By Kathleen Lavelle
As fall turns to winter, Trout Unlimited staffers take stock of the previous season’s fieldwork while starting to plan ahead for the coming year.
For the TU team working on the Unassessed Waters Initiative headed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 2016 was another great year.
I lead a team that spends several months every year in search of naturally reproducing trout in streams that have never been formally surveyed. The work helps to ensure higher protection standards through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Each spring the Fish and Boat Commission sends us -- and other partners working on the initiative -- a list of streams to survey. We then go afield for survey trips, using electroshock gear that temporarily stuns fish so we can scoop them up in nets and identify them.
In 2016, TU field staff surveyed 76 streams in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River basin and 41 streams in the Delaware River basin.
Of those, a total of 35 streams -- nearly one-third -- were found to have naturally reproducing trout and are eligible to be added to the Fish and Boat Commission’s formal Wild Trout list.
Since 2011, TU has surveyed 555 streams for this initiative, and dozens already have been added to the wild trout list.
Listing of a stream section as wild trout water does not determine how the water is managed. However, the biological designation is among the factors the agency considers in its management approach to specific waters. Listed wild trout streams and their adjacent wetlands qualify for more stringent environmental protection.
Pennsylvania contains nearly 62,000 streams, but the Fish and Boat Commission staff has been able to conduct surveys on fewer than 6,000 of those waters, totalling 24,511 miles. That’s only 9 percent of the stream numbers and less than 30 percent of the stream miles that the agency is able to actively manage.
Trout Unlimited and other partners in the effort, such as universities, are providing crucial assistance in this important effort.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provides funding for the Unassessed Waters Initiative. TU's work for this initiative in the Delaware River Basin is also funded by the William Penn Foundation and the Kittatinny Ridge Coalition.
In September, the Fish and Boat Commission voted to add 99 streams to the listing. Of those, 13 had been identified by TU’s Unassessed Waters Initiative team.
The Fish and Boat Commission will vote on another list of 99 proposed wild trout waters in January, 25 of which TU has identified.
Even as we wrap up 2016 we are starting planning for 2017, with plans to survey many more streams, including more than 100 in the Delaware River basin alone.
Kathleen Lavelle is the field coordinator for Trout Unlimited's Pennsylvania Coldwater Habitat Restoration Program, based in Lock Haven, Pa.