BLACKSBURG, Va., Nov. 12, 2003 – The Roanoke logperch, an endangered relative of the perch, has recently made the news because of chemical contamination of the Roanoke River in Salem.
"Chemical spills, however, are not the only threats to the Roanoke logperch," warns Virginia Tech fisheries researcher Jamie Roberts.
The logperch is a six-inch fish native to only four river systems throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. The fish have pointed snouts that they use to flip rocks and feed on the bugs underneath. They were federally listed as an endangered species in 1991.
After several years of study, Roberts, a Virginia Tech research scientist in the department of fisheries and wildlife science in the College of Natural Resources who coordinates the monitoring project for the endangered Roanoke logperch, explains, "The limited numbers of logperch in the Roanoke River can be attributed to large amounts of sediment entering the river from surrounding lands."
He adds, "Large amounts of very fine sediment particles, called silt, are detrimental to logperch populations because they decrease visibility in the water, smother fish eggs, and cover the rocks under which the fish look for food." According to Roberts, silt is the most common pollutant in rivers across the United States and is harmful to many fish, including the logperch.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commissioned the ongoing monitoring study as a stipulation of the Roanoke River Flood Reduction Project. A joint $70 million effort by the city of Roanoke and the Corps of Engineers, the flood project will modify the stream channel and possibly generate large amounts of silt, which may in turn negatively affect logperch populations. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) officials now believe that the river widening may also reduce the stream's ability to transport silt, causing even more sediment to deposit on the stream-bottom.
Environmental regulations required the Army Corps to hire a group of data collectors to monitor the species before and during construction. The group, spearheaded by Roberts, studies the logperch populations, habitat and water quality in the river and reports its findings to the Army Corps and the USFWS. If the data shows a 25 percent decline in the logperch population, the Corps must reinitiate consultation with the USFWS and consider alternative plans. Construction of the flood abatement project is currently set to start in summer 2004.
The College of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech is consistently ranks among the top five programs of its kind in the nation. Faculty members stress both the technical and human elements of natural resources and instill in students a sense of stewardship and land-use ethics. Areas of studies include environmental resource management, fisheries and wildlife sciences, forestry, geospatial and environmental analysis, natural resource recreation, urban forestry, wood science and forest products, geography, and international development.
Written by Lilly Cho, Public Affairs Intern