Cumberland Times-News

Outdoors

December 8, 2012

Major, remote effort for brook trout’s benefit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Now it’s up to nature.

After 13 months of digging, piling up rocks and painstakingly placing sunken logs, workers are just about finished with a $5 million effort to restore good brook-trout fishing to West Virginia’s upper Shavers Fork.

“We’ll know after we get some high water whether the work we did is doing what we wanted it to do,” said Danny Bennett, the Division of Natural Resources’ stream-restoration coordinator. “Our goal was to reproduce a semblance of the stream as it was at one time.”

The “at one time” Bennett referred to was the late 1800s, before the Shavers Fork watershed was shorn of its timber for the first time. Back then the river flowed narrow, deep and cold, and brook trout thrived in its depths.

Conditions degenerated quickly after the lumbermen came. Logging crews floated huge rafts of logs down the river, and the rafts bulldozed rocks out of the riverbed and left the stream wide, shallow, flat and featureless. Without trees to shade it, the segment of Shavers upstream from Cheat Bridge became too warm to support temperature-sensitive brook trout.

Fisheries officials tried to replace the brookies by stocking rainbow and brown trout, both of which can tolerate higher temperatures.

“The stream had a couple of major problems,” explained Steve Brown, the senior DNR planner who spearheaded the restoration project. “It had no depth and it had very few large rocks and logs to hide fish and give them relief from the river’s current.”

DNR officials wanted to restore the river, but didn’t have enough money to begin until former U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan earmarked $2.25 million for the effort. The grant, along with $100,000 from the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, allowed the agency to get started on Shavers by re-establishing easy fish passage between two brook-trout feeder streams and the river’s main stem.

At about that same time, the Tygart Valley Conservation District, through the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, was building a dam on Elkwater Fork of the Tygart River. The project’s parameters required conservation district officials to mitigate the loss of the once free-flowing stream by doing watershed-restoration work elsewhere.

DNR officials approached the involved parties and suggested the mitigation work be done on Shavers Fork.

Plans were drawn up, a contractor was hired and $4 million worth of work began early last September.

“They put in single- and double-wing current deflectors, cross-vane structures, rock vanes, and a new sort of structure they call ‘toe wood,”’ Bennett said. “They did a limited amount of hole creation, and they put in benches that should help to narrow up the river channel.

“The hope is that narrowing and deepening the channel will break up ice during the winter and help to prevent ice scour. We’re also hoping the deeper pools will help intercept (cooler) ground water and bring the stream’s overall temperature down.”

Streamside trees were planted to create shade.

“We should know within a few years whether the changes we made are having an effect,” he said. “The reason we’ll know — and will know with great certainty — is that researchers from (West Virginia University) have been up there for 10-plus years gathering data.”

Researchers will monitor Shavers’ water temperature to see if it begins to cool. They’ll also survey the river’s insect and crustacean life, and they’ll monitor brook-trout genetics to determine when the fish return to the river’s main stem from their current homes in tributary streams.

The new structures will be evaluated after next spring’s snowmelt and high-water runoff to see if they accomplished what designers hoped they would. Most of the structures were designed to deflect high-velocity springtime flows in a way that scours out deep pools and pockets.

If the project proves successful, Brown said 15 more miles of upper Shavers might receive similar treatment.

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