The Pine Creek Valley
Watershed Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 239
Oley, PA 19547
LANDOWNER STREAM STEWARDSHIP
Three hundred and fifty years ago, before extensive European settlement, native brook trout inhabited all the streams of Pennsylvania with exception of the big rivers. Trout are a cold water species, preferring clean, well oxygenated waters that do not exceed 72 degrees. Our native trout are now present in only a tiny fraction of their original range, it has been well documented that the changes to the landscape by our forefathers had devastating effects on our watersheds, from mining to timbering agricultural practices.
With the exception of acid mine drainage (AMD), most degradation of Pennsylvania streams occurs through non-point sources, meaning that the pollution enters the stream from a variety of places, and is due to poor land stewardship.
The most constant type of pollution is sediment entering streams during heavy rain. This is most easily observed as a stream running high and muddy, like the color of coffee.' Stream banks become eroded and unstable, and sediments covering fish eggs and fry during and after spawning cause suffocation limiting populations. Sediments also fill in around the natural cobble of a stream where aquatic insects burrow as nymphs until it is time to hatch. These insects, the primary source of trout food, also suffocate, and when the food supply is limited, fish populations become limited.
Sediment overloading in a stream occurs when trees and shrubs along the stream are removed. Cattle grazing, mowing close a stream, and careless logging are common practices that remove essential vegetation. Many of these activities still occur in the Pike-Oley region.
Many kinds of nutrients enter the stream during heavy rain (or rapid snow melt). Animal manure and grass clippings produce nitrates and phosphates that allow the growth of microbes that rob the water of oxygen. When the shade canopy is removed, temperature elevations can limit reproduction capability of trout; higher temperature ranges (above 80 degrees) are lethal.
The Stroud Water Research Center, Avondale, PA, studied stream health over a number of years on their own property as well as on upstream and downstream segments of the White Clay Creek. They compared similar streams with and without well deve1oped riparian buffers. Those with sufficient riparian buffer suffered least from erosion, were better able to filter runoff nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates, and had temperatures in peak summer conditions 10-12 degrees cooler. Not surprisingly, these streams and their riparian areas mimic the conditions most favorable for wild trout habitats,
What is a well developed buffer?
For starters, it is a vegetative buffer inhabited by woody vegetation (native trees and shrubs), whose roots extend at least three feet into the ground, producing a root mat that h91ds soil. Most stream ecologists agree that a buffer of 50-75 feet, where vegetation is not interfered with, tends to be the most beneficial. Such a buffer has significant implications for land stewardship, land use designations, and protective zoning.
Smaller buffers also provide some erosion control and some stream shading if planted with low rising shrubs such as redosier dogwood, elderberries, or pear leafed willows.
Enrolling in a restoration project
Since 1995, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been funding stream projects that restore riparian buffer by fencing off cattle, establishing mow lines in parks and farm fields, and replanting with native species. In Berks County, both the Tulpehocken and Perkiomen Valley chapters of Trout Unlimited have completed many such projects, some with the assistance of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and all at no cost to the landowner.
If you are a Landowner with a significant stream segment running through your property, you may want to make an inquiry to enroll your property into a restoration project. Contact Dan Salas, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Schuylkill Office, 610-469-6005.
- Lou Wentz (Lou Wentz is past president of the Perkiomen Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited)