A Small Stream Repair Kit

Whether on public or on private land, many of our nation’s streams have been hurt by the push of civilization. The hand that hurt the small stream in the past can assist it in the healing process of the present. Since I’m only an amateur when it comes to stream remediation, I won’t get technical in this basic introduction, but I’ll offer several pointers based on my experience with New York and Pennsylvania conservation groups.

If you spend time time fishing or wandering along small streams, and if you have a little support for a project on a stream of interest, here’s a low-impact model that can yield a high result on your habitat of choice…

Let’s say you’re fishing a stream in the spring or fall. Clip off a few willow stalks, strip the leaves and push the stalks well into the soil or mud with a downstream slant. This is an important step that anyone can take who walks the flowing path. Another step for anyone interested is to pick up a piece of token litter each time you visit the stream and pack it out. Start doing this regularly and you’re guaranteed to get depressed as time goes on because you’re keying into garbage and you realize that it’s everywhere that people breathe and drink and drive and wander mindlessly. Garbage covers the earth and even filters into wilderness regions but, as they say, every “litter bit” helps. On a broader scale, your group can organize a major clean-up. Several years ago our T.U. chapter sucked up a landfill flowing into an otherwise gorgeous little brook trout stream. The collected tires, alone, weighed 2.5 tons.

I want to remember that the message of water,/ even when it is still in a mountain tarn,/ especially when it is moving, falling/ is not so much gravity as it is/ renewal.” — Benjamin Green

My chapter of Trout Unlimited has been planting trees, primarily willows but other species as well, for years. To plant trees on a stream of your choice, it should be relatively easy to obtain landowner permission. Willows grow quickly, hold the soil, provide some shade and add nutrients for trout and other stream inhabitants. In New York, trees are available free of charge from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for interested groups such as T.U. The trees are generally available for plantings in April or May.

For larger projects like the installation of log deflectors and mudsills on streams that will benefit by their placement, you’ll need outside help, but the satisfaction you’ll gain will greatly outweigh the hours of planning and the sweat involved. For our T.U. chapter’s work on Spring Mills Creek in 2010-2011, we had landowner permission to construct four work-sites on this headwater stream. I requested and received assistance from the fish biologist at the Department of Environmental Conservation in Region 9 for the design of the work. Unfortunately state governments are cutting back on their regional workers in these tough ass economic times, cutting back where the real work is accomplished, while beefing up the payrolls at the top of the bureaucratic pile. Consequently, it may be more difficult to get official help with stream design and permitting than it was, say, two or three years ago. But check out the possibilities with your local conservation offices.

We accomplished a low-impact, high-yield project on Spring Mills Creek using only hand tools, other than a tractor to haul our logs from the roadside to the streambank. There the eight and 10-footers were hoisted by grunts with log-carriers and ferried to the work sites. A dozen workers put in time over a two-day period; the native trout returned to their new shelters and rejuvenated pools before the next moon rose, and the whole deal cost the chapter less than $150 (thanks especially to a local hardware business that donated rebar for the 30 logs we used).

When you get involved with stream work, your success will fly you like a wood duck. Be careful, though. You’ll also suffer the occasional set-back which can drop you like an autumn goose on the Chesapeake marshes. Yesterday I drove up to Spring Mills Creek to check on our projects there and was shocked. Beavers had moved in over the winter and found a singular stand of alders which they neatly converted into a spiffy lodge which then inspired them to build a first dam on the creek. The new pond took my breath away. Gods be damned, it was right where we had recently planted willow trees by the hundreds! Submerged in my own vile juices,  I immediately thought of another tool to add to my repair kit… dynamite! I hate dams when they’re built on struggling project areas. But we can’t conform nature to our wishes and, of course, I’m only kidding (sort of) about the use of explosives. Beavers aren’t at fault for our ecological woes. We are. 

The new reservoir submerged our plantings and promised to raise the temperature of the brookie water in days to come. I had murder in my heart for the lumbering rodents but I wouldn’t actually light a fuse or pull a trigger.  We’ve killed off their predators, then blame the beaver for the impact of their handiwork. Set-backs aside, the triumphs will return. Will our efforts make a difference in the long run? Who’s to say.  If the streams are there and call you, pay the visit and enjoy.

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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2 Responses to A Small Stream Repair Kit

  1. Ken G says:

    I have a friend that was a demolitions expert in the Army. We have dam removals all figured out.

    I believe Quill Gordon has friends that would be glad to head your way to take care of the beavers, you’re not that far away.

    You ever change your mind, just let us know. We’re here to help.

    Seriously though, I’m enjoying watching the process of a dam removal and creek restoration right near my house. It will be interesting to see how the creek recovers after 175 years of being blocked.

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