Healthy Ecosystems

Healthy Ecosystems

GOAL: Ecosystems that provide clean water for drinking and recreating, and intact habitat that is resilient to extreme events and free of aquatic invasive species where diverse fish and wildlife populations will flourish.

Healthy ecosystems provide invaluable services such as native species habitat, nutrient filtration, flood resilience, and sediment retention. These ecosystems in the Lake Champlain Basin support a lake that provides clean water for drinking and recreating, and healthy fish and wildlife populations. The aim of this goal is to strengthen the aquatic ecosystem by improving connectivity, supporting restoration efforts for species of concern, and reducing the risk of new invasions by non-native species.

The Lake Champlain Basin is a large freshwater ecosystem with a rich diversity and abundance of native fish, wildlife, and plants. These native species occupy a mosaic of interconnected aquatic and terrestrial habitats, including broad open waters, tributaries, wetlands, forests, agricultural lands, and other areas. Microscopic plankton, fish, birds, other wildlife, and plants are all intrinsically linked through the Lake Champlain food web. The structure, function, and balance of the food web is closely connected to water quality, habitat diversity, land use and human health. The abundance of fish, wildlife, and plant communities within the basin attract a wide array of recreational users, including hunters, anglers, trappers, paddlers, hikers, and bird watchers, providing a significant economic benefit to the regional economy. Natural species diversity is a highly valued part of the region’s natural heritage and a critical component of the ecosystem that we all share.


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.

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.

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Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are non-native plants, animals, and pathogens that harm the environment, economy, and/or human health. AIS that become established in the basin can pose serious threats to indigenous fish, wildlife and native plant populations, impede recreational activities, significantly alter the ecosystem of the Lake, and damage the economy of the region. Of the 50 known non-native aquatic species in Lake Champlain, about a dozen are classified as harmful AIS. Water chestnut is a particular concern because it impedes boat traffic and reduces recreational opportunities. Management of this AIS offers an opportunity for success, since several stands have been limited in range by management efforts.

AIS enter the Lake Champlain Basin through several pathways, most commonly through interconnected waterways, such as the Champlain and Chambly Canals and Richelieu River, or overland through human activities, such as boating and bait transport. Other pathways include accidental water garden releases, aquarium dumping, and illegal fish stocking. The interconnected waterways of Lake Champlain transcend the authority of any single state or jurisdiction, necessitating coordination among the different partners to address early detection, rapid response to new infestations, management of invasive species populations, and coordination of spread prevention programs. Once introduced into Lake Champlain, AIS have the potential to spread to other inland water bodies in the basin.

Work in the Basin to prevent the spread of AIS is enhanced by regional and national collaboration that connects the basin to the latest invasive species research, control technologies, education and outreach approaches, pathway management, and innovative partnerships. The Long-Term Monitoring Program on Lake Champlain is an essential component of aquatic invasive species early detection. For example, the first detection of spiny water flea came from a routine net tow at an established Main Lake site.

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Maintaining a high level of biodiversity is critical for a healthy ecosystem in the face of increasing threats from habitat loss and degradation, AIS, and climate change. Rare, threatened, and endangered species, such as the pink heel splitter (a native mussel), common tern, lake sturgeon, and spiny softshell turtle, are of particular management concern and are protected under state, provincial and federal legislation. To ensure sustainable native fish populations, state and federal agencies assess and stock native and sport fish species in Lake Champlain. In addition, the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative regularly monitors populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon, lake trout, brown trout, American eel, lake sturgeon, walleye, and northern pike, and conducts targeted research on limiting factors to guide future management.


  • Identify threats to species of concern from climate change
    The LCBP will maintain and expand the existing Lake Champlain monitoring sites to inform assessments of threats to critical habitat for indigenous species, impacts of invasive species, and management strategies to help increase species resilience.
  • Develop comprehensive strategies for habitat protection and restoration in priority sub-watersheds of the basin
    The LCBP will support research and monitoring efforts to inform these subwatershed-level comprehensive strategies, and to facilitate and coordinate among the partners working on these strategies.
  • Increase AIS spread prevention awareness and prevent new invasions
    The LCBP will increase boat launch steward coverage and decontamination stations at public by 30% at state and provincial launches through the boat launch steward program and increase access to watercraft decontamination units at high traffic priority sites.
  • Reduce the spatial presence of water chestnut in Lake Champlain
    The LCBP will maintain support of the water chestnut program through hand-harvesting or mechanical harvesting, as needed, through 2022.

