Watersheds Rely on EPA and Local Groups Like Trout Unlimited to Keep on Fishin’

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Trout Unlimited in the ShenanBrook Trout (Salvelinusfontina) are native to Virginia.
Trout Unlimited in the ShenanBrook Trout (Salvelinusfontina) are native to Virginia.

by Cheryl Vosburg

When it comes to preserving and restoring waterways, local environmental groups, fishermen and communities like Trout Unlimited (T.U.) make it happen.

Bill Bainter, president of the Roanoke chapter of T.U., says that cooler waters are needed to support the brook trout, a perennial American favorite, which typically cannot survive in water that is warmer than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Bainter’s group has focused on an area of Glade Creek in recent years; there are similar projects going on all over the eastern seaboard.

“You need shade cover from trees,” Bainter said, “along with measures to prevent e-coli contamination.” Simple steps, such as communities and landowners planting new saplings and refraining from mowing along river banks, helps keep waters cool. Fencing to keep cattle away from streams goes a long way to lowering potential contamination.

In an effort to determine whether a stream is “trout worthy,” Bainter’s group has been monitoring streams and accumulated about three years worth of data; “temperature probes supply data every 30 minutes,” he said.

What makes the brook trout so special? They are the only trout native to much of the eastern United States; “a lot of people can relate to brook trout because they remember fishing for them as a kid,” said Libby Norris of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Seth Coffman, president of Trout Unlimited in the Shenandoah watershed, is involved in projects similar to Glade Creek, but on a much larger scale. Coffman says that a lot of what he does involves teamwork across several local groups and government agencies. Thanks to grants from the EPA given through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF, see www.nfwf.org) in Washington, brook trout are being restored along rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay, as well.

The EPA last week released its TMDL or “total maximum daily loads” findings on water pollution. Local fishermen like Bainter and outdoors-oriented people can tell you that things are improving. But so do recent studies.

More than 900 acres of new forests and wetlands as well as buffers have made the Shenandoah region permanently protected. More amazingly, farmers have reduced over 98,000 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer run-off annually through cost-sharing programs (and nutrient trading). And native brook trout are being restocked and making a comeback in miles of streams where they once flourished.

Coffman explained that June 1 marked the first day of “put and take” for many Virginia streams—meaning the streams that the state stocks (puts) the fish can now be fished and fishermen can “take” them, rather than throw them back as required during the cooler months. The trout will not usually survive the warmer water temperatures through the summer anyway, so the ban is lifted.  Some like Bainter say they can’t bear to “take” the fish and release them back into the stream anyway.

Most agree it’s not legislation or political in-fighting that works best, it is the watershed community.

Reducing farm fertilizer run-off, stormwater drain pollution and reforestation has restored the species to be more plentiful for fishermen here.

Trout Unlimited’s Seth Coffman agrees: “If we can restore a stream to a condition that supports trout, we can also improve water quality downstream” when it ebbs into the bay. For Roanoke’s Bainter, the same holds true; for a guy who fishes “as often as I can” the reward is more than worth the effort.