In the Potomac Headwaters, brook trout populations have been fragmented as a result of poor land management practices associated with timber harvest, agriculture, and development. TU’s efforts are to restore the cold, clean water, as well as, the instream and riparian habitat that brook trout need to thrive. Ultimately, the goal is to recreate the interconnected populations that once existed here and produced large migratory fish. In the years to come, the trees planted in this stretch of stream will help to provide shade, food for fish, and will help hold stream banks together for roughly a mile of brook trout stream. Stabilizing stream banks keeps sediment from entering the stream, which can smother brook trout eggs. This work also protects valuable pasture land and soil farmers depend on for their livelihoods. The shade from these trees will help keep summertime water temperatures cool in a section of stream that is largely devoid of canopy cover. With the help of over 20 volunteers and AFHA AmeriCorps members, Trout Unlimited planted nearly 3000 trees and live stakes on roughly 3.5 acres of riparian area. Without the help of these great volunteers and AFHA AmeriCorps, planting projects such as this one would not be possible.
The in-stream habitat restoration component of the project will provide increased pool and woody material habitat. Pools provide refuge for fish from predators and serve as a thermal refuge in times of extreme cold and heat. They also increase available spawning habitat as scour sorts substrate particles and provides clean gravel for the trout to spawn. This section of stream also benefitted by having its highly eroded stream banks reshaped and planted with live stakes. Live stakes are a dormant woody plant, usually a cutting from a willow or dogwood, which will grow the next spring when planted into the stream bank.
The bridge replacement took an undersized low water bridge and replaced it with a span bridge. Quite often low water bridges and perched culverts serve as passage barriers for aquatic organisms, including brook trout and other fish, which cannot effectively swim upstream when they encounter one. Brook trout especially need access to various parts of a watershed, seasonally. In the fall they may migrate to the headwaters to spawn, in the spring they may move into lower portions of a watershed to forage. Barriers also sever connection to upstream spring sources needed for their cold clean water that provides a refuge for fish during thermal extremes. In fact, there is a spring fed tributary just upstream of the bridge in the photograph below. Replacement of this structure will not only allow fish to freely swim through the bridge, but it will also allow sediment and woody material to freely pass underneath, creating a more natural stream flow than was present before.
As fall fades into winter, much of our field work also comes to an end; however that does not mean that myself or anyone at Trout Unlimited will be less busy. Already we are all gearing up and preparing for what should be another busy year in 2016. If anyone is interested in learning more about Trout Unlimited’s work in West Virginia, or would like to volunteer for upcoming spring projects such as tree plantings or water quality monitoring workshops, please contact me at 304-614-6699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.