Nothing says “hello spring” in Warwick like the running of the buckeyes. These unassuming herrings make a journey from the ocean starting each March up little creeks and streams in order to spawn in freshwater ponds.
Unfortunately, those who have memories of these fish running up Buckeye Brook all share the same story. Where there once used to be so many fish that you could hardly make out the bottom of the brook, now there are periods in the spring where it’s rare to see a single fish crossing under the bridge that spans over the brook on Warwick Avenue.
A changing environment and natural fluctuations in predation by their natural predators can account for some of the low numbers of herring seen in Rhode Island in the past 15 years or so, however over fishing cannot be overlooked, and hasn’t been, as the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) instituted a moratorium on fishing these herring recreationally starting in March of 2006. That ban has persisted, and will continue throughout 2018 as well.
This conservation is important work, and since DEM only has so many resources to spread throughout the many waterways of the state, it has long enlisted the help of local volunteers to count the number of Buckeyes passing through popular spawning channels in North Kingstown, Tiverton and right here at Buckeye Brook in Warwick.
Preferably in the morning and afternoon hours, volunteers are encouraged to head down to the official counting spot by the aforementioned bridge in Warwick and retrieve from a box there a clicker and an official counting sheet. For a 10-minute interval, volunteers click off on the counter the number of herring they see swimming from the south side of the brook, over a white marker in the brook and underneath the bridge towards Warwick Pond.
These numbers go to DEM, who then coordinates with the federal government to create as accurate a picture as possible in regards to the number of river herring in the state and beyond. It’s important work that includes local communities and can drum up interest in helping preserve the environment and its wildlife in everyday citizens – all good things.
Warwick, especially, has a group of highly dedicated individuals whose mission is to preserve the city’s natural features that too many take for granted. The Friends of Warwick Ponds and the Buckeye Brook Coalition consist of people from the community who have fond memories of recreating in Warwick waterways and, yes, watching the buckeyes swim up the brook to populate the ponds.
Comprised within the leadership of these groups are individuals who have storied careers in the private sectors of engineering and conservancy; people who have impressive resumes and levels of interest and knowledge about these topics that most others do not. They want nothing more than to be able to help push the agenda that our local waters need protection, and that they have valuable input to include in conversations and processes involving them.
That is why the Beacon is pleased that the city’s Department of Public Works decided to include these individuals, as well as other stakeholders from the area, in an ongoing discussion about how to handle blockage within Buckeye Brook that is causing the Warwick Pond to regularly flood and render some residents’ backyards inhospitable, when they historically have never had such problems.
The culprit appears to be invasive plants called phragmites. These common reeds have a tendency to grow and tangle together, causing significant obstruction in the flow of waterways and can result in the type of flooding and environmental havoc that we’re seeing occur at Warwick Pond.
There is no simple solution to ridding the ecosystem of these plants, and all solutions have to go through DEM at least to some extent, as mitigating them equates to altering a protected wetland. Removal techniques can be potentially hazardous to the surrounding environment, such as through the use of targeted herbicides, and it can be costly. A bid to conduct analysis to simply figure out what the best solution would be is projected to cost more than $125,000.
Initially, DPW asked to go forward with this analysis before sitting down with the stakeholders and community advocates who have such a passion for these waterways that exist, literally, right in their back yards. However, after speaking up at the Warwick City Council meeting on March 19 and expressing their interest in being involved, that is exactly what happened – that meeting is taking place this morning at 10 a.m. at City Hall.
Hopefully, the meeting is intended to do more than placate the advocates who asked to have a seat at the table, as the city can probably glean some insight from the people who care deeply about this issue. At the very least, having all voices that wish to be heard is an important part of any Democratic process, and is a healthy practice for the city government to engage in.