Habitat Work: NFC's Position
Bob Mallard - National Vice Chair, Native Fish Coalition
A couple of years ago NFC NH State Chair Nate Hill and I came across some freshly cut trees along a formally designated National Wild & Scenic River in White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Twenty minutes from the nearest road, we were stunned and angered by what we saw.
We initially thought that someone had illegally cut trees for an equally illegal backcountry campfire. Cut from within the floodplain, it was clear that the removal of these trees resulted in some degree of canopy loss and potential bank destabilization.
As we approached the trail-crossing where we were going to hike back out to the truck we came on a series of downed trees bridging the stream. It was obvious this had nothing to do with camping as no attempt was made to remove the wood.
Staring downstream from the trail-crossing I couldn’t help but notice the sunlight penetrating the woods and brightening the streambank. This couldn’t be good for the resident wild native trout, I thought. Who did this and why?
Other than the cut trees this was a healthy stream that supported a solid wild native brook trout population. It had everything - cool water, gradient, structure, canopy, and unusually strong insect life for a small freestone stream.
Upon arriving home I started to look into the cut trees. As it turned out, they had been cut to help improve the habitat for trout under what is referred to as “chop-and-drop.” While I have seen good chop-and-drop, I did not feel that was the case here, and in fact, we may have done more harm than good.
A year later I revisited the site. While the holes in the canopy still exist, in all but one case the wood is gone, pushed above the high-water mark by normal spring floods or some other high water event. While I cannot say that it hurt the stream, I can say that I don’t believe it helped. In fact, I don’t believe the stream needed any help — at least not there.
This along with some questionable work on the middle Kennebec and nearby Austin Stream helped to form NFC’s position on habitat work. Like chemical reclamation, we believe there are good examples and bad examples. NFCs position is to support the former and not support the latter.
Here is a summary of our formal policy regarding habitat work from our FAQ page. While incomplete, it is our general position and each project will be evaluated based on a broad range of issues:
A: Native Fish Coalition fully supports habitat work where it benefits wild native fish populations. We do however recognize that while well-intended, not all habitat work does what it is intended to do. We do not support the cutting of live stream-side trees under what is known as chop-and-drop. We do however support depositing large woody debris in the streambed by removing fallen trees, and even cutting trees, from outside critical riparian zones. NFC will not get involved in habitat work on waters that are actively being stocked unless the plan is to discontinue such. We take a similar position in regard to waters where nonnative gamefish are present, and will not actively support projects that do not include a plan for removing the nonnative species. While not a hard-and-fast rule, NFC prefers to work where there are protective land use and fishing regulations in place. Exceptions may be made for remote waters with limited angler exploitation and places where we have a landowner willing to make land-use concessions. In general, we will spend your money as you would, and avoid projects with limited return on investment.