Flood recovery project include new homes for fish

  • Published
  • By Nicholas Harnack
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

In a proactive move to bolster the aquatic ecosystem and counter the steady decline of sportfish condition and abundance, more than 50 artificial fish habitat structures were strategically submerged in the Base Lake recently.

Installed in various sizes and configurations, these structures, called Mossbacks, are crafted from recycled PVC to ensure long-lasting durability without the risk of biodegradation.

The units, designed to mimic the structure of small tree trunks and limbs, primarily serve to protect small baitfish and fry, crucial food sources for sportfish such as bass, crappie, wiper, walleye, bluegill and catfish within the Base Lake.

“Opting for artificial structures over real trees, such as disposed Christmas trees, was a deliberate choice due to their sustained integrity over time, enhanced small cavities for additional habitat, and a design that facilitates easier release of hooks from anglers,” said Zach Rigg, Air Force Civil Engineer Center natural resources manager.

This initiative responds to the observed decline in sportfish health and numbers since 2014, attributed to various factors, including the lack of physical structure in the lake caused by floods, storm events, and the encroachment of invasive species like Zebra Mussels. The invasive species, known for competing with baitfish and fry for resources, have further disrupted the ecosystem, exacerbating the challenges faced by young fish in finding protective cover.

With the lake hosting an increased population of common carp, grass carp, and the introduction of bighead carp and silver carp post-2019 flood, the need for comprehensive conservation measures became evident.

“Through AFCEC, we are supporting an on-going interagency support agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Great Plains Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office to monitor fish and invasive species populations in the base lake,” Rigg said. “Their office provided the recommendation to install the habitat structures. They have also been instrumental in stocking hundreds of thousands of sport fish in the lake over the past decade.

“We help manage and execute funds generated from permit sales with the 55th Civil Engineering Squadron; this includes installation of additional habitat features and some larger sportfish stocking in the coming year,” he added.

Looking ahead, a partnership with the University of Montana Center for Integrated Research on the Environment in 2024 will see the implementation of an angler survey to gauge success and guide future management practices. This collaborative approach underscores a commitment to the long-term health and sustainability of the Base Lake's aquatic ecosystem.