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ExploitsRiverEcosystem

Visit the Grand Falls-Windsor Salmonid Interpretation Centre and Fishway
Watch Atlantic salmon migrate upstream by viewing them through underwater observation windows on the lower deck of the Salmonid Intepretation Centre, just 4 kilometres south of Grand Falls-Windsor on the Exploits River. Open from mid-June to early September, the Centre also features exhibits of the history, biology, ecology and habitat of Atlantic salmon, and highlights one of the largest salmon enhancement projects in North America.
A Spectacular Surge in Salmon
For Atlantic salmon, migrating inland from the North Atlantic Ocean, the cool, swift-flowing waters and rocky riverbeds of Newfoundland's largest watershed offer ideal spawning conditions. But prior to the 1950's, only about 10% of the Exploits River and its tributaries functioned as Atlantic salmon habitat. Natural barriers, such as the 43-metre waterfall at Grand Falls, and man-made obstacles - hydroelectric power plants at Grand Falls and Bishop's Falls and a dam at Red Indian Lake - prevented the salmon from using all but the lower part of the waterway.

A thriving Exploits commercial salmon fishery in the 1700's and 1800's was concentrated at the mouth and lower stretch of the River, with nets and weirs used to block the upstream run. Aggressive harvesting techniques near the coast were so successful that by the 1870's stocks of salmon were showing signs of serious decline. The development of the pulp and paper industry at the lower end of the River in the early 1900's halted the commercial salmon fishery before the Exploits' stocks were completely destroyed.

Throughout much of the 20th century, the Exploits salmon run remained unremarkable. But In the past few decades it has increased dramatically, from a few hundred to as many as 33,000 in the late 1990's. The Exploits is now one of the most outstanding salmon rivers in North America, part of a legendary Newfoundland group of waterways that also includes the Gander and the Humber. The remarkable surge in Exploits salmon is the result of several enhancement initiatives throughout the watershed:

Fishway Installations - Since 1960, fishways have been built at Great Rattling Brook, Noel Paul's Brook, Bishop's Falls, Grand Falls and Red Indian Lake, providing spawning salmon with access to the lower, middle and upper sections of the Exploits.
Stocking and Transfer - Between 1957 and 1965, 3,000 spawning salmon were transferred to the upper reaches of the Exploits, and ongoing stocking programs using both adults and fry have resulted in successful salmon colonization of several stretches of the river.
Commercial Fishing Moratorium - The termination of the northern cod fishery in 1992 eliminated the by-catch of Atlantic salmon in cod fishing gear, resulting in a surge of migrating salmon into freshwater inland rivers.
Pollution Control - Secondary waste water treatment at the Grand Falls pulp and paper plant, introduced in 1995 downstream of the Grand Falls fishway, has improved water quality by reducing suspended solids and biological oxygen demand (BOD).
Sport Fishery Management - Strictly enforced bag limits and catch-and-release policies are applied throughout the watershed. Retention limits are adjusted to reflect annual salmon runs.

A Bog Full of Bakeapples
Plump, juicy, and packed with vitamin C, the golden orange berries of the wild bakeapple plant ripen in the bogs of the Newfoundland interior each summer. Single white 5-petalled flowers appear on the plant early in the season, followed by a raspberry-shaped fruit that ripens from red to yellow-orange. The bakeapple plant, a member of the rose family, prefers the acidic soil of peatland bogs, and is closely related to the raspberry, blackberry, and thimbleberry. Bakeapples are highly prized for use in jams and tarts, and are considered to be a delicacy of Newfoundland and Labrador cuisine. In Scandinavia, bakeapples are known as cloudberries.
Caribou Country
With its dense stands of mature spruce forests, abundant supply of lichens and low-growing shrubs, and balanced blend of uplands, lowlands and wetlands, the Exploits River valley provides an ideal habitat for caribou. The province of Newfoundland is home to the world's most southerly herd of woodland caribou, one of 7 subspecies of caribou found worldwide.

While woodland caribou numbers in western regions of Canada's boreal forests have dwindled to the point of endangerment (due to timber harvesting, oil and gas exploration, mining and other development), Newfoundland's caribou herds have remained robust. East of the Exploits River, in the province's 2,895 square kilometre Bay Du Nord Wilderness Reserve, 15,000 - 20,000 woodland caribou of the Middle Ridge herd breed and winter on the rugged terrain. The total caribou population of Newfoundland is estimated to be 60,000 - 100,000, with more than 15 herds roaming the island. Once found only in the dense forests of the interior, the antlered animals are now frequently sighted along busy roadsides and populated coastlines.

