Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Trout Need Trees Too!

Cold, clean water, adequate cover, plentiful food, and trees; these are just some of the requirements for good trout habitat. While many people probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the living requirements for the brook trout, fortunately for the ‘brookie,’ as the fish is affectionately known amongst anglers, there are some people that do. They not only care about the fish’s habitat needs, but they are willing to spend time doing something about it.

On August 1st, 27 volunteers spent the better part of their Saturday building structures in Stover Creek, a cold-water trout stream in Fannin County, to provide for the habitat needs of the brook trout. “This completes a two year brook trout enhancement project on Stover Creek that included the strengthening of a natural barrier and the installation of 45 habitat improvement structures,” said Jim Wentworth, U.S. Forest Service Biologist for the Blue Ridge Ranger District out of Blairsville.

Stover Creek is a typical cold water stream winding for 1.5 miles through the Chattahoochee National Forest in Fannin County. Volunteers from Trout Unlimited worked with U.S. Forest Service and Georgia Wildlife Resources Division personnel to install wedge dams, cover logs, stream constrictors and channel deflectors within Stover Creek. “Each of these structures has a purpose,” said Wentworth, “Some are designed to provide cover for the trout to hide from predators and some are designed to create pools and faster flowing water to improve feeding and reproduction.”

Brook trout have declined across their range throughout the eastern United States for a number of reasons including poor land use practices, degraded habitat, and the introduction of non-native brown and rainbow trout which can often out-compete native brook trout. In Georgia almost all of the cold water trout streams are located on the Chattahoochee National Forest. In recent years the U.S. Forest Service in cooperation with the Georgia DNR and Trout Unlimited has worked to restore brook trout habitat on a number of these streams.

The Stover Creek project was a cooperative effort involving biologists from the state, the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers from several local chapters of Trout Unlimited. The project was funded by a Gold Rush and Oconee River Chapters of TU Embrace-a Stream grant and a U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture grant. Over the last two summers, Trout Unlimited volunteers provided over 700 hours of donated labor to the project. “Thanks to volunteers who are willing to give up their weekends to do hard physical labor in a cold, wet stream, we hope to improve the brook trout’s chances and increase the population in this stretch of Stover Creek,” Wentworth said.

Another aspect of providing for healthy habitat for the brook trout is to ensure proper management of the surrounding forest. Maintaining healthy stream-side forests prevents sediment and pollutants from entering the stream and also provides adequate shade to maintain cold water temperatures that brook trout require.

For additional information on trout populations in north Georgia, please visit the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest website at www.fs.fed.us/conf.

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