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Archive for May, 2011

Since February of 2010, the U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and other federal, state, and private partners have been working together to develop a pilot proposal for restoring Southern Appalachian brook trout using the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery as a core component. Building on previous successes the primary objectives of the new pilot project and partnership are:

1. Expand the development of existing propagation protocols to provide for culturing Southern Appalachian brook trout in a self-contained recirculation system.

2. Evaluate the feasability of utilizing the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery as a model that might be applied at other intererested hatcheries throughout the Southern Appalachian brook trout distribution range.

3. Identify high priority watersheds for Southern Appalachian brook trout restoration consideration within operational proximity of the Tellico Hatchery.

Collecting spawning brook trout

During early Fall adult spawning brook trout from a Southern Appalachian source population are collected and taken back to the Tellico Southern Appalachian brook trout hatchery. The anticipated number of females needed should be from 25 to 50. A 6 to 8 inch female brook trout should produce around 160 total eggs. The goal is to collect 4,000 to 8000 eggs from a population/system. A cooperative agreement with the Southern Appalachian Backcountry Horsemen Club will assist with transporting the adults out to hatchery trucks. SABH will also assist with transporting fingerlings back to the stream for stocking. By May, the expected number of fingerlings that survive to 3 inches should be around 1,500 to 3000. In order to retain their wild traits, human contact will be minimized as much as possible. Whle in the hatchery and during the grow out stage, fingerlings will also be converted to live foods as soon as they are able to forage on appropriate size plankton and invertebrates such as daphnia, rotifers, etc. This would hopefully provide fingerlings with a competitive advantage once they will be required to forage on natural foods. The target stocking rate once the fingerlings are stocked into the target restoration stream is 2,000 per mile. With 3 incubation and grow-out systems in the hatchery, it is estimated that 2 to 3 streams could be restored each year.

During winter before rainbow trout have had a chance to spawn their numbers will be reduced – not eliminated – by electrofishing. Although the goal is to remove as many rainbow trout as possible, recent studies have shown that rainbow and brook trout will co-exist. These studies have further shown that rainbow and brook trout are not capable of displacing each other unless a natural or manmade event disrupts the balance between the two. Additional studies have shown that in years of heavy flows these will tend to benefit rainbow trout and in years of drought this will tend to benefit brook trout. This may be a consideration that needs to be factored into planning. 

The pictorial below demonstrates how rainbow trout population reduction and Southern Appalachian brook trout restoration are completed within a stream system:

A typical stream system would be occupied entirely by rainbow trout. First order tributaries (single blue lines) do not provide enough suitable habitat for salmonid survival)

(click to enlarge)
 
The upper most tributary supporting rainbow trout would be electrofished first.
(click to enlarge)
 
The tributary where rainbow trout were reduced would then be replaced with 2000 three-inch Southern Appalachian brook trout fingerlings per mile.
(click to enlarge)
 
The rainbow trout removal/SA fingerlings stocking procedure would be repeated in all the uppermost tributaries working downstream.
(click to enlarge)
 
Once upper primary tributaries have been restored to Southern Appalachian brook trout and adequate populations and year class structures exist, the mainstream tributary would then be restored as well completing restoration of the watershed.

(click to enlarge)

 
There are several advantages this procedure affords:
  •  No chemical treatments to remove rainbow trout would be required.
  • No adverse impacts to the environment would need to be considered.
  • Southern Appalachian brook trout fingerlings are conditioned to be a part of the competative advantage process.
  • The environmental analysis would be minimal and project approval and implementation would be quicker.
  • One hatchery operating 3 systems could restore 5 miles of stream per year.
  • The existing Tellico hatchery is designed to be a prototype and provides the opportunity to develop necessary protocols and procedures.
  •  After a few years of successful restoration, other state and federal hatcheries throughout the Southern Appalachian brook trout range could partner in the initiative as well.
  • Annual operating cost are manageable. For one hatchery with three systems the estimated cost is $18,000 but may be cheaper at established hatcheries.
 
 
Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery Partners To Date:

(click to enlarge)

 
Next:  A Project Status Report On the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery 
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During the last few decades beginning in the 1980’s, partnerships between state and federal agencies along with conservation organizations have worked together to restore Southern Appalachian strains of brook trout in the Southern Appalachians. Although by the 1970’s Southern Appalachian strain brook trout had dissapeared from the Nolichucky watershed, today 7% of the historical brook trout habitat in the watershed now contains SA brook trout. Restoration is a slow and labor intensive process and it can take decades to restore only a few streams. It is likely that similar challenges are being realized throughout the primary river basin watersheds in the Southern Appalachians.

