By now you know what your species needs to survive and thrive. You also have some ideas about what is going on in your watershed that may be causing stress to your species. Now comes the hard part - what are you going to do to make a difference?
Investigate Your Watershed & Water
You now know what your species needs to survive and thrive, and you probably have some ideas about why it might be under pressure. The next step is to really investigate your ecosystem, namely your watershed and local waterways, to see if there are some likely issues causing problems for the species you are focusing on. You should be asking yourself,
"Why is my species in trouble? What's going on here?"
In Minnesota, state agencies do extensive monitoring and assessment of the freshwater system across the state. These assessments are done at the watershed level. There are 80 different watersheds across the state, each of which has reports that provide useful information about land use, identified issues, and so forth.
You can learn a lot through the simple act of careful observation. You could walk along the banks or shores of a river, creek, or lake; you could conduct a “windshield survey” by driving and observing different crossings and inputs into waterways; or you could jump in a canoe and observe from the water. No matter your strategy, there is a lot of information available just by watching and asking, “what’s going on here?”
You can conduct tests on water samples from local waterways to get an idea of their condition, though keep in mind a test taken in one moment of time only offers a snapshot - you have to monitor water over time (or compare your results to historical data) to get a full understanding of the trends and conditions. Wilderness Inquiry is a proud partner of GLOBE.gov, which collects water quality data.
Benthic (meaning “bottom-dwelling”) macroinvertebrates are small aquatic animals and the aquatic larval stages of insects. They are visible without the aid of a microscope and are found in and around water bodies during some period of their lives, usually under rocks and leaves. Benthic macroinvertebrates are used as indicators of water quality because they spend all or most of their lives in water, are easy to collect, and differ in their tolerance to pollution. What types of macroinvertebrates you see can tell you about what's going on in the water.