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Carroll County Fish Passage Project Shows Results One Year Later

By Laura Eddy

On a small stream on private land owned by the Dell Brothers in Manchester, Maryland, a small community in northeastern Carroll County, a fish passage project has created excitement. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been providing high quality financial and technical assistance to the rural community for projects like this one in the United States for decades. In 2015, Greg Dell, the land owner and also a Carroll County Soil Conservation District (SCD) board member, initiated the project for this stream that feeds into the Big Pipe Creek, which leads to the Monocacy River.A reproducing trout population was recently documented in this Carroll County stream one year after a fish passage and stream buffer project was completed.

In August of 2017, one year after the project was completed, a brook trout population was discovered in the small tributary. Mark Staley, the fisheries expert from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who identified the brook trout, described this as a significant find. Although highly valued as a recreational fish, brook trout are also very significant biologically. Since they require pristine and stable waterways, brook trout are indicators of good stream quality.

“To find a brook trout population we did not know about is very exciting,” Staley explained. “To find a population in the Big Pipe Watershed is even more exciting, because this is the only brook trout population that has been documented in the Carroll County portion of the Monocacy Watershed.” Staley added that while Brook trout had been recorded in the nearby Gunpowder and Catoctin Watersheds, they had never been recorded in the Monocacy.

Previously, the mill dam on the Dell Brothers’ property was creating a wildlife resource concern, constricting available habitat for the brook trout and other resident fish. To address the problem, they worked with the Carroll County SCD and NRCS to come up with a plan to remove the dam to open additional habitat for brook trout.

USDA programs work together to beneficially impact private farmland, translating into tangible benefits. Financial assistance was available through  NRCS’ Environment Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), but required a stream buffer project, which was attained using the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), and supplemented by financial resources from various state and local sources. Eric Hines, the NRCS District Conservationist for Carroll County and Baltimore County, explained how CREP helped the property qualify for the fish passage project, outlining how there must be a pre-existing quality habitat, which the buffer achieved.

In all, 26.8 acres of trees were planted around the stream, with some buffer areas reaching over 500 feet in width. Jamie Weaver, a forestry expert with DNR who assisted with the tree buffer project, described how they try to plant the correct species in the correct areas. When choosing a location, he said they consider hydrology, slope, physical soil properties, and personal experience of species mixtures in given soil conditions. “Beyond that, we focused on planting several fast growing species in the lowland areas to facilitate shading,” Weaver said.

Shading is important in brook trout streams, because the water should be no warmer than 20 degrees Celsius to be an ideal brook trout habitat and the vegetative cover helps keep the water cool, Staley explained. Five thousand trees, consisting of 12 native tree species, as well as 2,700 shrubs, consisting of seven native shrub varieties, were planted during this buffer project.

Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has a use class system to categorize the suite of specific designated uses or goals for water bodies and trout reproduction is a factor when ranking streams. This stream is documented as a use class 4, meaning the trout population is not reproducing.

The DNR team found trout in all development stages, which implies a breeding population has been thriving. This means the stream is more accurately classified as a use class 3 stream, which are waters suitable for maintaining a trout population at all stages of their lifecycle. With evidence that a breeding population exists, DNR has put in a request for MDE to reclassify the stream as a use class 3.

There is a lot of optimism regarding the stream’s future. The new CREP buffer on the Dell property will filter nutrients, sediment and other pollutants from entering the stream, shade the stream, prevent it from getting too warm for sensitive species, and provide essential habitat for many stream inhabitants.

“Thanks to the fish passage project, fish will now be able to move up and down stream to expand into new habitat,” Staley declared. “It’s my hope that the water quality will continue to improve with the work NRCS is doing.”