Current and Future Threats to Southern Appalachian Brook Trout

The work to restore the Southern Appalachian brook trout is hugely important. As an indigenous species it is our regions only native salmonid. The recreational opportunities it affords sportsmen from all over the United States and the economic benefits to the area are many. It’s contribution currently and in the future as a valuable water quality indicator in our upper high elevation watersheds is significant.

Compared to the size of the Southern Appalachian Region, viable Southern Appalachian brook trout populations that currently exist throughout the Southern Appalachians are few and fragmented. It is important to consider options that have the potential to increase population distribution and reduce fragmentation. This increase in distribution from both a regional perspective as well as by watershed, prepares the sub-species to be in a better position to survive current and future threats. Increasing population distribution for recreational and economic purposes aside, as threats such as drought, floods, climate change, acid precipitation, angling pressure, exotic salmonid encroachment on stressed SA populations occurs, the means to mitigate these impacts will be important.

Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery (click to enlarge)

 In 1991 the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery was constructed as part of a cooperative pilot project between the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Trout Unlimited, and the U.S. Forest Service to determine if Southern Appalachian Brook Trout could be spawned, hatched, reared, and stocked as fingerlings to restore Southern Appalachian brook trout populations. Funded with a grant from the FishAmerica Foundation, the hatchery was completed in the summer of 1991 and placed into operation that Fall.  In 1991/92 approximately 700 fingerlings were produced from 45 adults and stocked into Meadow Branch in April of 1992. During 1992 and 1993, the first captive propagation protocols for culturing Southern Appalachian brook trout were produced by TWRA staff when 40 Southern Appalachian brook trout adults were successfully spawned and 102 fingerlings were stocked into Sycamore Creek in April 1993. 

A Sycamore Creek Southern Appalachian Brook Trout (click to enlarge)

A repeat stocking of 703 fingerlings into Sycamore Creek in 1994, created the foundation for the restoration of Southern Appalachian brook trout in Sycamore Creek. Today, the stream continues to support a healthy wild naturally reproducing population of Southern Appalachian brook trout that did not exist prior to this project.

Next: Building on Success – A Long Term, Economical Proposal For Conserving And Restoration Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Populations.

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Citico Creek Fisherman (click to enlarge)

It is important to point out that a major component of  the coldwater sportfishery that sportsmen enjoy today in the Southern Appalachians would not exist were it not for naturally reproducing rainbow trout and state and federal rainbow and brown trout stocking programs. There are many, many thousands of miles of cold and cool water streams, tailwaters, and reservoirs in the

Rainbow Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss

Southern Appalachians that brook trout are not indigenous to and the water quality and habitat have not improved enough to support the species. Considering the difficulty in raising Southern Appalachian strain brook trout in hatcheries, their distribution outside their historical range has not occurred.

Brown Trout - Salmo trutta

 The economical and recreational opportunities rainbow and brown trout provide to the Southern Appalachians is profound and contributes significantly to its residents enjoyment.  Often times they can be valuable indicators of water quality and habitat conditions as well.

 

 

Next:  Limited Recovery of Southern Appalachian Brook Trout and Present and Future Threats.

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Stream crossing (click to enlarge)

Until the 1970’s environmental compliance policies at the state and federal levels were very limited in the United States.  Although most of the broad scale destruction to Southern Appalachian watersheds had ceased, there was still many poor land use practices from road construction, clearcutting, land development, farming practices, coal mining, etc., that still continued to occur from the 1940’s to the 1960’s and 70’s.  During this period Southern Appalachian brook trout population distribution continued to decline and much of this range reduction took place in the species last stronghold – the upper headwaters of watersheds.

 The chronological pictorial sequences below demonstrate how Southern Appalachian brook trout were displaced over the period of time from the 1880’s to the 1970’s:

In the 1880’s all 2nd and 3rd order stream habitat within a watershed of the primary river basins throughout the Southern Appalachians would have been capable of supporting Southern Appalachian brook trout as determined by the yellow stream reaches below.

1880's (click to enlarge)

  By the 1940’s Rainbow trout introduced from the Sierra Nevada mountains would occupy the larger 3rd order streams and Southern Appalachian brook would be confined to 1st and 2nd order headwater tributaries. 

1940's (click to enlarge)

 During the 1960’s poor land use activities in the headwaters such as clearcutting, mining, road construction, land clearing, etc. occur with no stream protection in place to protect 1st and 2nd headwater tributaries.

1960's (click to enlarge)

During the 1960’s headwater tributaries are no longer capable of supporting Southern Appalachian brook trout and thus Southern Appalachian brook trout are forced to move downstream or perish. 

