Missouri has 56,000 miles of streams. This past spring I was exploring one of those many miles along a nearby creek and was surprised by an unusually long, skinny fish with spots on its tail. It rose up then disappeared into a deeper pool. Apparently it was a long nose gar that had floated in when the spring waters rose. It was fun to see a fish so odd, so different from the usual minnows, darters and bass just suddenly appear.
With every new visit to the creek, though, the sand and muddy banks have grown and the water has shrunk into shallower, scummier pools. I never did see the gar after that first sighting—probably became a raccoon or heron’s food. But seeing those shrinking pools made me wonder what becomes of all that aquatic life when there’s no place to go? Is this just normal for summer, or are things tougher these days?
I asked Steve Eder, Fisheries Division chief, about it. He said that summer always meant less water in small streams. As waters warm, many fish move downstream into deeper water. Plants increase along exposed banks. Things get eaten, things die. But the difference is that there aren’t as many deep pools left across the state in the small streams to give fish and other aquatic life a place to hang out in the tough, dry times. (Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but close to it.) The reason for the loss of those protective pools is what happens on the land. When plant cover is removed, soil and gravel go down the slopes, into the streams, and fill up the deeper pools. Then when the summer comes, there are fewer places for the remaining fish and other life to go.
So the challenge is the small choices we make every day the rest of the year. Missouri Stream Teams are one way people can help local waterways. You can join and form your own team if you own land with a stream on it, or get together with people where you live. At least see what’s out there, close to home. Who knows what you’ll find? Why wait to see the weird and wonderful animal life on TV when you can get outdoors and find it on your own?