Considering that about three quarters of the state’s forests are in private hands and only 11% of all brook trout streams and stream miles are fully within state land, the cooperation and collaboration between government agencies and private citizens in habitat restoration efforts is crucial to any success. Part of that success is linked to introducing the public to the alphabet soup of planting programs available to them, including Maryland’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which is designed to benefit the landowner and the land.
One of those landowners is Greg Dell of Manchester, whose property borders an unnamed tributary of Big Pipe Creek in an area that’s part of the Upper Monocacy River watershed. Dell’s land has been in the family and farmed for 50 years. When he took ownership of the property in 2015, the pasture on the land had been neglected for approximately 8 years, and prior to that was in a no-till crop rotation of corn and soy.
After talking to his local Soil Conservation District office, Dell said he realized that going through CREP to install a forest buffer would be perfect for restoring the waterway and land on his 154-acre property. Through the combined efforts of the NRCS and DNR watershed forester Jamie Weaver, 27 acres of native trees and shrubs were planted along Dell’s waterfront property in spring 2016.
Just a few years of growth later amid an emerging forest canopy, the tributary winding through this newly reforested land provided quite a surprise. A fisheries survey completed last summer by DNR Fisheries Manager Mark Staley and fellow staff found brook trout of several age classes throughout the mile stretch of waterway in Dell’s restored pastureland, a previously undocumented stream regarding brook trout populations. “The age class diversity suggests that a small stream like this, with a still developing forest canopy, is capable of supporting trout nurseries,” according to Weaver.
For the past three years, Staley and staff have been surveying numerous streams throughout the state and particularly outside of the Upper Gunpowder watershed to determine new streams capable of supporting brook trout. Just adjacent to the Gunpowder watershed is Greg Dell’s property and stream, where one of at least three previously undocumented populations was identified during this survey. “We were excited to learn brook trout were in this stream considering they are pretty scarce in Central Maryland, and this population appears to be really healthy,” exclaimed Staley. Carroll County Soil Conservation District staff familiar with these waters suggest that while these brook trout may be a new discovery to surveyors, the trout have been there all along, leftovers from when they were common in that part of the state.
This fisheries discovery showed “a very robust population” living in Dell’s stream, according to Scott Scarfone of Maryland Trout Unlimited’s Upper Gunpowder Brook Trout Partnership. “We’re all ecstatic,” Staley said, pointing out that this population was not stocked. “They have been existing there for who knows how long!”
Photo of tree tubes in field by Ellen Kinzer