dams and undersized or improperly placed road-stream crossings can reduce fish and other aquatic organism habitat by interrupting passage from one stream segment to another. Poorly planned land development also can lead to reduced habitat connectivity, increased erosion and sedimentation, stream bank instability, and increased nutrient and sediment loadings in rivers resulting in further degradation and loss of aquatic habitats. Habitat restoration is also an effective way to support rare, threatened, or endangered species.

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Maintaining high biodiversity is critical for a healthy ecosystem in the face of increasing threats from habitat loss and degradation, aquatic invasive species, and climate change. Support of Lake Champlain food web research informs management decisions by better understanding internal and external drivers such as the impact of new aquatic invasive species or warming water temperatures. Research is also important to help identify information gaps and restoration needs for protected species such as the lake trout and lake sturgeon. To enhance the Lake Champlain fishery, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative regularly monitors the state of populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon, lake trout, brown trout, American eel, sea lamprey, lake sturgeon, walleye, and northern pike, and conducts targeted research on limiting factors to guide future management. In response and to ensure sustainable native fish populations, state and federal agencies assess and stock native and sport fish species in Lake Champlain. Reducing aquatic and riparian fragmentation is another way to protect native species such as brook trout, Atlantic salmon, and mudpuppies by removing dams and culverts that limit access to cold water streams for spawning and regaining access to historic habitat.

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Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are non-native plants, animals, and pathogens that harm the environment, economy, or human health. AIS that become established in the Basin can pose serious threats to native fish, wildlife, and plant populations, impede recreational activities, significantly alter the ecosystem of the Lake, and damage the economy of the region.

Support of early detection monitoring and effective responses to new infestations are important to limit invasive species impacts to habitat, native species, and human use and enjoyment of Lake Champlain and other bodies of water in the Basin. The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act of 2018 authorized the Great Lakes–Lake Champlain Invasive Species Program, which would support early detection monitoring and population of the Lake Champlain Aquatic Nuisance Species Information Database. This new database, connected with a similar database established for the Great Lakes, would help improve invasive species risk assessments and efficiently create an AIS watchlist for the Basin, updated with information from the Great Lakes database. Continued support of rapid response capabilities including the Lake Champlain AIS Rapid Response Task Force and its emergency fund has allowed for responses to contain and provide education and outreach for spiny and fishhook waterflea and round goby threats.

Lake Champlain aquatic invasive species management and response benefits from maintained involvement in regional and national programs such as the national Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force and the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel which connects the Basin to the latest research, control technologies, and education and outreach programs.

AIS enter the Lake Champlain Basin through several pathways, most commonly through interconnected waterways such as the Champlain and Chambly Canals. These human-made canals connect Lake Champlain to the Hudson and Richelieu Rivers. Other priority pathways include overland transport of AIS through human activities such as boating and bait transport. Implementation of a barrier on the Champlain Canal and evaluation of invasive species transfer through the Chambly Canal would address the highest priority pathways, while support of boat launch steward programs and expansion of access to decontamination stations will reduce the spread of invasive species spread via watercraft and trailers. Additional resources are needed to address accidental water garden releases, aquarium dumping, spiritual release, and illegal fish stocking.

Of the 51 known non-native aquatic species in Lake Champlain, about a dozen are classified as harmful AIS. Once AIS become established in Lake Champlain, they are difficult to effectively manage. Water chestnut management in Lake Champlain has been a success but requires consistent funding to reduce satellite populations and the main infestation in the South Lake to prevent the invasive plant from choking up the waterway and impeding boat traffic, reducing recreational opportunities. Significant resources are also expended managing the sea lamprey population to improve the health of the fishery in Lake Champlain. Increasing effort into education and outreach campaigns to ensure that they are multi-lingual and accessible to the entire Lake Champlain community will help reduce AIS introduction and spread.

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Quantifying measures of success is critical to understanding the benefits of the LCBP’s work and communicating progress toward the Healthy Ecosystems goal. Each strategy within the Healthy Ecosystems goal has metrics that measure progress toward implementation of this goal in Opportunities for Action. Key strategy-level metrics will be aggregated to provide a summary of implementation for the Healthy Ecosystems goal.

