Preall, who has worked for the state Department of Environmental Conservation for 26 years, received the plaque at the former DEC forest ranger barracks. The award was presented by Trout Unlimited representatives Bill Wellman and Dave Corr in front of a contingent that consisted of DEC senior staff members.
“Rich is an outstanding conservationist,” Wellman told the Enterprise. “He’s been a great friend to Trout Unlimited.”
Preall, who works out of Ray Brook, was recognized primarily for work he has done with two Adirondack native fish: brook trout and round whitefish.
The round whitefish is a medium-sized fish, averaging 9 to 12 inches in length. It was once common in numerous Adirondack lakes, but is now listed as endangered in New York.
Round whitefish lived in about 70 Adirondack lakes during the late 1800s, but fish surveys in the mid-1980s found them in only six Adirondack water bodies: the Cascade lakes, Little Moose Lake, Moose Pond, Newcomb Lake, Lower AuSable Lake and Cat Lake.
Recognizing the dangers of losing this fish entirely from New York waters, Preall used information gathered by Cornell researcher Geoff Steinhart to launch a campaign to save the round whitefish in Region 5.
Steinhart had found that round whitefish survive in waters with few or no competing species. Smallmouth bass, smelt and yellow perch were the main culprits.
“You could find lakes that might have one of those species and round whitefish ... but if you had two out of the three, round whitefish were gone,” Preall said.
Preall also noted that acid rain and habitat degradation were other factors in the declining population of the fish.
In order to help restore the round whitefish population, Preall helped choose eight Adirondack waters for release of hatchery-propagated round whitefish, whose eggs had been collected in late fall from the Cascade lakes.
“Each year, we’d go to the Cascades in November,” Preall said. “That third week in November or the fourth week in November, they’re there and that’s when they spawn.”
One of the waters selected as a restoration site was Little Green Pond in the St. Regis Canoe Area. Preall said they are doing well in Little Green, but there isn’t evidence that they are reproducing yet, perhaps because smelt have been reintroduced to the pond.
If the round whitefish are able to start reproducing in a more natural cycle, a lot of the credit must go to Preall.
“If he hadn’t interceded, (the round whitefish) would have gone by the wayside,” Wellman said.
But the work Preall has done with round whitefish is only a small part of the work he has done, noted Bill Schoch, DEC Region 5 fisheries manager.
“Rich has done so many different things through his career, contributed in so many ways,” Schoch said. “You go through his career and time after time he’s been a leader in so many ways, just outstanding.”
Working with other DEC staff and with the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited’s Brook Trout Coordinator Dr. John Braico, Preall has devoted hours surveying waters for brook trout. He has given his own time on weekends to teach and train Trout Unlimited members in DEC’s complicated brook trout stream assessment techniques, ensuring that data collected was of the high-caliber needed to become part of the DEC and Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture database.
Preall has used his field knowledge to work with local and state highway officials and DEC’s permit staff to insure that highway improvements kept fish habitat in mind when construction was done. This often involved making sure that properly built culverts were installed.
In addition, in recent years, Preall has worked to eradicate invasive northern snakeheads in the Catskills and the Hudson River Valley. Preall joined others from Region 5, all qualified piscicide (chemicals poisionous to fish) applicators, to combat this aggressive invasive. Under the leadership of the now retired fish biologist Leo Demong, Region 5 personnel took the forefront in wading through the swamps and bogs applying pisicide to eliminate this dangerous infestation. Preall, along with others from the Region 5 staff, was instrumental in the success of this physically and mentally demanding work.
For all these reasons, he was honored by Trout Unlimited.
“He’s been an all-around good fellow as far as fish go in New York State,” Wellman said.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Trout Unlimited’s Dave Corr congratulates biologist Rich Preall (center) on Tuesday for receiving the Professional Resource Award from the New York Council of Trout Unlimited. Bill Wellman, also from TU, looks on.