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Objective II.A. Support Conservation of Vulnerable Habitat

Identify and conserve refugia and protect migration corridors to support conservation of vulnerable habitats in the Basin.

NOTE: Task areas identified with ** denote task areas that should be targeted with LCBP funds. Other task areas may be more appropriate for other watershed management agencies or partners to support.

Strategy Task Area Anticipated Output Outcome
Protect Important Riparian, Shoreland and Wetland Habitat Areas

Work with Lake Champlain management partners to conserve vulnerable lands by protecting important habitat areas including river corridors, shorelands, wetlands and other critical habitat areas.
II.A.1.a: Support programs to expand protection of river corridors. Reduce impacts from land use and climate change including intense run-off events from more frequent and intense storms, and maintain connectivity in the face of climate change. 100 acres of river corridors conserved; cost per acre conserved documented. More stable stream corridors, increased shading and recruitment of woody material in the stream channel to improve fish habitat.
  II.A.1.b: Support programs to increase protection of lake shorelands..
Reduce the loss of shoreline habitat that results from development and armoring.
2,000 feet of critical lake shoreland protected, enhanced, or conserved, including 500 feet of shoreland in Missisquoi Bay. Shoreline best management practices decrease erosion to protect habitat and property and assist with land protection.
  II.A.1.c: Support research to identify vulnerable lands for conservation. .
Support research to identify critical corridors for protection that may be susceptible to high nutrient runoff and/or support critical to rare, threatened or endangered species.
Areas of high conservation need will be identified and a minimum of five projects supported to identify areas of conservation need or to assist with protection of these areas. Critical habitat preservation, species protection, nutrient loading reduction and wildlife corridors improved.
  II.A.1.d: Support programs to assist with conservation of critical habitat areas. .
Protect habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species of high conservation need.
Critical habitat areas identified in priority watersheds and assistance with conservation of 50 acres of critical wildlife habitat. One large-scale research project may identify critical habitats in need of conservation in priority watersheds in the basin or local grants will be granted to municipalities, NGOs, and planning organizations to implement conservation plans.

Related Partner Watershed Management Plans:

  • Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department – Vermont Conservation Design: The lands and waters identified in this project are the areas of the state that are of highest priority for maintaining ecological integrity. Together, these lands comprise a connected landscape of large and intact forested habitat, healthy aquatic and riparian systems, and a full range of physical features (bedrock, soils, elevation, slope, and aspect) on which plant and animal natural communities depend. When conserved or managed appropriately to retain or enhance ecological function, these lands will sustain Vermont’s natural legacy into the future.
  • USFWS/North Atlantic LCC – Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas: The Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas (RCOAs) project facilitated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) brings together experts from Northeast 13 states, conservation organizations, and universities to identify places where the actions of individual agencies to support imperiled species and Species of Greatest Conservation Need, restore priority ecosystems, protect core landscapes, and promote connectivity between them, will have the greatest benefit for fish and wildlife across the region. The result of this collaborative effort is a suite of decision-support tools and regionally consistent datasets that offer voluntary guidance for partners working at different scales in the Northeast region to identify the best opportunities to protect land and restore habitat, and to justify those actions to stakeholders and funders.

Objective II.B. Preserve and Enhance Biodiversity

Research and evaluation of management programs will foster a better understanding of how species interact in the lake’s food web and in the surrounding watershed. Work to protect rare, threatened, and endangered species, and the selection of best management practices will help restore native species and those of high conservation need.

NOTE: Task areas identified with ** denote task areas that should be targeted with LCBP funds. Other task areas may be more appropriate for other watershed management agencies or partners to support.

Strategy Task Area Anticipated Output Outcome
Develop and Support Programs that Improve Diversity of Aquatic and Riparian Species in the Basin

