Not new, but improved

Partnership project improves stream’s habitat

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Jacob Finkle of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission drills a hole in a log that will help with streambank stabilization, fish habitat, and making Browns Run run faster and deeper.

Even exceptional value trout streams can use some help.

A partnership project this week improved stream conditions in Browns Run, Mead Township.

“We are trying to improve stream habitat for brown trout migration out of the Allegheny River during spawning season,” Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Stream Habitat Manager Mark Sausser said. “This was overwide and very shallow.”

Those conditions are not conducive to trout migration, nor are they good for spawning.

So, local groups got together to fix it.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Stream Habitat Manager Mark Sausser (white hat) and Stream Habitat Seasonal Worker Jacob Finkle drive rebar into a log that was placed in Browns Run as part of a stream restoration project. From left are Tyler Martonik of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and Brandon Hartman and Ray Bailey of the Cornplanter Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

“It was a partnership between Cornplanter Chapter of Trout Unlimited (CCTU), Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC), the Warren County Conservation District (WCCD), and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC),” WPC Watershed Technician Luke Bobnar said.

Some brown trout that spend most of their time in the river attempt to swim up Browns Run to spawn. The bottom of the Allegheny River is not ideal spawning ground for brown trout. Silt and sand can smother a redd — a fish nest. Browns Run has a lot of fine gravel at its base, Sausser said. “That’s where they want to spawn.”

Faster water will wash away the silt and sand that has deposited in Browns Run and give better access to the gravel.

“Our goal is to narrow out the stream and make it deeper,” Sausser said. “That will allow easier access to the trout. The easier we can make it on them to spawn, the more successful they will be. More spawning fish means more fish to catch in the future.”

To narrow the waterway, the project involved installation of about 10 structures over a 600-foot section of stream next to the ball fields.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Stream Habitat Manager Mark Sausser guides logs placed in Browns Run by a Fox and Sons excavator during a stream restoration project. Waiting to secure the structure in place are (from left) Kyle Fedder of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and Brandon Hartman and Ray Bailey of the Cornplanter Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

“We’re installing multi-log vanes and log-frame stone deflectors,” he said. Those structures will “encourage the stream to dig deeper.”

The structures also create ripples in the water which provides “visual cover from aerial predators,” Bobnar said.

The improvements will help keep stocked fish alive longer, too.

Sausser described the work area as “critical” for the trout.

It is also important to anglers.

The stream abuts public land and is close to public parking. “It’s a popular local spot,” Bobnar said.

“This is our first project on Browns Run,” he said. “This is immediate habitat and cover. This is immediate stabilization.”

“This is our showcase project,” he said. “In the future, we’d like to continue this work.”

Landowners who would like to see stream and streambank improvements on their lands may contact the WPC at lbobnar@paconserve.org, the WCCD, or CCTU. “Even for landowners that aren’t interested in fish habitat, it’s bank stabilization,” Bobnar said. “Everybody sees a different benefit.”

Trout Unlimited applied for grant funding and spent $10,000 for the stone and logs for the structures.

Grant funding was provided through the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds and the Pennsylvania Coldwater Heritage Partnership.

Fox and Sons Excavating was the low bidder for the heavy lifting, CCTU Conservation Projects Coordinator Mike Fadale said. Excavators were used to move five truck loads of large stone and about 60 logs.

The excavators made a mess of the area, but the project includes rehabilitation — “seed and mulch, planting a native species mix, and leaving an anglers’ path if possible,” Bobnar said.

The workers will also do soil bioengineering, he said. They will place cuttings of native, “quick-rooting” species into the stream bank. Many of those will take root and grow. They provide immediate streambank stabilization and create habitat for species of bugs that are the long-term food supply for the fish.

CCTU kicked off the project. “We were the petitioners for the permits,” Fadale said.

Following the request from CCTU, Sausser created a plan. That plan was approved and permitted through further PFBC action. The entities received permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

WPC coordinated the partnerships, materials, contractor, and landowner agreements.

“We’re here as labor, too,” Bobnar said. “I’d rather be in the stream and working than making phone calls.”

Joining Kyle Fedder and Tyler Martonik of WPC, Jacob Finkle of PFBC, Ray Bailey, Brandon Hartman, Gary Kell, Ross Fadale, and Barry Simon of CCTU, and WCCD Watershed Specialist Jean Gomory, was Tom Hutcheson.

Hutcheson is not affiliated with any of the partner organizations. In fact, he’s not even from Warren County.

Bobnar described Hutcheson, who is from Slippery Rock, as an “all-star volunteer.”

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