As natural gas extraction expands across the Central Appalachian region, that industrial-scale energy development is encroaching on public lands that are critically important for fishing and hunting. In this report, Trout Unlimited takes a deeper look into those public places, outlining the potential risks posed by gas drilling operations and providing recommendations from sportsmen and women that promote responsible energy development.

Savage River Watershed

Savage River Fly Fishing

The Place

The Savage River watershed, located in western Maryland’s Garrett County, is home to the state’s premier brook trout fishery. Within the watershed there are over 120 miles of interconnected streams, and the highest density of brook trout in the state.

Flowing through old-growth hardwood forests and rhododendron thickets, the river is considered one of the best fly-fishing destinations in the region. No other trout fishery in Maryland possesses the abundance of wild trout in such wild surroundings. Downstream, the Savage River Reservoir is also a popular fishing destination, with numerous species of warm and coldwater fish, including bass and catfish.

More than half of the Savage River State Forest is located within the 74,000-acre watershed. It is one of the most popular public lands in the state and its 54,000-acres are home to white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bear, beaver, mink, muskrat and river otter. A prime hunting area, a portion of the forest has been designated by the state as a wilderness area for its high conservation value and to protect the backcountry experience for hunters and anglers.

The Threat

Shale gas drilling is on hold in Maryland until a governor-appointed commission completes its study of the impacts and issues a final report. If the state begins to issue drilling permits, the fish and wildlife resources found within the Savage River watershed may well be at risk. Forest and vegetation clearing for well pads, access roads, pipelines and storage areas would fragment the watershed’s forest system that supports thriving wildlife populations.

State agencies estimate that shale gas drilling on nearly one of every four leases in Garrett County may affect access to or the quality of key trout fishing areas and brook trout streams. Although the majority of the Savage River watershed lies within the Savage River State Forest, the headwater portions of most of these 108 streams are located on private lands. Headwater streams are critical for trout spawning and are often the nearest source for the water withdrawals needed for drilling.

The Need to Protect

Savage RiverProtecting Maryland’s only remaining intact brook trout population, as well as the many wildlife species that live in the Savage River watershed, is critical to protecting the interests of sportsmen and women. More than half of Maryland’s state forest lands are located in its westernmost counties — the very areas that rest over the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. Taken together, the Garrett, Green Ridge, Potomac and Savage River state forests account for 115,000 acres of unbroken forest areas that sustain fish and game populations and provide a wide range of sporting experiences. As private lands in Maryland’s western counties are developed, fewer places are available for anglers and hunters, and the demand for fishing and hunting on state forest lands is likely to increase. To adequately protect these special places, if Maryland moves forward with natural gas extraction, shale gas drilling activities must be prohibited throughout the Savage River watershed as well as on public forest lands, where the state owns the mineral rights.


A huge number of people come here because it’s such a unique watershed full of various outdoor recreation possibilities. Nick Weber,Past Chair of the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited
Nick Weber

If You Go

Western Maryland is a great place to visit any time of year, and the Savage River is a fabulous place to fish. Savage River Lodge is nestled within more than 700 acres of the Savage River State Forest. This TU Business member specializes in offering not only great fishing but the relaxation and comfort that go along with it. With eighteen luxury cabins and the nearby lodge, fantastic food and exceptional hospitality, this longtime TU Business member and supporter combines relaxed atmosphere with friendly service and great trout fishing. Contact Mike Dreisbach at (301) 689-3200 or visit
View the Savage River Lodge TU Business page


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