Memorial University of Newfoundland: Dr. Michael van Zyll de Jong

November 6, 2017

Everyone can use a little help overcoming obstacles in their way, especially if their lives depend on it.

Fortunately, a project lead by Memorial University of Newfoundland is looking at the impact of instream barriers and climate change on wild Atlantic salmon population persistence and production in forested boreal watersheds.

The project location is insular Newfoundland, and is possible as the result of $63,300 in grant funding from the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation.

Dr. Michael van Zyll de Jong, Adjunct Professor with the Environmental Policy Institute School of Science and Environment at Memorial University – Grenfell Campus, explains that stream crossings such as culverts can act as barriers to fish movement and reduce the accessibility and quantity of available suitable habitat.

“These barriers stop fish movement and prevent fish from accessing different habitats necessary for survival,” he said. “In addition, stream habitat fragmentation alters fish assemblages, reduces population resilience to environmental disturbance and reduces genetic mixing. Considering the historical distribution and ongoing construction of forestry roads in the Newfoundland boreal forest, assessing the impacts of this habitat fragmentation from forestry stream crossings is critical to allow for future planning.”

In Newfoundland, more than 15,000 potential barriers exist which could potentially be fragmenting thousands of kilometers of fish habitats. Compounding the impact of barriers is the effect of global warming in northern environments and is expected to intensify the vulnerability of northern fishes.

“As a consequence of these varied impacts, planners are being tasked with incorporating the cumulative effects of agents of change (i.e., forest road building practices and climate change) on ecological values (i.e., Atlantic salmon populations and their habitat) and then using these relationships to project future scenarios to aid in decision-making and policy development. Today, managers need tractable approaches to assess the vulnerability of populations and habitats and to guide implementation of road crossings and a mechanism to prioritize mitigation actions with limited management resources.”

The purpose of this project is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the cumulative effect of road placement, in-stream barriers and climate change on wild Atlantic salmon population persistence and accessibility of suitable habitat.  This knowledge will be used to develop an assessment methodology and decision-making framework to enable conservation authorities to assess the vulnerability of populations and habitats and to guide efficient implementation of barrier removal or mitigation strategies.

“In addition, the inclusion of climate change predictions in planning and assessment will allow resource management agencies to adopt effective climate change adaptation policies. The knowledge gained from these tools and approaches are easily transferable to the rest of Atlantic Canada.”

The main project objectives are to: develop a geo-spatial data inventory of parameters describing the nature and impact of in-stream barriers; demonstrate current and predict cumulative ecological impacts of climate change and other interacting stressors (i.e., forestry and transport activities) on wild Atlantic salmon population persistence and stock production in boreal forest watersheds; and create an assessment and decision making framework and required analytical tools for predicting fish passability, dendritic connectivity and prioritizing barrier removal and mitigation at the regional and watershed specific level.

“The tool will be designed to assess vulnerability and risk to fish species under varying change scenario and mitigation alternatives. Use of the tool will allow for the development of best adaptive responses and more innovative policy responses to key sectors in forestry and transport.”