Brook-trout habitat in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands and Eastern Panhandle will soon get an upgrade.
Armed with $827,000 in grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, contractors for the Trout Unlimited conservation organization will improve in-stream habitat, plant streamside trees to provide shade, and will reconnect stretches of stream that have become isolated from one another.
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced the grants Sept. 3. The projects will focus primarily on headwater tributaries of the South Branch of the Potomac, and on tributaries of the Cacapon River.
Dustin Wichterman, who coordinates the work for Trout Unlimited, said $476,470 of the money will be spent in the South Branch watershed upstream from Franklin, in Pendleton County. The remaining $350,630 will be spent in the Cacapon watershed. Both projects will include work on public and private land.
“We’re extremely excited to get these grants,” Wichterman said.
Some of the work already has been done. Last weekend, a restoration crew enhanced the habitat along 700 feet of the fly-fishing-only segment of Thorn Creek, in Pendleton County.
“We did that in partnership with the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture and the West Virginia [Division of Natural Resources],” Wichterman said. “That project was very much like all the others we’ll be doing — using local contractors and using native materials from around the area.”
Another project will improve in-stream habitat on the fly-fishing-only segment of Edwards Run, a Cacapon River tributary in Hampshire County.
Work also will be performed on public-water segments in the state’s two national forests — the Monongahela National Forest, in Pendleton County, and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, in Hardy and Hampshire counties.
A sizable percentage of the money will go toward habitat restoration on privately owned stream segments. Brandon Keplinger, the DNR’s District 2 fisheries biologist, said many of the Eastern Panhandle streams slated for work are short, steep, “trellis” tributaries, some of them spring-fed, that flow into the Lost and Cacapon rivers.
“We’re focusing on projects that will have the capacity to maintain cold-water species — primarily brook trout, but also the other organisms that live in that ecosystem,” Keplinger added.
In some cases, the work will focus on squeezing stream flows to create deeper, faster-flowing channels. In other cases, it will focus on planting trees and shrubs that will provide shade and prevent the streams from becoming too warm to support brookies, which require colder water than rainbow or brown trout.
Some of the work will focus on reconnecting stream segments, such as those that often occur where tributaries flow through culverts and scour out deep pools immediately downstream, creating impassable waterfalls.
Keplinger said the sheer size of the grants will allow much more work to be done than in previous years.
“Historically, we had received these grants in chunks of about $250,000,” he said. “Senators Manchin and Capito were catalysts in getting the funding increased. These grants give us more than three times as much money as we’ve had to work with in the past.”
Trout Unlimited’s Wichterman credited several agencies for their partnership in the organization’s ongoing habitat work.
“We couldn’t do it without the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the [state] Department of Environmental Protection, the DNR, the Forest Service and, of course, all the private landowners up and down the way,” he said.