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Goal-level Metrics

  • Number of projects supported and amount of funding allocated toward applied climate change, ecosystem management policy, lake food web dynamics, Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) fish community, or aquatic invasive species research with results provided to managers and stakeholders
  • Area assessed or covered by plans funded by the LCBP
  • Acres of land treated or improved for healthy soil function with soil best management practices
  • Number of projects supported & amount of funding allocated toward the planning, design, and implementation of projects to improve, restore, and connect riparian corridors and floodplains, lake shorelands, wetlands, or habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species.
  • Population of the Lake Champlain Aquatic Nuisance Species Information System (LCANSIS) Database
  • Number of watercraft decontamination stations active within the Basin
  • Number of boater interactions at public launches completed by Boat Launch Stewards
  • Number of aquatic invasive species interceptions completed by Boat Launch Stewards
  • Percent of boaters taking spread prevention measures as documented by Boat Launch Stewards
  • Implementation of an effective aquatic invasive species barrier on the Champlain Canal
  • Lake area managed for aquatic invasive species

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Objective II.A. Support research and understanding of predicted impacts of a changing climate in the Lake Champlain Basin.

Strategy Task Area Metrics
II.A.1: Fund and interpret climate change research. II.A.1.a: Support research and understanding of predicted impacts of a changing climate on the Basin including frequency of floods (lake levels), increased air and water temperatures, and changing land use on the lake’s ecosystem. — Number of applied research projects supported with results provided to managers and stakeholders
— Amount of funding allocated to support climate change research
— Area assessed/covered by plan
  II.A.1.b: Support research and understanding of AIS impacts to the Lake’s ecosystem and economy under changing climate predictions.
  II.A.1.c: Support identification of refugia sites for aquatic species of concern (adapt in place or move in space).
  II.A.1.d: Study the impacts of climate on the lake trout population in the Basin.
II.A.2: Adapt to impacts caused by climate change. II.A.2.a: Support protection and restoration of healthy soils for ecosystem functions such as carbon sequestration, improved water quality and infiltration, and reduction of flooding impacts. — Acres of land treated or improved (with soil BMPs)

Objective II.B. Evaluate ecosystem management programs and policies (support research to assess success of current ecosystem management programs).

Strategy Task Area Metrics
II.B.1: Support research to align policy with ecosystem management goals in the Basin. II.B.1.a: Assess state and local policies to identify those that align, contradict, or pose obstacles to healthy ecosystems goals. — Number of applied research projects supported with results provided to managers and stakeholders
— Amount of funding allocated to support research that will inform ecosystem management policies
  II.B.1.b: Conduct research to develop an improved understanding of the effects of funding cycles on the development of new management priorities (decision feedback loop).
II.B.2: Fund research to evaluate ecosystem management programs. II.B.2.a: Fund and promote monitoring of restoration projects to determine long-term effects. -Number of applied research projects supported with results provided to managers and stakeholders
— Amount of funding allocated toward evaluation of ecosystem management programs

Objective II.C. Support conservation of habitat for ecosystem function.

Strategy Task Area Metrics
II.C.1: Work with Lake Champlain management partners to prioritize, protect and restore important riparian, shoreland and wetland habitat areas. II.C.1.a: Fund and promote projects that protect and restore riparian corridors and floodplains. — Number of habitat improvement projects supported for shorelands, riparian corridors, wetlands, and headwaters
— Number of projects that address rare, threatened, and endangered species
— Amount of funding allocated toward habitat improvement projects
— Area or Length of lakeshore and riparian habitat restored
— Lake and land area managed for invasive plants
— Area of protected core habitat established in conservation easements or other land conservation vehicles
  II.C.1.b: Fund and promote projects that protect and restore lake shorelands.
  II.C.1.c: Fund and promote projects that protect and restore wetlands.
  II.C.1.d: Fund and promote projects that protect and restore habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species.
  II.C.1.e: Fund and promote headwater connectivity by protecting amphibian habitat/upland streams, terrestrial connectivity, and natural infrastructure.

Objective II.D. Preserve and enhance aquatic and riparian biological diversity.

