For the Hoosic’s natural community, the last five hundred years have been chaotic! Before then, the watershed was mostly forested, though Native Americans cleared fields and raised crops along river valleys. In some areas they also burned the woods regularly, thus managing the land to produce more wild game. Wolves, deer, and bison all roamed here. The Hudson River contained salmon; trout were abundant in tributaries such as the Hoosic, Walloomsac, Tomhannock and Kinderhook.

Ever since the first colonial settlers arrived in the 1600s the natural community has been changing rapidly and drastically. Many forces have been at work– the clearing of forests for crops and pastures, the damming and pollution of the river, the arrival of new pests and pathogens, and (more recently) the effects of acid precipitation, roads, and ever more non-native species. Wolves, mountain lion, fisher, bison, moose, deer, and salmon either disappeared entirely or became quite rare. Introduced insects and diseases devastated the American chestnut, American elm, and other trees.

Over the past century, as farms faded away, factories shut down, and stricter environmental laws came into effect, some of the vanished native species returned to our recovering lands and waters, where they mingle and compete with a host of new species. The forests and streams we enjoy today may remind us of the old wilderness, but they are really different, and still changing. They are a mix of old and new-some species declining, others thriving. All play a role in maintaining clean air and clean water in the watershed.

Here’s a sampling of the watershed’s natural communities:

  • Streams and Rivers.
  • Streams and rivers in the watershed range from small headwater brooks that are cold, shallow, shady, and rocky, to the wide, deep, sunlit mainstem of the lower Hoosic. Most living things in the upper streams depend on dead leaves and wood for food, either directly or indirectly. The lower reaches of the river support aquatic plants and a more complex animal community. Trout do best where the water is cold, clean, and well-oxygenated, so the shady, forested tributaries are important to them.

    Typical species will be illustrated here!

  • Lakes, Ponds, Pools, and Wetlands.
  • There are few extensive wetlands (marshes or swamps) in the watershed. There are several lakes, most of them made by damming the Hoosic or its tributaries. These include Cheshire Reservoir in Massachusetts and Tomhannock Reservoir in New York. Beaver ponds are common, as are small vernal pools in the forest. Food chains in the lakes and ponds are based on algae and other aquatic plants; the shady woodland pools depend mostly on dead leaves and wood as a food supply. This variety of watery habitats helps maintain the watershed’s biological diversity.

    Typical species will be illustrated here!

  • Riparian Forest.
  • The riverbank is an ever-changing scene, and the forest that grows there is a special kind of community that can handle a lot of challenges. Riverbank plants are battered by floodwater, floating debris, and ice. They are undermined or buried as the river constantly removes and deposits sediments. But there are good things about riverbank life too. Water, nutrients, and sunlight are fairly abundant, and there is often fresh ground for new seed to grow. As a result, the riparian community is full of plants that excel at colonizing sandbars, or resisting immersion, or transporting their seeds via water, or taking quick advantage of sunny gaps on the riverbank or in the river floodplain.
    Riparian forest is extremely important as a buffer between the upland and the river. It intercepts stormwater and meltwater runoff, so that sediments and pollutants in the runoff settle out instead of being carried into the river. The forest’s network of roots and other vegetation stabilizes streambanks, preventing erosion and property loss. It also provides habitat and a travel corridor for many river-dependent species such as mink, otter, wood turtles, and wading birds.

    Typical species will be illustrated here!

  • Upland Forest.
  • The Hoosic watershed uplands include both northern mixed hardwood forest and conifer forest, depending on terrain and soil. Even when it is miles uphill from the Hoosic, forest protects the river in many ways. A forest absorbs precipitation and allows it to percolate into the ground, preventing the excess runoff that leads to floods. Forests also help to stabilize soil, especially on slopes, thus preventing erosion. Forests are also critical for keeping tributary streams clean, shaded and cool. Cool, clean tributaries help maintain a cool, clean Hoosic mainstem. The Hoosic’s health starts under the trees at the very top of the watershed!

    Typical species will be illustrated here!

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