As a cradle for American history and culture, the Shenandoah River Valley is unsurpassed. Its majestic vistas have inspired poets and painters, but its streams are unhealthy, troubled by pollution that threatens fish and wildlife.
The Shenandoah’s brook trout, which live exclusively in the coldest and cleanest waters, are the only trout native to much of the eastern United States. “A lot of people relate to brook trout because they remember fishing for them as a kid,” said Libby Norris of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. But generations of timber harvest, agriculture, mining, urbanization and unrestricted cattle grazing have taken a toll on river and forest. The changes have affected water quality and put trout into hot water, literally, as the river’s protective canopy of trees vanishes and shade disappears. Now, brook trout are found only in scattered headwater streams.
NFWF partners are restoring brook trout populations and the rivers and streams where they reside, and the results will be felt far from the valley. Landowners are taking action to replant trees, which stabilize the banks and shade the waters, keeping them cooler. They’re also erecting fences to keep cattle out of streams, which reduces erosion and makes water cleaner for trout.
“Doing right by brook trout helps the Chesapeake Bay,” explained Seth Coffman of Trout Unlimited. “If we can restore a stream to a condition that supports trout, we also improve water quality downstream, benefiting water users in local communities.”
“Farmers are amazing businessmen to balance budgets on such a thin margin,” said Norris. “It doesn’t do them any good to have topsoil in the stream or cows getting sick in impaired waters.” However, faced with the vagaries of commodity pricing and encroaching urban development, farmers often lack the resources to put conservation measures in place.
Teaming up with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Trout Unlimited, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, NFWF funds restoration projects and field staff who meet with landowners to answer questions and build relationships. “Not every situation has the same solution,” said Coffman. “By working closely with farmers, we tailor conservation plans to meet the needs of streams and farming operations.”
With the help of its federal funding, NFWF is allocating money where it can do the most good for brook trout, the Shenandoah River and the Chesapeake Bay. “We are very grateful for NFWF grants because they’re flexible,” said Norris. “We can all work collaboratively to do exactly what the farmer and fish need on the ground — and in the water.”