Our knee boots were barely high enough to keep the vines and multiflora rose from scraping our shins as we approached the stream channel. The wetted width of the channel was hard to determine, with lots of soft rush and cattail concealing the water flowing around the root systems of the vegetation. We were looking for deep parts of the channel, or the channel thalweg, where water will continue to reside and flow during the driest season.
A quick movement to my left in the channel caught my eye, revealing a very small snapping turtle, about the size of a Gatorade bottle cap. I called out to Cameron and pointed in the direction of the turtle and he was able to see it as it burrowed into soft sediments along the edge of the stream. To my right the channel flow deepened, and I found a good spot to secure the temperature logger. We set the T-post and I started to install the housing for the data logger at the bottom of the stream. I struggled with the first zip tie and had to pull my hand up to reset the tie through the top of the case. As I pulled up the case, a dragon fly nymph scampered towards my hand, I snapped a quick picture before it jumped back to the stream. I was not able to show the kids the dragon fly nymph, but I was able to show them the photo. What fun things to see and talk about with my kids! We were able to have great conversations and spend some fun time on a couple small streams this weekend.
My kids and I had the great experience of volunteering with Trout Unlimited to help install temperature loggers in the Upper Gunpowder Falls Watershed. The Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited over the past six years has supported an initiative to protect, enhance, and restore habitat and water quality as part of the Upper Gunpowder Falls Watershed Brook Trout Conservation Partnership. Scott Scarfone and Adam Nabors have invested their time to reach out to property owners, collect temperature data, and evaluate watershed impacts to help the watershed. They are working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to evaluate temperature constraints to brook trout habitat in the watershed by measuring spring to fall water temperatures in 15 locations.
Seeing a dragon fly and snapping turtle was fun for me and my kids, but it got me thinking that those are not species I typically see in a brook trout stream. Adam Nabors related stories to me of all the homeowners he has talked to, who tell stories of when you could walk across the stream or when brook trout 10” long could be caught in the streams. These streams are now wide and deep with soft, silty bottoms that provide habitat for snapping turtles and dragon fly larvae, not brook trout. On the drive to the park to get the equipment for the monitoring, my daughter asked me about a development we drove by and if I thought that development harmed the streams. That is a hard question to answer on a drive. I stated that all development has an impact on the landscape and that those changes can negatively impact the resources that are present.
I am currently attending a training put forth by the Association of Climate Change Officers that has been taught by scientists at NOAA. It is astonishing the amount of change that humans have put forth on earth and the potential consequences of those changes. Chris Wood, President of Trout Unlimited, stated in Trout magazine, “Scientists tell us that higher water temperatures and more destructive floods, fire and drought could eliminate 50 to 75 percent of trout habitat by 2080.” I will not be around then, but my grandchildren likely will hopefully be fishing and environmental stewards at that time.
During my conversations with my children while we were deploying the loggers this weekend, we discussed the impacts of development and land use changes, runoff increase, fossil fuels, floodplain encroachment, historic agricultural practices, and tree loss. Cultural historian, Thomas Berry said, “Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” I feel it is my duty to convey to my children the importance of recognizing our impacts on the world. Both our actions and inactions can have a significant effect on the natural world and those who inhabit it.
The importance of the temperature monitoring on brook trout habitat is a great example, where brook trout are comfortable in water temperatures ranging from 44 to 68 degrees and experience increased mortality at 73 degrees. Watershed or riparian tree loss, development, increased impervious surfaces and large surface water impoundments can all increase water temperature and degrade instream habitat. Efforts like the Upper Gunpowder Falls work can help to identify tipping points in watersheds and determine actions to reverse warming trends. When each of us can connect to protecting our streams and making choices to protect our waters, we can make improvements. There is evidence of stream recovering, such as Spring Creek, Pennsylvania, where restoration and land use actions protected and restored areas such as “Fisherman’s Paradise”.
The amazing architect Frank Lloyd Wright was shaped by nature, saying, “I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work.” John Muir stated, “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” These great Americans helped to preserve and protect out natural resources and gave back so many great things to the world. Efforts from great folks like Scott Scarfone and Adam Nabors, continue that tradition and help connect our next generations to enjoying and protecting our natural world. Thank you to Scott and Adam for helping me make an impact and for helping to show my children how to care for our resources and be stewards for nature.