Large, woody structure is placed deliberately to enhance riffles, divert flow, and create deeper pools for fish

ELKINS, W.Va. — Decades of poor timber practices in the late 1800s and major flood activity have left a lot of West Virginia trout streams in ragged condition. Partnerships between the state and federal government have created numerous improvements of streams on the National Forests, but a few years ago, Dave Thorne who leads the trout program in West Virginia, advocated an effort to do some of that same kind of enhancement work on state lands.

“We put together an aquatic enhancement plan for state lands and where we can to do partnerships on private land,” he said.”We have a lot of nice trout streams on state lands as well and they haven’t really gotten the resources and attention since we started doing this type of work.”

The work is aimed at improving the habitat for fish, mainly trout, but other fish and aquatic species are reaping the benefits of the work as well. Among the first projects was a mile section of Mill Creek at Kumbrabow State Forest, last year the agency worked to enhance about a mile of Laurel Fork within Holly River State Park, and this summer the focus has been on a new stretch of Spring Run in Grant County recently acquired by the agency.

“We call it ‘habitat enhancement’ because we’re working in streams that are already pretty good. We’re doing what we can to make them better. We’re putting woody habitat in with anchoring trees to create pools with boulders and rock structure and then narrow and deepen the channel,” Thorne explained.

The work is largely done in house by agency personnel with agency equipment, specifically purchased for the work.

“The guys I work with, we’re getting a little to old to do it by hand, but we get more bang for our buck using the larger equipment. It helps us to move larger stuff around a lot easier,” he said.

Thorne and his team have learned from past experience how best to create the most ideal stream habitat. Logs and woody structure are placed in patterns to guide the flow of water toward the stream’s center. Large boulders are placed deliberately in positions to shore up a bank or create diverted flow. The excavator scours material from the bottom to create deeper channels and  provide a cooler haunt for fish to escape the heat of direct sun.

“We’ve looked at doing work across all species and all water types including larger rivers, but when we got into doing work in the larger streams we started running into permitting issues,” explained Thorne. “A lot of it was culture and history stuff which we hadn’t planned into the budget.”

So for now, the focus remains on the smaller streams and tributaries which are mainly the location of native brook trout along with a few stocked trout stream locations.
“It’s fun work and gratifying work because you can do something and two days later see fish occupying the spot where you just build a new quality habitat for them,” Thorne said.