Under this strategy, LCBP will work with Lake Champlain management partners to improve our understanding of the functions and threats to the Lake Champlain ecosystem, and work toward protection and restoration of native species.
II.B.1.a: Support research to better understand food web dynamics. Fund research to improve understanding of lower to upper food web interactions and impacts of changing external and internal drivers, such as temperature or precipitation fluctuations, new species, or changes in abundance of existing species. Up to three high priority aquatic organisms studied with resource management implications and specific impacts to species of interest identified (qualified or quantified) Improved basin-wide data for selected threatened and endangered species will provide better informed management decisions.
  II.B.1.b: Assess threatened and endangered species information gaps.
Support state and provincial efforts to describe information gaps for threatened and endangered or Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) species to inform management restoration efforts.
Support a species-specific research project and multiple habitat restoration projects. Enhanced protection of threatened and endangered species through generation of critical information to inform management decisions for these species.
  II.B.1.c: Protect and restore native species.
Preserve and connect critical habitat areas of native species, and reduce fragmentation by man-made structures such as roads, culverts, and other human landscape features.
Projects that improve native species restoration, aquatic organism passage, wetland restoration, or other habitat restoration interventions. Protect and restore habitat areas that support native species.
  **II.B.1.d: Support research to assess success of current ecosystem management programs.
Review the effects of recent management decisions to inform new decisions, priorities, and management actions.
Solicit outside consultant to evaluate outcomes of management decisions to inform new management priorities, support monitoring of restoration projects to determine long-term effects. Improved understanding of the effects of funding cycles on the development of new management priorities (decision feedback loop).

Partner Management Plans related to this strategy:

  • USFWS, Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, Dwight D. Eisenhower and White River National Fish Hatcheries – Fisheries Restoration, Assessment and Research: Restoration of natural populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in the Lake Champlain Basin requires understanding and addressing multiple limiting factors for this priority species. The states of Vermont and New York and USFWS have established a high quality lake fishery for salmon that is supported by stocking hatchery reared yearlings in combination with a highly successful sea lamprey control program. Salmon are now entering rivers trying to spawn in the fall. The USFWS in cooperation with the states and local universities, is leading a long-term assessment and research program to enhance and restore river run salmon populations. Projects are currently focused on opportunities to improve return rates of adults to focal rivers by characterizing homing and imprinting cues and identifying physiological indicators of smoltification. Now that spawning runs of salmon have been established, USFWS is quantifying impact of thiamine deficiency (caused by eating non-native alewife) on migration and reproductive performance and assessing options for improving performance. Downstream passage of smolts through three main stem dams in one focal river as well as response to a main stem dam removal in other focal river are also being evaluated. Results from these projects demonstrate potential for rapid increases in the success of Atlantic salmon reintroduction efforts using hatchery-reared smolts combined with targeted research, assessment and adaptive management. The Dwight D. Eisenhower and White River National Fish Hatcheries are assisting the States of Vermont and New York with rearing and stocking lake trout for Lake Champlain and other lakes. The Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office is also assisting Québec in restoration efforts for American eel in Lake Champlain and the greater St. Lawrence River by conducting eel surveys in Lake Champlain to monitor success of stocking efforts and new passage facilities.
  • Strategic Plan for Lake Champlain Fisheries: 2010. Marsden, J.E., Chipman, B.D., Pientka, B., Schoch, W.F., and Young, B.A. 2010. Great Lakes Fish. Comm. Misc. Publ. 2010-03

Objective II.C. Prevent the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species

Education and outreach to targeted audiences such as the boating community, water gardeners, anglers, and aquarium and pet owners will help prevent the spread of new and existing AIS in the Basin.

NOTE: Task areas identified with ** denote task areas that should be targeted with LCBP funds. Other task areas may be more appropriate for other watershed management agencies or partners to support.

Strategy Task Area Anticipated Output Outcome
Preventing New Invasions: Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR).

