2010-04-22 / Features

Protecting Small Streams

Small streams are treasures. They are the sources of our trout streams and major rivers. They supply clean water and support a variety of plants and animals.

Landowners can enhance and protect streams flowing through their properties by implementing a few, inexpensive practices. These practices will reduce flooding and benefit fish, mammals, birds and other life forms that depend on healthy streams.

The first step to protecting streams is to prevent erosion and sedimentation. Erosion from poorly managed lands and unprotected stream banks adds large amounts of sediment to streams. Sediments harm aquatic life by covering habitat, choking gills and, because cloudy water absorbs more heat from the sun than clear water, raising water temperature.

Property owners can take steps to prevent vehicles from fording their steams. Vehicles can destroy streamside vegetation and destabilize stream banks, causing serious erosion problems. If vehicle crossings are necessary, permitted culverts or wooden bridges can minimize erosion.

Domestic animals can damage streams by trampling protective vegetation and wearing down stream banks. Fencing farm animals away from streams helps prevent erosion.

Some landowners unknowingly destroy habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms by removing logs and other woody debris from streams. Research on small streams clearly shows that woody debris benefits aquatic life. Tree trunks and other large pieces of wood create small dams that delay water flow and reduce erosion and flooding during severe rainstorms. Debris dams also trap leaves, twigs, seeds, and other plant matter that sustain aquatic food chains. These dams also create a complex stream channel with series of pools and riffles, which provide habitat for a variety of aquatic organisms. Meandering stream channels are full of natural pools and riffles that hold fish and provide feeding areas.

Landowners can plant trees and shrubs near streams flowing through open pastures or other areas lacking woody vegetation. A few of the shrubs and trees recommended for streamside planting in Pennsylvania include smooth alder, black willow, red osier and silky dogwood, box elder, black ash, pin and swamp white oak, river birch, sycamore, cottonwood, and silver maple. Streamside vegetation helps shade streams. Shading is important because it keeps water cool. Cooler water holds more oxygen and thus supports more aquatic life. Streamside trees and shrubs also help control erosion, absorb nutrients, attract terrestrial animals, and provide food to trout and other aquatic organisms when leaves and branches fall into the water.

A final suggestion for protecting streams is to avoid applying pesticides and fertilizers too close to streams. Even minute quantities of some chemicals can gravely harm aquatic plants and animals. Landowners should make prudent use of these products for their own safety, as well as for the health of stream organisms.

To learn more about protecting streams, contact Woodland Owners of the Southern Alleghenies at 652-9150 or on the Web at www.orgsites.com/pa/wosa.

This is the first in a series of articles presented by the Woodland Owners of the Southern Alleghenies to help woodlot owners and the general public understand the value of Pennsylvania’s woodlands and what can be done to help keep them sustainable for future generations. For information about WOSA visit www.orgsites.com/pa.wosa or call 814-652-9150.

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