Strategy Task Area Metrics
II.D.1: Conduct research to improve our understanding of the functions and threats to the Lake Champlain ecosystem and develop and support programs that improve diversity of aquatic and riparian species in the Basin and work toward protection and restoration of native species. II.D.1.a: Fund and conduct research to better understand lake food web dynamics including for the improved understanding of lower to upper food web interactions and impacts of changing external and internal drivers for management decisions. — Number of applied research projects supported with results provided to managers and stakeholders
— Amount of funding allocated to support ecosystem function and native species projects
— Number of assessments generated for Species of Greatest Conservation Need
  II.D.1.b: Support state and provincial efforts to describe information gaps and assess the restoration needs for statutorily protected species or Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), such as lake trout and lake sturgeon, to inform management restoration efforts.
  II.D.1.c: Promote and support fish community research, including juvenile lake trout, brook trout, and landlocked Atlantic salmon, and management of sea lamprey to enhance the fishery.
II.D.2: Reduce species fragmentation by preserving and connecting critical aquatic and riparian habitats. II.D.2.a: Fund projects that prioritize and/or reduce fragmentation created by infrastructure, such as roads, dams, and culverts for native species such as brook trout, Atlantic salmon, mudpuppies, and salamanders. — Number of aquatic habitat improvement projects supported
— Amount of funding allocated to support aquatic habitat improvement projects

Objective II.E. Prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Strategy Task Area Metrics
II.E.1: Work with Lake Champlain management partners to monitor and respond to new aquatic species invasions via early detection and rapid response (EDRR) and to educate different stakeholders about how their behavior can affect the spread of AIS. II.E.1.a: Conduct and coordinate AIS monitoring and implement the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain Invasive Species Program (GLLCISP) which supports the early detection of the spread of existing AIS to new bodies of water in the basin or new arrivals of AIS to Basin waters. — Number of projects/responses supported with results provided to managers and stakeholders
— Amount of funding allocated toward implementation
— Populate a Lake Champlain ANS Information System database with AIS species profiles for Lake Champlain
— Progress toward reducing the risk of AIS invasions to Lake Champlain via the Champlain and Chambly canal systems
  II.E.1.b: Support and implement the Lake Champlain AIS Rapid Response Management Plan to respond to new AIS infestations and mobilize resources to prevent spread.
  II.E.1.c: Maintain involvement in regional and national AIS programs, such as GLLCISP, ANSTF and NEANS Panel.
II.E.2: Work with Lake Champlain management partners to reduce the risk of AIS transport along pathways such as the Champlain and Chambly canal systems, overland transport on boats and trailers, illegal stocking and bait. II.E.2.a: Intercept AIS transportation on watercraft and equipment by expanding the Boat Launch Steward Program and decontamination station coverage. — Number of AIS decontamination stations operating at Lake Champlain public boat launches
— Number of boater interactions
— Number of AIS interceptions
— Percent of boaters taking spread prevention measures
  II.E.2.b: Fund and support implementation of an AIS barrier on the Champlain and Chambly Canals to prevent further invasions from species from the Hudson, St. Lawrence, and Great Lakes systems.
II.E.3: Support and conduct AIS management and research in the Basin. II.E.3.a: Eliminate, reduce, contain, or prevent the expansion of AIS populations in the Basin, including water chestnut and sea lamprey in Lake Champlain, using control techniques such hand pulling, benthic barrier matting, suction harvesting, and pesticides. — Number of applied research projects supported with results provided to managers and stakeholders
— Amount of funding allocated toward projects that address AIS concerns
— Lake and land area managed for invasive species
  II.E.3.b: Research and remain connected to new and innovative research, spread prevention programs and control technologies capable of addressing real and potential AIS species impacts, including sea lamprey, to the Lake Champlain ecosystem and fishery, human health, and the regional economy.
II.E.4: Work with Lake Champlain management partners to deliver and conduct multi-lingual AIS education and outreach behavior change campaigns targeted at the general public and water user groups. II.E.4.a: Fund, support, and develop multi-lingual AIS spread prevention initiatives that address pathways (water gardening, aquarium and spiritual releases, bait, etc.) and promote the national “Clean, Drain, and Dry” and “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers” messaging program. — Number of people engaged who demonstrate a minimum level of knowledge or attitude toward AIS spread prevention
— Number of traditionally underserved community groups engaged with AIS messaging

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