Forests for the Fish is an innovative fisheries management pilot project, modeled after the success of the Vermont and Massachusetts Foresters for the Birds program, which has been implemented across the north east region. This project is designed to enhance stream connectivity in the Deerfield River Watershed to provide habitat for cold water fish such as native brook trout which are experiencing habitat loss at an alarming rate.
Franklin Land Trust (FLT), MWI, and Trout Unlimited (TU), supported by a variety of grants and contributions, is developing a tool kit for managing forested lands near cold water streams. This tool kit will help forest land owners, working with trained foresters and fisheries consultants, assess their forested streams during the writing of Forest Stewardship Plans.
These assessments will help determine applicable practices that will enhance cold water habitats. Examples of these practices include: invasive species control, management of forest cover in the riparian zone and catchment, identifying and managing cover around groundwater seeps and upwellings within the catchment, native planting of species for bank stabilization and the placement of in-channel structures such as large woody material such as downed trees (LW). Such practices will maintain and improve conditions for fish in a time of changing climate conditions and increased stress on the landscape.
In the Deerfield River watershed of western Massachusetts, wild brook trout populations depend on small headwater streams and the forested landscape which provide these streams with shade, nutrients, and hydrological stability. Since the Deerfield Rivershed is dominated by private land ownerships, to effectively manage the small headwaters and forested catchments that support the region’s wild brook trout these private landowners must be engaged. By identifying areas where stream health and silvicultural goals align and equipping foresters and landowners with the tools needed to work at these intersections. MA Woodlands Institute and Franklin Land Trust hope to draw the attention of private landowners to a novel wildlife habitat interest, stimulate the local forest products economy, and enhance the resilience of wild trout population.
Threats to Habitat
Development of land along cold water streams threatens healthy fish habitat with polluted run-off from roads and buildings, increased invasive plant species and warming water temperatures due to decreased shade along stream banks. Undeveloped forested lands near streams offer clean, cold and shaded water necessary for fish and other aquatic animals to survive and thrive.
Our changing climate has caused large weather events in recent years, resulting in major and devastating flooding. In response to major flooding events, some streams have been channelized and straightened to prevent damaging floods. In channelized streams, rocks and woody material from the stream are removed in order to move floodwater quickly downstream. Straightening, often done to preserve roads or property boundaries, also increases the speed of the water.
Unfortunately, these straight, cleared rivers and streams with greatly eroded stream banks provide little to no habitat for fish and other aquatic species. Large trees and snags that fall naturally into rivers provide critical cover and habitat for fish, as well as the animals they feed on. Clean-up after storms removes this important habitat material. The Forests for the Fish program will encourage in-stream restoration and the installation of large woody material that will slow down water and improve fish habitat in cold water streams.
New England has been subject to the initial effects of climate change with more projected to come. In western Massachusetts, aside from the obvious results of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and an increasing series of microbursts and flash floods in 2014, regional climate models by the Northeast Regional Climate Center and the PRECIS System highlight several key climatic changes predicted to occur over the next 20-80 years. Analysis by the US Global Change Research Program determined that there is likely to be a substantial increase in extreme events in the northeast, including extended high summer temperatures and more frequent and intense storms. Extreme events are expected to compromise infrastructure and stress native ecosystems through the coming century.
Climate change projections affecting cold water streams and their inhabitants have important implications for this ecosystem. Temperature-sensitive fish like brook trout, mottled sculpin, several species of dace and darters will be forced to migrate to thermal refugia (deep stretches of stream that retain cooler temperatures) in warmer summer months, or die. Increased frequency and intensity of large storm events homogenize in-stream habitat and remove large woody material that is key habitat for fish, turtles, and several semi-aquatic mammals. Warmer winters facilitate the spread of invasive flora and fauna that threaten riparian forest buffers that shade much of the North River watershed. We plan to manage these ecologically and economically important stream and riparian areas to transition with the changing climate to protect threatened habitat.
Potential economic effects of landowners implementing Forests for the Fish include:
In 2015 FLT acquired a 96 acre farm which is bisected by the upper reach of the West Branch of the North River, a subwatershed of the Deerfield River, in the town of Heath. The 82 acre parcel, previously owned by the Crowningshield family, consists of roughly 15-20 acres of abandoned pasture, with the remainder in forest. The West Branch and its tributaries are state-listed coldwater fishery resources. An additional 14 acres adjacent to the original land were acquired in 2016 with proceeds from ongoing sale of farm house to local farmer. With this addition, the property contains over 1 mile of frontage along the West Branch of the North River.
