Riverkeeper
 

 Eastern Brook Trout Initiative

 

The Chambersburg Public Opinion Pennsylvania 8/01/06

An aquatic venture: Groups unite to study, protect brook trout

 

By Jim Hook Senior writer



FRANKLIN COUNTY -- The brook trout is having one tough time in Pennsylvania where the native is recognized as the state fish.

Just 1 percent of Pennsylvania's 1,313 smaller watersheds support natural populations of the speckled, red-bellied fish, according to the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. Populations of brook trout have been eliminated or greatly reduced throughout Franklin County.

"That's what most kids caught as their first fish 25 years ago," said Eugene Macri, a biologist from Waynesboro.

Macri and other biologists view the brook trout as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Their demise is a sign that the environment is deteriorating.

A myriad of government and non-profit groups in 17 states are looking at "brookies" -- what threatens them, what can be done and their future. The groups are collaborating in the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. The venture counts among its members the Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Venture's goals include promoting aquatic habitat loss as a national problem. Two of the most serious threats to brook trout habitats are climate change and acid rain, according to a December report by the Venture.

"There's no silver bullet to address all the issues," said Dan Tredinnick, spokesman for the Fish Commission. "It's not going to have solutions. It is trying to show how larger environmental issues have an impact across the region."

Brook trout have declined across their entire eastern range from Maine to Georgia, according to the Venture's report. Global warming further endangers trout in the southern Appalachians.

Mike Heck, president of the Falling Spring Chapter of Trout Unlimited, expects local groups will get involved with improving habitat for brook trout.

His organization has polished up a gem among cold water streams, Falling Spring in Guilford Township.

"As the program becomes bigger some people will bring it up," Heck said. "Once we're done with Falling Spring, it's basically maintenance. Why not break out and try to do something else? There are many streams out there that can be as good as the Falling Spring. It's a young program."  (Gene Macri searchs the brook trout stream for food photo by Marekell Deloatch)

Falling Spring has a rich habitat for trout.

One of the reasons is the high mineral content of the limestone stream, according to Macri.

He recently sampled the mineral content of Carbaugh Run, a free stone creek that flows through Caledonia State Park. It measured just one-tenth of Falling Spring's content.

Carbaugh Run cannot protect trout from a sudden surge of acid rain.

"When it rains here the stream has no buffering capacity," Macri said. "The pH could go from 7 (neutral) to 5 (acidic), just like that. It's just like a brick going through the water."

Macri's non-profit organization, The Last River and Game Keeper,

 



has joined the Maryland Brook Trout Alliance which is determining the strengths and weaknesses in the state's trout streams, several of which originate in Pennsylvania.

"These streams were really productive 25 years ago," Macri said. "They have been devastated."

Brook trout prefer water that is neutral-to-base and water temperatures below 68 degrees, he said. They can withstand warmer water and acidic conditions.

Isolated pockets of reproducing brook trout survive in local streams, according to Macri. Their growth is limited by stream conditions. A six-inch brook trout swimming in a degraded stream may be five years old while a 14-inch trout in a favorable habitat may be just two years old.

"There are oodles of book trout streams that are of excellent value," Heck said. "I fished (in July) one half as wide as my Tacoma and caught 25 to 30, up to six inches long, in a 100-yard stretch. It was not stocked at all. The water was 56 degrees."

If a stream can support a trout population, the Fish Commission should not stock it, he said.

"It's their responsibility to change regulations or stop stocking or repair it if can be fixed," Heck said.

The Fish Commission has designated several streams for wild brook trout enhancement, Tredinnick said. Usually the commission sets aside a small section of a stream for restricted harvest, but special regulations set aside an entire watershed for catch and release of brook trout, year-round on any tackle. The nearest is Shaffer Run and its tributaries in Tuscarora State Forest, Perry County.

The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture is modeled after the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, which has forged partnerships to protect and restore wetlands for breeding waterfowl since the 1980s.

The scope of the Venture is huge.

It's initial report about the reduction of trout populations is based on a model that projects where trout would have been before the European settlement of the New World.

"Nobody has delusions of going back to that," Tredinnick said. "It could be said brook trout are doing better in 2006 than in 1956."

"You have to prioritize what you can do," Macri said. "With limited funding you're not going to be able to repair or restore all the streams."

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Jim Hook can be reached at 262-4759, or jhook@publicopinionnews.com.

 

   


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