A team of West Virginia University researchers are working to make the Mountain State wilder and more wonderful. WVU’s Natural Resources Analysis Center is collaborating with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources on an ambitious stream restoration project that aims to improve fish habitat and water quality.
The project combines research into existing brook trout populations and the development of strategies to improve stream habitats for them.
In addition to the fish’s desirability for fishermen, “Book trout are excellent indicators of water quality,” said Paul Kinder, a research scientist with analysis center. “If your brook trout population is thriving, that says volumes about the health of the stream.”
According to Kinder, the habitats have been compromised by a variety of circumstances. Old clear-cutting practices caused significant runoff. Railroad construction interfered with the natural development of streams and created unnatural obstacles. Acid precipitation negatively affects the pH of stream water.
Other WVU initiatives helped to result in the routine use of limestone to stabilize the pH of stream water and mitigate acidity by the DNR, and WVU’s wildlife and fisheries resources program has received national recognition for its research into the state’s brook trout populations. This research has provided an ideal foundation for current efforts.
Use of NRAC’s landscape analysis resources has given researchers a clear picture of the topographical issues that influence stream flow. Brook trout require areas of deep, cold water, so part of the team’s efforts involve creating those spaces. Like salmon, the fish also travel to spawn, so other efforts are focused on creating more consistent waterways for the trout to use when traveling to and from preferred spawning grounds.
Stream-side vegetation also provides a canopy of shade to cool water temperatures while also providing nutrients to the stream. Tree plantings are underway to support this. A wide variety of construction projects will ultimately contribute to a better habitat for brook trout, and for stream-based wildlife in general.
Initial sites include Shaver’s Fork and Lamothe Hollow, both on the southern edge of the Monongahela National Forest. Kinder explained that the project’s intent is to create strategies that can be replicated throughout West Virginia. The ultimate results will hopefully include cleaner streams and an uptick in the Mountain State’s reputation as a desirable destination for fishermen looking to catch their limit.
The project is funded by a $1,338,479 grant from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. The project is being led by Jerry Fletcher, director of NRAC and professor of natural resource economics, with Kinder and Todd Petty, associate professor of wildlife and fisheries resources, rounding out WVU’s team. Steve Brown, Mike Shingleton and Danny Bennett are heavily involved from the DNR end of the project.
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