Is there a more stunning fish than the native brook trout? Often, equally as stunning, are the places they call home. With many wild trout streams in our state forests and parks, there is much that DCNR does to help conserve Pennsylvania’s beautiful state fish.
What’s the Brook Trout All About?
Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are primarily found within mountain stream habitats throughout Pennsylvania and are relatively short-lived, averaging about three years. Exceptionally large fish encountered in pools or larger stream habitats may live upwards of four to six years!
They are members of the char subgroup of the salmon family, which also includes:
- Lake trout
- Arctic char
- Bull trout
- Dolly varden
Char are distinguished from other trout and salmon species by the:
- Absence of teeth in the roof of the mouth
- Presence of light colored spots on a dark-colored body
- Smaller scales
- Differences in skeletal structure
The Connection to Water Quality, Forests
Also known by local names such as native trout, natives, brookie, and speckled trout, the scientific epithet fontinalis means “living in springs.”
Brook trout require cooler water than non-native brown and rainbow trout, and need exceptionally clean water, too. Forested headwater streams that are shaded by large hemlock trees and mountain laurel provide the clean, cold waters these trout need to thrive.
DCNR’s Commitment to Conserving Native Brook Trout
One of the ways DCNR is working to ensure a secure future for the fish is through its Bureau of Forestry’s new Aquatic Resource Management Plan (PDF), which includes best practices for:
- Marcellus water quality monitoring
- Guidance for dirt and gravel road projects around high-quality streams
- Acid mine drainage treatments to improve water quality
DCNR has also committed to better stream passages in our parks and forests by implementing research findings on the best designs for bridge culverts so that the movement of trout and other aquatic life is not constrained.
Additionally, DCNR has adopted the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative’s protocol for assessing existing stream crossings for aquatic organism passage (AOP) and has developed stream crossing best management practices to ensure new and replacement crossings provide for AOP.
DCNR Projects to Support the State Fish
Habitat improvement projects have taken place in numerous locations, improving stream flows and providing critical habitat for wild trout. This work includes the addition of:
- Plunge pools
- Log and cross vanes
- Undercut banks
One such project in Michaux State Forest took place on Conococheague Creek. “It was amazing how quickly the brook trout found the deeper pools,” said District Forester Roy Brubaker. “The day after the work was completed, we walked along the creek and could already see little schools of trout hanging out right where they were supposed to be.”
In addition, DCNR’s riparian forest buffer plantings have resulted in improved water quality and cooler stream temperatures benefitting wild trout found in some of these waters. A riparian buffer is a zone of trees and vegetation between water and an open, upland area. They shade the water, stabilize banks, and intercept surface runoff. Studies show that water temperature is 10 degrees cooler in streams that are lined with buffers which can make all the difference in brook trout survival.
The Need to Conserve Brook Trout, Habitat
The DCNR Bureau of Forestry’s Brook Trout Conservation Plan (PDF) provides the framework for conserving brook trout and their associated habitat on Pennsylvania’s state forest land.
The bureau, through sound ecosystem management, maintains a healthy, viable forest that’s rich in biodiversity. However, some species may need specific strategies for long-term survival, such as keystone species or those whose populations are in decline.
Prioritizing conservation of brook trout on Pennsylvania’s state forest lands is consistent with conservation efforts throughout its native range in the eastern U.S., as evidenced by the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, as well as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s listing of the brook trout in its State Wildlife Action Plan as a species of greatest conservation need.
Impacts of a Changing Climate
A changing climate will present wild trout with even greater challenges. As part of DCNR’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PDF), one action item is to use the Bureau of Forestry’s Riparian Buffer Guidelines and the Brook Trout Conservation Plan to maintain the cold-water habitat critical to brook trout survival.
We are fortunate to have an abundance of wild brook trout across the state, and DCNR will continue to work hard to ensure they keep thriving in our state park and forest waters.
Learn more about DCNR’s efforts to manage healthy bodies of water by reading another Good Natured blog article, as well as exploring our water conservation resources.