BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Tom Berry hasn't had much chance to sit back and relax over the past few weeks.

As the new director of the Lake Champlain Program, Berry will act as a figurative bridge between the Adirondack and Vermont chapters of the Nature Conservancy to ensure the lake's biodiversity receives special attention.

He has spent his first weeks meeting with prominent players on both sides of the lake as he begins to develop a plan of action in dealing with the lake's biodiversity needs.

"I've been meeting with a lot of people who know the most about the lake and can figure out where I will have the most impact on biodiversity," Berry said from his new office, which is located on the campus of the University of Vermont in Burlington.

"I've been in an information-gathering mode for the most part, and that should go on for another week or so," he added. "From that, we should be able to put together a work plan based on the report the Nature Conservancy recently did."

That 20-page report, titled "Conserving Lake Champlain's Biodiversity," categorizes the current status of the lake's biodiversity as "fair" and in need of "significant conservation efforts" to ensure an improvement in the lake's ecological health.

"This report is somewhat unique," Berry said of the document. "Others focus specifically on water quality or on particular species of focus such as walleye, sea lampreys or water chestnuts. The Nature Conservancy's focus, and my overall, is on biodiversity."

Berry believes much of his attention over the summer will focus on stream stabilization to help reduce erosion entering the Lake Champlain basin, which has a direct impact on the lake's water quality.

"It seems like when the Nature Conservancy gets involved in these kinds of projects, that adds a little power to them," he said. "We might be able to get better results and, at the same time, provide improved habitat for many species."

In New York, he hopes to spend a lot of time studying fish passages along streams to identify areas where improvements can be made to ensure fish can move up and down streams efficiently.

With a focus on ecosystem management and biodiversity, the Nature Conservancy hopes to attract new sources of federal funding and secure sustained commitment from government agencies in Vermont, New York and Quebec.

"Our efforts will complement the great work being done by other conservation groups and government agencies," said Mike Carr, executive director for the Nature Conservancy's Adirondack chapter.

"Restoring a healthy, self-reproducing fishery in Lake Champlain that does not require a lot of human management will ultimately cost the taxpayer less, enhance recreation, bring economic benefits and demonstrate the return of health to the entire lake ecosystem."

Berry will work closely with the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory at the University of Vermont -- directed by UVM professor Mary Watzin -- which has been involved in a wide range of issues, including the causes of toxic blue-green algae in Lake Champlain.

"I am delighted to have this opportunity to work with Tom and the Nature Conservancy team," Watzin said. "Both have a long track record of success working collaboratively with private land owners and government agencies to restore habitat and control invasive species."

Berry was natural-resource coordinator for U.S. Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont for nine years and also worked with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders prior to his appointment to the Nature Conservancy position.

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