Miracle Moss
Although it is commonly known by the misnomers "caribou moss" or "reindeer moss," the dietary staple of the woodland caribou is actually a lichen. The low-growing, foamy, gray-green, sponge-like plant that grows throughout Newfoundland (and around the globe in arctic and northern temperate regions) is a "fruticose" lichen, with a structure that resembles a miniature tree or shrub. It is composed of both an alga and a fungus. The alga produces chlorophyll, and the fungus is made up of spongy threads that keep the plant from drying out.

The tissues of caribou moss can survive cold temperatures and low light conditions, allowing it to survive beneath the snow. The plant is low in protein content, but high in carbohydrates, providing caribou with the energy they need to survive long, cold Newfoundland winters.

In the Exploits River valley, and throughout Newfoundland, human hunters are the woodland caribou's most significant predators. The optimal habitat conditions that produce trophy-sized animals also attract big game hunters from far and wide. (Newfoundland is one of the few locations in the world in which sport hunting for caribou is permitted. Success rates approach 100%, but non-residents must be accompanied by licensed guides.)

Black bears and lynx also prey on caribou, but the most deadly natural threat to the province's herds disappeared in the 1930's, when the Newfoundland wolf became extinct.

Caribou Characteristics

• Woodland caribou are members of the deer family. Other caribou subspecies around the world include barren-ground, Svalbard, European, Finnish forest reindeer, Greenland, and Peary.

• The woodland caribou is short and stocky, with a flat muzzle and prominent antlers. Its summer coat is dark brown, with a white neck, chest, belly and rump. The white mane of the males becomes more pronounced during breeding season. The caribou's coat fades to grayish-white during the winter.


Big Game Balance

With about 120,000 moose, 80,000 caribou, and 5,000 black bear roaming the forests of Newfoundland, big game hunting is both a way of life and a thriving commercial business. Each year, provincial government big game managers use information derived from aerial surveys and annual hunter reports to determine population numbers and trends. Hunting license quotas are set, based on a balance between the mortality rate and the "recruitment rate" (the number of animals being produced and surviving to adulthood). Quotas are adjusted so that target populations will be achieved over a 10-year period.
• Woodland caribou are about 1.2 metres tall, and 1.8 metres in length. Males (bulls) weigh on average, 180 kilograms, females (cows) average 130 kilograms. In Newfoundland, where environmental conditions are optimal, males can grow to weigh 250 kilograms.

• Caribou are the only members of the deer family in which both sexes grow antlers. Mature bulls shed their antlers after breeding season in early winter, while young bulls drop theirs in mid-winter. Cows retain their antlers during the winter, dropping them in the spring when calving is completed. The antler racks of both bulls and cows are large and intricate, but the bull's antlers are larger than a cow's, growing to a width of 1 - 1.2 metres.

• Unlike barren-ground caribou that migrate vast distances in large herds, woodland caribou live in small bands and inhabit a limited territorial range.

• The woodland caribou is an herbivore (plant-eater). Its diet consists of ground and tree lichens, shrubs and grasses, with 60% -70% of its calorie intake provided by lichens.

• The woodland caribou is highly adapted to rugged terrain and harsh winter weather. Its keen sense of smell allows it to detect snow-covered lichens, and its digestive system contains microorganisms that enable it to process large quantities of the carbohydrate-rich plants. Its large, crescent-shaped hooves allow it to maintain balance and speed over snow and muskeg, to paddle quickly through rivers, streams and bogs, and to dig through deep snow to reach winter food. Short, fur-covered ears, a short tail, and a coat of hollow air minimize heat loss and provide excellent insulation in cold temperatures, and a slowed metabolism reduces wintertime energy requirements.


Protecting the White Pine
Forestry and fungus - in central Newfoundland, both have contributed to a major decline in the once-dominant white pine. Aggressive harvesting in the early 20th century, combined with the a lethal parasite fungus known as white pine blister rust, has devastated much the region's remaining white pine.

In 1999, the provincial government introduced a white pine protection policy, designed to prevent further decline of the tree species. The policy calls for all juvenile white pine in pre-commercial thinning areas to be left standing and for white pine reforestation in mixture with other species. The protection measures also provide for continued research into blister rust management, a moratorium placed on the issuing of any new commercial permits for white pine harvesting, a moratorium on harvesting of white pine by domestic cutters on both Crown and industry limits, and the possible establishment of protected white pine preservation areas.

• Woodland caribou have a low reproductive rate compared to other ungulates such as moose, deer and elk. Most cows give birth to only 1 calf per season. Calves weigh approximately 5 kilograms at birth, but double their weight within 10 days.

• Woodland caribou can live up to 15 years, but their average lifespan is just under 5 years.