1960's (click to enlarge)

By the 1970’s headwater 1st and 2nd order tributaries begin to recover and rainbow trout expand upstream and now occupy all former Southern Appalachian brook trout habitat throughout many watersheds in primary river basins throughout the Southern Appalachians.

1970's (click to enlarge)

 
By the 1970’s there are no remaining populations of Southern Appalachian brook trout in the Nolichucky River watershed.  Remnant populations of Southern Appalachian brook trout existed throughout the Southern Appalachians but distribution was very limited and populations are fragmented and isolated.

1970's distribution of Southern Appalachian brook trout in the Nolichucky River watershed.

It is important to point out that rainbow trout did not outcompete the Southern Appalachian brook trout. Instead, rainbow trout were able to become firmly established by taking advantage of an unoccupied biological niche that Southern Appalachian brook trout were extirpated from decades before.  Presumably then, It is highly likely that where established populations of Southern Appalachian brook trout might exist, it would be difficult for rainbow trout to displace them. 

 
During the 1960’s and 70’s federal policies designed to protect wildlife and improve habitat and water quality were passed by Congress to regulate and improve the environment.
 
•Multiple Use – Sustained Yield Act – 1960

•Wilderness Act – 1964

•National Environmental Policy Act – 1969

•Endangered Species Act – 1973
 
•National Forest Management Act – 1976
 
• The Clean Water Act – 1972
 
Next – Rainbow and Brown Trout: A Part of the Southern Appalachian Culture Today.

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Large-scale private timber harvest (click to enlarge)

Once private logging operations had depleted most of the marketable timber in the Southern Appalachians by the early 1900’s, hundreds of thousands of acres of lands that few wanted were eventually placed into public domain as a result of congressional passage of the Weeks Act of 1911.  Passage of this bill by Congress provided for the creation of public lands throughout the Southern Appalachians soon after.

Formally timbered lands begin to recover (click to enlarge)

As both public and private lands began to recover, more and more of the public began to utilize these natural resources for a variety of activities including camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, sightseeing, etc.  Although aquatic ecosystems would begin to recover as well, sedimentation and siltation would still be a problem while forest vegetation regenerated.  Due to the lack of forest canopy many larger streams would still be too warm for brook trout to survive.  As forests regenerated and recreational interests like fishing grew, pressure from sportsmen to provide opportunities for angling increased.  Most resource managers during that time believed that as Southern Appalachian Forests recovered so too would the Southern Appalachian brook trout.

Rainbow trout stocked from the 1880's to present (click to enlarge)

To try to meet the demands of sportsmen who were anxious to once again enjoy a trout fishery in the Southern Appalachians, rainbow trout – native to the Sierra Nevada mountains – were introduced into habitat that was formally occupied by Southern Appalachian brook trout. Again, the introduction of rainbow trout was never intended to be a permanent solution, it was only a temporary measure until watersheds recovered and Southern Appalachian brook trout would reclaim these environments. Unfortunately, by the mid-1900’s Southern Appalachian brook trout would not reclaim previous stream reaches of historical distribution as hoped. As the Southern Appalachian Mountains were recovering, naturally self-sustaining wild populations of rainbow trout were becoming established throughout much of the brook trout’s former range as well.

Northern strain brook trout (click to enlarge)

In stream reaches where migration barriers such as waterfalls and cascades existed prohibiting rainbow trout from migrating above them, efforts were made to re-establish brook trout upstream of these barriers.  Sources of Southern Appalachian brook trout would not have been easily accessible during the early to mid-1900’s and getting appreciable numbers of them from one stream to another to establish a new population would have been equally difficult.  Minor attempts had been made to propagate Southern Appalachian brook trout for stocking and restoration during this time but none were successful.  The Southern Appalachian brook trout proved to be extremely difficult to culture in hatcheries and further attempts were abandoned.  Instead, brook trout from the Northeast and Great Lakes regions which had successfully been adapted to hatchery culture protocols proved to be an accessible source of brook trout.  Brook trout from northern stocks were introduced in an effort to provide a recreational brook trout fishery and re-introduce brook trout back into streams above barriers whose Southern Appalachian populations had been extirpated by private logging practices.

Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Distribution in the Nolichucky River Basin by the 1950's (click to enlarge)

By the 1950’s Southern Appalachian Brook Trout in the Nolichucky River Basin would occupy only 33% of their former distribution in this watershed.  This drastic reduction in range would be the result of in-stream habitat loss, water quality degradation and the introduction of rainbow trout.  This substantial loss in Southern Appalachian Brook trout distribution would likely have occurred at similar levels from the same impacts throughout the historical range for the Southern Appalachian brook trout in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Next time, Southern Appalachian Brook Trout experience further distribution losses from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.

