Protecting Fishy Places in Maryland

A newly protected stretch on the Savage. 

Yesterday, the Maryland Department Natural Resources acquired a 120-acre conservation easement along the Savage River.  Anglers know the Savage for two reasons--it’s one of the best tailwater fisheries in the mid-Atlantic; and also, the Upper Savage, above the reservoir, is Maryland’s brook trout stronghold, accounting for 1/4 of all brook trout stream miles in the state.  The conservation easement lies along a mile of the Upper Savage next to the Savage River State Forest.

According to state fisheries biologist, Alan Heft, the Upper Savage River is “one of the few places remaining in the mid-Atlantic where a large river system is still connected to its original tributaries.” Heft continued, “There are no blockages, no dams and these fish can swim from one end of the river all the way up into the headwaters of some tributary some 20 miles away.”  Listen to Heft and his colleague, Matt Sell talk about their Savage River brook trout migration study in a three-minute video.  Don’t you wish you had Sell's job?

This particular conservation easement, granted voluntarily by the landowner, prevents the property from being subdivided and developed.  It limits use of the land to forestry and recreation and requires that timbering be done using best management practices.  But it’s no ordinary conservation easement.  Along with it came the first-ever exchange of brook trout habitat “conservation credits” through the Bay Bank, a program of TU’s partner, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation.  With the credits came some tougher-than-usual restrictions designed to protect brook trout habitat, including a 200-foot no-cut stream buffer, four times the width of most stream buffers required by conservation easements.  TU helped broker the deal and draft the terms of the agreement.

You may be wondering whether someone can buy brook trout credits to wreck habitat elsewhere.  Not the case with this program.  In contrast to other regulated markets for ecosystem services like water quality and endangered species habitat, this one is voluntary and purely philanthropic.  The Bay Bank calculates and certifies the credits, while others—individuals or institutions—purchase the credits in exchange for guarantees that habitat will be protected.  For more on how the program works, check out this article from Ecosystem Marketplace.

The Bay Bank deal is one example among many of how TU, working with private landowners, non-profit land trusts and state agencies, can protect the places we fish using the tools of private land conservation.  Last month, for example, TU issued four more Coldwater Land Conservancy Fund grants to protect native brook trout habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from New York south to Virginia, including an additional conservation easement on the Savage.

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure” applies equally to trout habitat.  To protect trout habitat and the places you fish, lend your support to your local land trusts and state land conservation programs.

--Kevin Anderson, Chesapeake Bay Land Protection Coordinator

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