Under this strategy, LCBP will work with Lake Champlain management partners to monitor for and respond to invasions of aquatic species, and to educate different stakeholders about how their behavior can affect the spread of AIS.
**II.C.1.a:Conduct and coordinate AIS monitoring (EDRR). Support early detection of the spread of existing AIS to new bodies of water in the basin or new arrivals of AIS to basin waters through the Long-Term Monitoring Program (LTMP). LTMP annual reports on AIS early detection and tracking of new AIS arrivals to the Basin. AIS managers are aware of the arrival of new species as quickly as possible.
  **II.C.1.b: Provide AIS Rapid Response Support.
Resources for responding to new arrivals are ready to be mobilized (in the form of personnel, equipment, and funding) quickly to prevent the spread of the AIS invasion.
Rapid Response Task Force determines if containment, management or eradication are feasible for a new infestation in the basin within weeks of a confirmed new species or spread of an existing species to a new body of water. New AIS are contained, managed, or eradicated as quickly as possible.
  **II.C.1.c: Assist partners with rapid response and other AIS management plans. Implementation of targeted management responses to new invasion within timeframe identified in the Rapid Response Management Plan for the Lake Champlain Basin. New AIS are contained, managed, or eradicated as quickly as possible.
  **II.C.1.d: Maintain involvement in regional and national AIS programs. The Lake Champlain Basin ANS Management Plan will be maintained and implemented annually. The LCBP and Basin issues will be represented on the national ANS Task Force and NEANS Panel. Regional AIS spread prevention programs will prevent introduction and spread of AIS, and the public will be better informed about AIS threats.
Reduce AIS Spread Along Pathways
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 use, water gardening, and aquarium dumping through targeted education and outreach campaigns aimed to change behaviors that may help to spread AIS.
Support implementation of an AIS barrier on the Champlain/Chambly canals
**II.C.2.a: Intercept AIS transportation on watercraft and equipment. Education and outreach programs inform visitors of the steps they can take to help prevent the spread of invasive species by cleaning, draining, and drying their boats and equipment. Increased number of boat launch stewards and boat wash stations on Lake Champlain and in the basin, targeting launches or waterbodies with known AIS with outbound traffic to uninvaded waterways. This task area will produce annual program summaries. Increased boater awareness of AIS issues and spread prevention measures they can take to reduce the risk of spreading AIS among waterbodies.
  **II.C.2.b: Support implementation of an AIS barrier on the Champlain/Chambly canals. Research and installation of a barrier to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species through the Champlain and Chambly canals will prevent further invasions of species from the Hudson, St. Lawrence, and Great Lakes systems. LCBP will support a NYS Canal Corporation and USACE project to determine the feasibility of a barrier on the Champlain Canal. The threat of introduction and spread of AIS into and out of Lake Champlain through the canal systems will be reduced or eliminated.
Support and Conduct AIS Management and Research

Work with Lake Champlain management partners to support and conduct AIS management and research in the basin.
**II.C.3.a: Reduce and contain AIS populations in the Basin.
Eliminate or prevent the expansion of AIS populations using control techniques such hand pulling, benthic barrier matting, suction harvesting, and pesticides.
Continued LCBP support for water chestnut management efforts in Lake Champlain and aquatic invasive species spread prevention grants to lake associations. Reduced number of acres of water chestnut managed by mechanical harvester in Lake Champlain and the amount of AIS removed from Lake Champlain water bodies.
  **II.C.3.b: Research new control technologies and AIS impacts to the environment, economy, and human health.
Remain connected to new and innovative research and spread prevention programs capable of addressing AIS concerns in the Lake Champlain watershed. Connections will be made between existing AIS, new potential invasions, and the impacts of these invasions or potential invasions to the Lake Champlain ecosystem, human health, and the regional economy.
This task area will address the landscape-level spread of AIS in the basin using the boat launch steward data and by examining new research on species impacts and control technologies. Examination of steward and other AIS-related databases and control technologies will inform management strategies and target certain access points or species.
Conduct AIS Public Outreach
Under this strategy, LCBP will work with Lake Champlain management partners to deliver education and outreach behavior change campaigns targeted at the general public and targeted water user groups (aquarium owners, boat owners, water gardeners, etc.).
**II.C.4.a: Support programs that improve AIS spread prevention behaviors Develop bilingual AIS spread prevention initiatives that address multiple pathways and promote the national Clean, Drain, and Dry Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers messaging program. AIS educational brochures, videos, PSAs, and social media tools. Increased awareness by stakeholder groups about AIS spread prevention issues and increase in spread prevention behavior among high-risk boating groups.

Partner watershed management plans related to this strategy:

  • USFWS Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office; Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative – Sea Lamprey Control: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collaborates with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department as part of the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative to control sea lamprey in the Lake Champlain Basin. The sea lamprey is a parasitic fish that has affected the native lake trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon populations in Lake Champlain most severely while also depressing the populations of other species such as lake trout, walleye and the endangered lake sturgeon. Sea lamprey control is essential for restoration of Lake Champlain’s fisheries. USFWS and partners follow a 5-Step adaptive management process to evaluate and manage sea lamprey in Lake Champlain.
  • Lake Champlain Rapid Response Plan: In May 2009, the Lake Champlain Steering Committee approved the Lake Champlain Basin Rapid Response Action Plan for Aquatic Invasive Species. This plan is intended to ensure that appropriate protocols, trained personnel, equipment, permits, and other resources are in place to contain and potentially eradicate newly detected nonnative aquatic invasive species as they are reported in the Basin. Task Force members from Québec, New York, and Vermont have been appointed to respond to and oversee rapid response actions.

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