With the help of funding from the MA-RI Interstate Council of TU and a conservation restriction to be held by the Department of Fish and Game this property will be open to the public. This property’s topography, past land use and frontage along a valuable wild Brook Trout fishery, is typical of many properties within the headwaters of the Deerfield River. It will lend itself well for demonstrations of assessment and practices developed within the Forests for the Fish toolkit.
An important component of this project is to complete 3 demonstrations of placement of large wood in the West Branch and do outreach to the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation to do similar work in Sanders Brooks of the North River sub-watershed in Heath, Massachusetts. Due to past land use, these streams are lacking large woody material, such as downed trees and branches. Placing large wood in the streams will create pools and riffles for fish and smaller aquatic animals, as well as slow the speed of water moving downstream.
Forests for the Fish Toolkit
Collaborative Working Groups:
Crowningshield Conservation Area Advisory Committee
Deerfield River Watershed Collaborative Group
Franklin Land Trust, "Fly Fishing on Franklin Land Trust's recently conserved property"
A Hat Trick for Conservation
Trout Unlimited Hosts Talk on Crowningshield Preserve
Small Stream Reflections blog: Franklin Land Trust's "wild brook trout forest"
"Forests for the Fish" Restores Cold Water to Restore Brook Trout in Massachusetts
Forest Fisheries Management
Trout Unlimited blog “PBS Show Highlights TU’s Stream Work in Vermont” (Outdoor Journal – Chop and Drop)
Dirt Roads & Blue Lines blog “Wood is Good”
Brook Trout Habitat in New Hampshire "Water in the Woods", Presentation by John Magee, NH Fish and Game Department
Restoring Brook Trout Habitat in Headwater Streams Using Large Woody Debris, Dan McKinley, Fisheries Biologist, Green Mountain National Forest Roger Monthey and Dave Welsch, U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry
Maine Forest Service, "Opportunities for Cold Water Fisheries Enhancement Associated with Forestry Operations in Maine"
Maine Forest Service Rule Chapter 25, "Standards for Placing Wood into Stream Channels to Enhance Cold Water Stream Fisheries Habitat"
Washington State Aquatic Habitat Guidelines Program, Stream Habitat Restoration guidelines 2012
New Hampshire’s Fish Habitat Program
Massachusetts Fish Conservation Program
Massachusetts Stream Continuity Program
White River Partnership Trees for Streams Program
White River Partnership River Corridor Protection
Saxton River Watershed Collaborative
Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture Report: Conservation Strategy
Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture: Riparian Restoration Decision Support Tool
Large Wood Improves Habitat on West Branch, White River, Vermont
Nash Stream, New Hampshire
Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture Report: East Fork Greenbrier River/Poca Run Large Woody Material Project, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia, Monitoring Report - 2015
Maps and Resources
Trout Unlimited, "My Healthy Stream"
USGS SHEDS: Interactive Cachement Explorer (ICE) | Deerfield River Watershed
MA Department of Fish and Game, Coldwater Fish Resources
MA Department of Fish and Game, "Brook Trout in Massachusetts"
MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affaris, "Drought Management"
NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, "State of the Climate Reports"
USFS Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, Climate Change Response Framework: New England
National Wildlife Federation, "Wildlife in Hot Water: America's Waterways and Climate Change."
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department “Impacts to Stream Habitat and Wild Trout Populations in Vermont Following Tropical Storm Irene”
“Flood Impacts to Wild Trout Populations in Vermont"
North American Journal of Fisheries Management, Jud F. Kratzer and Dana R. Warren, 2013. “Factors Limiting Brook Trout Biomass in Northeastern Vermont Streams.”
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Kenneth M. Cox, 2010. "Assessment of Trout Cover and Its Relationship to Trout Abundance in the Batten Kill Main Stem and Four Rivers in Reference Watersheds.”
"Fluvial Geomorphology and Culvert Assessment of the Meduxnekeag River Aroostook County, Maine" John Field, Field Geology Services. Prepared for Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians Littleton, Maine.
Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, Ellen Wohl* and Daniel N. Scott, 2016. “Wood and sediment storage and dynamics in river corridors.” doi: 10.1002/esp.3909.