Advocacy | Conservation | Science

PA’s Unassessed Waters Initiative reaches milestone

By Rob Shane

When TU partnered with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in 2011 to start surveying and protecting wild trout streams in the Commonwealth, we knew the mountain ahead of us would take years to climb. Pennsylvania has 86,000 miles of flowing water, and less than a quarter of those stream miles had been surveyed for wild browns, brookies and rainbows.

Each summer, PFBC, TU, and other partners have been sending out crews and electroshocking streams with the hope of finding wild trout, so we could protect those streams from development impacts.

Streams with natural reproducing populations of trout qualify for a Class A or Wild Trout designation. Each quarter, PFBC proposes streams for designation, and over the past two years, TU members and our partners have submitted more than 1,500 comments in favor of upgraded designations. This is a true testament to volunteers’ commitment to making the Keystone state a leader in wild trout conservation.

At this week’s Commission meeting, the voice of TU was again impossible to ignore. More than 200 comments were submitted in favor of upgrading 36 Wild Trout and three Class A streams.

If you’ve been paying attention, you may notice that this is fewer streams than in past quarters, when PFBC was regularly approving 100+ streams.

I assure you, though, that this is good news.

Wild brown trout are frequently found during TU’s stream sampling efforts.

Finding wild trout at a 40 percent clip while surveying thousands of streams inevitably caused a backup in streams awaiting designation. But according to PFBC staff, we have now officially cleared the backlog of streams known to be deserving of wild trout designation in the Keystone state.

That doesn’t mean the Unassessed Waters Initiative is ending. More than half of Pennsylvania streams have still not been surveyed for wild trout. TU will continue sending out crews to assess more than 150 streams each year in the West Branch Susquehanna and Delaware watersheds.

But now, with the backlog cleared, any streams surveyed in 2019 can be added to the Wild Trout and Class A list in 2020, rather than waiting in line. That means it is more important than ever for PFBC, TU and our partners to invest in wild trout surveys.

So, what’s next?

According to Pennsylvania’s antidegradation regulations, Class A designation automatically qualifies a stream for High Quality (HQ) designation from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This classification helps protect water quality and wild trout populations when development is proposed in a watershed.

Unfortunately, DEP has not been moving quickly enough on formally protecting more than 142 Class A streams; some have been waiting almost a decade.

TU is urging DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell to upgrade these Class A streams to HQ immediately, and to streamline the process of future Class A upgrades. Click here to find a statewide map of the wild trout streams at issue, or click here to zero in on the Delaware River watershed.

Then visit TU’s Action Center to help us make the case for protecting Pennsylvania’s best wild trout streams.

We’re confident the voice of TU members will help push these streams over the finish line and ensure healthy populations of wild trout for generations to come.

Russ Collins, president of the TU Doc Fritchey Chapter in central Pennsylvania and a regional vice president for PATU, recently testified at the state legislature in favor of protecting the state’s pristine trout streams.

This week, lawmakers in Pennsylvania heard that message from Russ Collins, president of the TU Doc Fritchey Chapter in central Pennsylvania and a regional vice president for PATU.

Russ visited Harrisburg this week to testify before the House Democratic Policy Committee, and he spoke eloquently about the need for the legislature and our state agencies to protect our most pristine streams. Russ, like many of our stalwart volunteer leaders in Pennsylvania and across the country, understands that conservation doesn’t happen by accident and that protecting a stream from the onset is a lot more cost-effective and less time consuming than cleaning it up later.

To quote Russ, “Clean water + happy fish = more fishing fun.”

Rob Shane is Trout Unlimited’s mid-Atlantic organizer. An avid angler for trout and other species, he is based in Pennsylvania.