Is Made in the Shade
The land and the water are connected in so many ways, and many of these connections are unseen or little known. What washes off the land surrounding waterways, from manure to fertilizer to soil particles with traces of chemicals–even at a microscopic level–can have long-lasting impacts on a variety of species inhabiting Maryland waters.
Planting trees and shrubs to catch and absorb this runoff and reduce nutrient inputs into our streams has been proven to be effective over time, as has been shown by Maryland Forest Service data collected from stream-side forests, or riparian forest buffers. It is the forests of our state that are filters for our waters and our air, creating a healthier habitat for wildlife and humans alike. Acting as a sink for all those nutrients and sediment, the collective root systems of a forest stand stabilize an eroding landscape and sequester copious amounts of rainfall and the runoff byproduct that comes with it.
One of the simpler benefits, or ecosystem services, that our native forests provide is shade. Any person who has stood in a scorching, sunbaked lawn with nothing but turf and not a tree in sight can appreciate the cool respite a tree canopy provides. That same refuge we seek on a hot day is what the native trout of Maryland, the brook trout, depend upon for survival in streams throughout the state; making the establishment of streamside forests, or riparian forest buffers, pivotal for restoring one of Maryland’s iconic native wildlife species.
Spawning and migration of brook trout are all tied to water temperatures, and our only native trout in much of the eastern United States is the perfect environmental indicator as it survives in only the coldest, cleanest waters, no warmer than 68 degrees.
A brook trout’s journey begins as a fry, or baby fish, hatched in spring from an egg its mother laid in the autumn–ideally on a gravel streambed cleared of silt near the lower end of a stream pool. This baby brookie’s home is called a redd. The fry will emerge sometime between February and April, based on water temperatures, seeking refuge in vegetated areas or protected pockets of a streambed.
Maturity is usually reached at age two, with overall lifespan averaging about five years. Depending on its stage of life, a brook trout will be quite specific in its habitat selection; temperature, dissolved oxygen and food availability are some driving factors. Whether through shading with canopy, nutrient uptake by trees to prevent degraded oxygen, or streamside vegetation and resulting leaf litter supporting insects that feed fish, building forests along our waterways can help address all of those factors.
Even when it comes to the subsurface, trees and trout are interconnected from root to redd. Forest stands effectively slow down infiltration of groundwater, helping to conserve and manage the hydrology and water budget, or change in water storage, of the land. The gravel depressions where eggs are laid Crucial Collaboration
Efforts to increase forest buffer plantings and tree canopy while rebuilding brook trout habitat include a multitude of organizations, such as Maryland Trout Unlimited, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (both Fishing and Boating Services and Maryland Forest Service), U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), local county Soil Conservation Districts, and Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. However, the most important partners in all of this are landowners invested in the long-term health of their woods and water.