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Improving trout habitat in the Northeast Kingdom - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Improving trout habitat in the Northeast Kingdom

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LEWIS, Vt. -

What looks at first like a logging operation on closer inspection has a fishier purpose. It's a recent effort to restore brook trout habitat on the Black Branch of the Nulhegan River in the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife refuge in northern Essex County.

Using a chain saw and a come-along, the seven-member crew fells trees, positioning them in the river to make natural structures ideal for brook trout habitat.

"Adult trout particularly like pools. And so one of the things we're doing by adding wood to the stream is we're changing the channel or holding back some of the sediments. And we're doing some carving of the river, so we're letting the tree do the work for us," said Joe Norton of Trout Unlimited.

Logging here in the early 1900s took a major toll on fish habitat. Much of the damage remains today 100 years later.

"During the log drives they would have straightened the channel, dynamited the boulders out of the stream, removed the wood, removed any obstacles to get the logs down to the market," Norton explained.

"If these had been completely mature forests, the wood would be falling down naturally at a pretty good rate and would be locking in place, but the forests were logged over not that long ago, so the trees aren't mature enough to be falling in," said Jud Kratzer of Vt. Fish and Wildlife.

The wood structures-- 130 so far-- create pools and eddies like you would find in a mature forest, and where fish can find cooler water and insects to feed on.

The cooperative effort between state and federal wildlife officials and the group Trout Unlimited has targeted stretches on the Black and East Branches of the Nulhegan River. Even after only a short time, preliminary studies show improved fish numbers.

"This has been the most enjoyable thing I've done as a fish biologist," Kratzer said. "When we come and do this I look at the end of the day and I know we've done something good. And then I come back the next year and look at how the structures have changed and look even better-- it's really exciting."

Giving Mother Nature a helping hand to restore this wild river to its natural state.

The grant funding for the project comes from larger federal efforts to mitigate damage to fish caused by dams on the Connecticut River.

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