Thursday, June 23, 2005
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Keeping the bloom on the wildflower of mountain streams
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
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- Field reports archive
Brook trout are special. They are a child of the Appalachian wilderness, living in some of the world’s most beautiful spots: mountain streams that are cold, clear and clean.
For me, it always has been a thrill to catch one, especially a native, but even if you are unsuccessful you can enjoy the simple pleasure of just sharing their pristine habitat.
Brook trout are the smallest of Virginia’s big-three trout -- rainbows, browns and brooks. They are the only native trout of the East. Our rainbows are from the West; browns from Europe.
The biggest brook trout I ever caught was 2-plus pounds, a stocked fish taken from a Virginia stream. The most memorable ones were the scores of 6- to 10-inch native fish I landed during backpack trips into the wilds of Maine. Their bellies were red as fire.
Brook trout are such a thing of rare beauty that John Ross, angling writer and chairman of the Virginia Council of Trout Unlimited, calls them the wildflower of streams. They are smooth and shiny, with hardly a scale visible. Their colors are both subtle and vivid.
And they are in trouble.
More than most species, the brook trout is impacted by the emissions from coal-burning power plants and vehicles. These pollutants are carried airborne to be rained down on the slopes of our Blue Ridge where they send the pH of mountains streams soaring toward the acidity redline. The result can be sterile water void of trout and the insects and minnows they feed on. This makes the brook trout an indicator species for water quality. When it is gone, so is about everything else that matters.
Virginia has more than 2,000 miles of brook trout streams, giving it the distinction of harboring the greatest concentration of this fish in the Southeast. Scientists say about half of the state’s more than 400 streams that hold brook trout are impaired by acidity.
While strides have been made to improve the air quality, and thus the water quality, there remains much to be done. There still are places in the heart of Virginia’s brook trout country that fail to meet the new standards for clean air established by the Environmental Protection Agency.
That brings us to “Back the Brookie,” a campaign launched by members of Trout Unlimited in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and West Virginia.
The campaign, said Ross, has four key components:
1. To protect and restore the habitat of brook trout
2. To educate the public, especially youth
3. To keep elected and appointed officials and business and industry leaders up to date on the needs and challenges
4. To enlist new Trout Unlimited members.
At the center of the effort is a CD/video titled “The Battle for the Brookie,” which is short, colorful and educational -- so good that I have viewed it several times. Helping with the production and distribution of the CD and assisting with other elements of the campaign is Dominion, a Richmond-based power company.
“Why in the world would you cuddle up with a polluter?” is a question Ross has heard more than once.
“We thought this was a great opportunity to learn how to work together,” is the answer he gives.
Dominion isn’t just providing money to the campaign, but has announced that it is spending $1.2 billion on pollution control at its plants in Virginia and West Virginia, two states that claim the brook trout as their state fish. That is a far cry from 20-plus years ago when I approached a power company executive and challenged him about acid rain.
“Acid rain? What’s that? No one has proven that there is such a thing,” he told me.
The proof now is all too plentiful: sterile streams, firs and spruce dying on the ridge tops, reduced vistas from national park overlooks.
The positive thing is that these issues can be addressed, and a little trout that loves the wildest and most beautiful habitat of all could lead the way.
For additional information on Trout Unlimited check VCTU.org.