2016 was a busy year for fish habitat restorations in New Hampshire. The goal of the NH Fish and Game Department's Fish Habitat Program is to protect, restore, and enhance New Hampshire's fisheries habitats, using a watershed approach, so that viable fish communities can be supported for their intrinsic value and long-term benefits to the public. Fish and Game works in partnership with other state and federal natural resource agencies, regional planning commissions, town governments, non-government organizations, and landowners to accomplish this goal.
The Watershed Assessment and Restoration Program works in collaboration with the Fish Habitat Program to define opportunities for protection, restoration, and enhancement of aquatic habitat and water quality by using an ecosystem based, watershed scale approach. With a strong impetus on the formulation of partnerships consisting of both traditional and nontraditional stakeholders a sense of communal understanding and ownership of actions that address aquatic habitat and water quality impairments is developed. Recognizing biological and social conditions vary throughout the state, specific but adaptable strategies are developed for each project area.
“Although specific habitat restoration or land conservation projects are easy to see and understand, much of the work done in the program is less visible, but nonetheless vitally important to the conservation of healthy fish habitat and populations,” says Fisheries Habitat Biologist John Magee. Fisheries habitat staff work on a number of inter-agency teams that develop policies that affect natural resources. An example is the Water Quality Standards Advisory Committee, which is comprised of professionals and state agency staff and advises the NH Department of Environmental Services on water quality rules and standards.
Highlights from 2016 fish habitat restoration work in New Hampshire:
Nash Stream Forest
In October, a culvert on the Columbia Road at Nash Stream Forest was removed. That culvert did not block fish movements, but it did dramatically alter the habitat and natural flow of water, sediment and wood in Nash Stream, to the point that road washouts were occurring and the habitat suffered. “We replaced it with a bridge that is compatible with the natural stream channel,” explained Magee.
Restoration continued at Nash Stream with the addition of logs, placed by hand, into Farrer Brook and the East Branch of Nash Stream. An excavator was used to add similar woody structure in the much larger mainstem of Nash Stream. This is a common restoration technique for brook trout habitat.
Habitat program staff continued their research on brook trout habitat and populations at Nash Steam Forest. “We are doing this because we have a once-in-a-career opportunity to study exactly how our restoration work affects brook trout,” said Magee. “A fundamental thing we have learned is that wood in streams, literally trees that fall into streams, is one of the most valuable habitat elements for brook trout. Those logs help to form deep pools, provide cover, and even retain leaves and small sticks – sites for the growth of fungi and bacteria, and these microbes form the basis of the food web in most small streams.”
Fish and Game’s research at Emerson and Johnson brooks clearly show that more instream wood and more pools equal more and bigger brook trout. “Where we added wood in Emerson Brook, we found 10-12 times the density of brook trout compared to where we did not add wood,” reported Magee.
Indian Stream Restoration Project
As they did for Nash Stream, Trout Unlimited also spearheaded the Indian Stream Restoration Project in Pittsburg. Restoration work on the mainstem was conducted in September; much of that work involved adding large trees to form pools and provide lots of cover for brook trout and aquatic insects.
A culvert on Falls Brook in Swanzey was replaced with one that does not hinder aquatic organism passage (fish and turtles) and provides flood resiliency to protect the road. The Falls Brook watershed contains significant wild brook trout populations.
Ammonoosuc River and Warner River Watersheds
Watershed-wide stream crossing assessments were completed in the Ammonoosuc River and Warner River watersheds in 2016. This information can be used to evaluate the level of habitat impact and fragmentation from stream crossings (culverts and bridges) within a watershed. Undersized stream crossings can alter natural sedimentation and erosion rates of a stream. These crossings may also limit the ability for fish to move freely through a watershed to access preferred areas.
“We plan to use existing fish data in conjunction with this information to help prioritize future restoration projects,” said Fisheries Biologist Ben Nugent. Volunteers from local Trout Unlimited chapters and other watershed residents provided support to conduct these studies. Over 1,000 hours of volunteer time was donated to evaluate the 700+ crossings in these two watersheds!
Since under-sized crossings are more susceptible to fail during high-flow events, project staff also plan to meet with road and town managers within these watersheds to discuss the value of appropriately sized stream crossings. The cost to install a suitable stream crossing (a structure that accommodates fish passage, high flows, and stream channel adjustment) can be very expensive. By meeting with road and town managers, there is potential that funding can be pooled in areas with shared priorities. Grants from Trout Unlimited’s Embrace-A-Stream program and Upper Connecticut River Mitigation and Enhancement Fund helped provide staff to conduct these assessments.
Landowners in the Ammonoosuc River and Warner River watersheds were solicited in 2016 to sign up for a property-specific site visit by biologists, volunteers from Trout Unlimited chapters and other watershed residents. Fish and Game conducted a full assessment on these properties where we encouraged landowners to participate. Landowners helped collect fish and aquatic macroinvertebrates, while learning about the importance of considering aquatic habitats when making land use decisions on their properties. Landowners who participated in this outreach project will receive a summary report this winter. “We hope this will help generate a list of potential habitat protection, enhancement, and restoration projects for the future,” said Nugent.
Beebe River Watershed
After acquiring funding to replace five undersized stream crossings that are impeding fish movement and significantly altering stream habitat, Fish and Game spent one more summer collecting baseline information about wild brook trout in the Beebe River Watershed. The crossings will be replaced in 2017 with five bridges that will allow wild brook trout to access cooler streams when the Beebe River mainstem becomes too warm in the summer. A student at Plymouth State University will thoroughly monitor how the wild brook trout population reacts (movements and genetics) to these efforts as part of a master’s study. Funding to replace these crossings and conduct five miles of road work to address stormwater runoff issues was made possible from the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program of the Natural Resource Conservation Service.