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1880 Brook Trout Distribution in the Nolichucky Watershed (click to enlarge)

In the 1880’s beginning at around 1600 feet in elevation Southern Appalachian brook trout would have occupied most of the upper elevation 2nd, and 3rd order tributaries. In primary river watersheds such as the Nolichucky River and other river basins within the Southern Appalachian brook trout range, this would not have been uncommon.  This contiguous connectivity of tributaries within a watershed would have provided brook trout with the genetic variability to maintain healthy populations. 
 

1880’s Private Lands (click to enlarge)
During this time, public land management agencies did not exist and almost all lands throughout the Southern Appalachian mountains were held in private ownership. Largescale private logging had not arrived in the Southern Appalachians yet but as marketable timber resources were being depleted throughout the North, private logging industries and speculators were recognizing the vast resources of old growth forests in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Logging and real estate businesses were quickly forming to take advantage of this available timber and the need to fuel industrial growth in America and Europe.
 

Large Skidded Log (click to enlarge)

The demand for timber from the Southern Appalachians was profound, and incredible numbers of logging companies were formed almost over night and businesses established themselves quickly in order to purchase hundreds of thousands of acres of land in order to secure access rights for harvesting the timber. Because the economy was generally depressed throughout the Southern Appalachian region the astonishingly low prices that private timber interests were offering for land and timber rights sales, was still more money than most families would realize from a life’s work at their current vocations.   

Steam Engine and Cars (click to enlarge)

When private timber companies brought railroad lines to the Southern Appalachians they were then able to access and extract much greater quantities of timber from the Southern Appalachians than previously realized and with much greater efficiency. Railroads were often constructed to the very upper reaches of watersheds and in many cases within the stream channel itself or the stream channel was even redirected.  Even today, it is not uncommon to hike into the upper reaches of many watersheds and still find abandoned railroad ties from the eventual dismantling of these railways.  

 

Timber Barge With Boom (click to enlarge)

Timber that was inaccessible by railroad, mule trains, or other means was often accessed by using barges with large timber booms constructed on the decks. In some locations, huge splash dams were constructed, water backed up behind them, logs floated into the dam pool, and then the splash dam was blown up sending the huge plume of water along with the logs downstream as far as possible. 

Timber Harvest From pre-1900's (click to enlarge)

The environmental impacts to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems from unregulated wholesale private logging throughout the Southern Appalachians during this time was devastating and the Southern Appalachian Brook trout would have suffered greatly from sedimentation and siltation, habitat loss, increases in stream temperatures from deforestation, and as a result, would experience significant loss of population distribution throughout its entire Southern Appalachian range.

Next time, the 1940’s through the 1970’s – The lands no one wanted and a time of recovery in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. 

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Likely Historical Watershed Distribution of Southern Appalachian Brook Trout (click on image to enlarge)

The historical watershed distribution of Southern Appalachian brook trout likely included the upper reaches of the Tennessee River Basin including the Hiwassee, Little Tennessee, French Broad, and Holston River watersheds; The New River Basin; The Pee Dee River Basin; The Santee River Basin which included the Catawba, Broad, and Saluda River watersheds; The Savannah River Basin, The Chattahoochee River Basin, and The Coosa River Basin. Throughout these watersheds brook trout in the Southern Appalachians would have flourished and over the course of thousands of years, distinguished themselves genetically from their northern counterparts. 
 

Yellowstone Cutthroat

The genetic distinction between Northern and Southern brook trout is similar to what is being observed today between other species such as the Yellowstone Cutthroat and the Snake River Cutthroat – both geologically isolated by separate watersheds where for thousands of years

Snake River Cutthroat

 populations adapted, evolved and established separate unique genetic traits.  Morphologically, the differences between these two subspecies can readily be observed and are obvious – both fish developing the necessary required traits and genetics to survive within its own respective ecosystem.
 

New York Brook Trout

With brook trout however it’s not so simple.  Recent genetic research has certainly demonstrated that Salvelinus fontinalis in the Southern Appalachians is at a minimum a unique strain of brook trout but the visual differences are not so easily detected.  Where Northern and Southern brook trout often occur in the Southern Appalachians, and sometimes only miles apart, even professional aquatic biologists who have seen

Southern Appalachian Brook Trout

thousands of individuals have difficulty visually separating the two. Ultimately the Southern Appalachian brook trout’s genetic distinction value-add may come in the form of it’s importance during restoration of its sub-species by utilizing its adaptation to its unique Southern Appalachian environment and exploiting this possible competitive advantage to recover a little of this valuable fishes former range. 
 
Next time we’ll take a look at the decline in Southern Appalachian brook trout populations from the 1880’s to the 1940’s.

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