Brook trout are the only trout native to much of the eastern United States. Their Latin name, Salvelinus fontinalis, describes the trout as "little salmon living in springs." Arguably the most beautiful freshwater trout, brook trout survive in only the coldest and cleanest waters. More experimental work has been done on this species than any other aquatic species. Since they live naturally under cool water conditions that are clean, pure, and aesthetically appealing, the knowledge gained from these studies helps to form the basis for understanding the requirements of all salmonids.
Currently, only 12 percent of the habitat historically occupied by brook trout has healthy populations. The mid-Atlantic region has seen the greatest declines. Brook trout populations serve as classic indicators of the health of the larger aquatic ecosystem, so a decline in brook trout populations can serve as an early warning that the entire watershed is at risk.
The goal of NFWF’s Eastern Brook Trout Conservation Program is to improve habitat and water quality in the Mid-Atlantic States in order to reintroduce eastern brook trout and reconnect isolated populations. These efforts will lead to sustainable and viable populations of trout.
This program focuses on specific watersheds and the unique threats and opportunities found in each. For example, one project studies the impacts of abandoned mine drainage in the Kettle Creek and Cooks Run tributaries of the West Branch Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Another project focuses on coldwater springs found throughout the headwaters of the Shenandoah River that have been severely impacted by centuries-old agricultural practices. These NFWF activities meet or exceed the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture goals for the mid-Atlantic region.
This conservation program offers significant additional benefits to a suite of other species in need of conservation, including 80 species in the West Branch of Susquehanna River and 24 species in the Shenandoah area.
Key conservation strategies for the Eastern brook trout include:
- Reconnecting isolated populations by eliminating water quality problems from abandoned mine drainage;
- Improving agricultural practices and protecting cold water springs on agricultural lands, and reintroducing brook trout to restored cold water springs; and
- Reconnecting fragmented populations through the removal of barriers presented by dams and culverts.
The Eastern Brook Trout conservation program has funded the restoration of 12.5 miles of stream, and 5,200 acres of habitat have been put under long-term easement. With 25 miles currently under monitoring, this program hopes to increase available data on brook trout and eventually reintroduce them into 100 miles of their historically occupied streams.
For more information, see NFWF's Business Plan.