TU's Shenandoah Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative focuses its restoration and conservation efforts on headwater spring creeks and mountain tributaries in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The current focus is on five priority subwatersheds in the valley.
The Eastern brook trout - the official state fish of Virginia - requires clean cold water to survive and historically occurred throughout the Shenandoah Valley from mountain streams to the spring creeks of the valley floor. Yet centuries of land use practices that degraded water quality and stream habitat have led to the extirpation of brook trout from these valley-bottom spring creeks, and relegated the majority of intact populations to fragmented isolated mountain streams found in the Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington Jefferson National Forest. Virginia is the stronghold of brook trout south of the Mason-Dixon Line with 29 percent of its historically occupied subwatersheds still supporting populations. However, brook trout populations are extirpated in 38 percent of the subwatersheds, underscoring the dramatic loss of brook trout throughout the eastern region. The majority of Virginia's extirpated subwatersheds are along the Interstate 81 corridor stretching the entire length of the Shenandoah Valley and south past Roanoke.
The Shenandoah Valley is a geologically karst region dominated by fertile soil, limestone bedrock and numerous springs. These spring creeks historically supported strong populations of brook trout and produced trophy size individuals due to the stable cold water temperatures and constant flows that are conducive to year round growth. But centuries of land use along this corridor associated with agriculture, forestry and human development degraded water quality, fragmented and altered habitat eliminating brook trout from these productive creeks by the late 1960s.
The limiting factors for brook trout survival in these valley floor spring-fed creeks are high water temperatures, and inadequate spawning habitat. Land use practices that denude stream banks and riparian areas of vegetation causing erosion and stream sedimentation are the primary contributors to these limiting factors. Excessive sediment in these streams smothers the natural gravel substrate required by brook trout to reproduce, and heavily eroded streams tend to have shallow and wide channels with slow moving water that captures the sun's energy leading to increased water temperatures. Agricultural practices, such as watering livestock directly in a stream, impair water quality, cause bank erosion, and channel widening creating shallow uniform sections of stream that lack habitat complexity. An additional problem throughout the brook trout's range, also apparent in the Shenandoah Valley, is habitat fragmentation associated with road/stream crossings that prevent fish movement and contribute to habitat degradation by altering stream flows. To reverse these impacts the Shenandoah Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative is working in cooperation with agricultural landowners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, US Fish and Wildlife Service, local TU chapters and other state and federal agencies to restore the stream and riparian habitat in these spring creeks of the Shenandoah Valley so they can once again support brook trout.
Beaver Creek in Rockingham County, VA, before cattle have been excluded and the stream restored.
Beaver Creek a few days after completing instream channel restoration. Project funded by CBT, NOAA, Fish America, CBRF, NFWF, NRCS, VDGIF and TU EAS.
There is an immediate need in the Shenandoah Valley to accelerate the pace of water quality improvement and mitigate the poor land use practices that have contributed to the valley's water quality problems and the extirpation of brook trout.
The goals of the Shenandoah Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative are to:
TU is working to restore water quality and native brook trout populations on agricultural land of targeted spring creeks in the Shenandoah Valley by installing livestock exclusion fencing, planting riparian buffers, and completing stream bank stabilization and instream habitat improvement using natural channel design techniques. Restoring streamside vegetation and natural stream geomorphology of width, depth and sinuosity creates shade, stable banks, and improved habitat for brook trout and other native fishes. These activities and other best management practices, such as eliminating damage to critical riparian areas from off highway vehicle use, reduce threats to healthy populations of brook trout and build resiliency to climate change into these important natural systems to ensure that future generations of anglers and conservationist will be able to enjoy brook trout in its native habitat.
The Shenandoah Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative is led by a full-time coordinator, Seth Coffman. For additionally information on TU's goals, and specific objectives in each watershed contact Seth at 540.333.0689 or firstname.lastname@example.org.