A unique rescue was conducted last year on a mountain stream in western Surry County.
About two years ago, it was discovered that large amounts of sediments were entering headwaters of Ramey Creek in the Lowgap area of Surry due to soil erosion after about 400 acres were clearcut and further cleared.
The land was cleared to the edge of the stream, leaving little to prevent sediments from washing into Ramey Creek and threatening its native population of Southern Appalachian brook trout.
The Piedmont Land Conservancy, N.C. Division of Water Quality and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission became involved.
According to an article on Piedmont’s website by Kenneth A. Bridle, Ph.D., Piedmont’s stewardship director, the initial plan was to monitor the trout population as N.C. Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) officials addressed the matter and hope that the stream and nearby land would heal well enough to sustain native trout.
Bridle stated that as DEQ enforcement officials were communicating with the company that owns the land, additional acreage was similarly cleared farther upstream and it became clear that immediate action was needed for native brookies in Ramey Creek.
The decision was made to remove brook trout in Ramey Creek at points downstream of where the damage was occurring and release them in another area stream with suitable and protected habitat. “Suitable” meant clear and swiftly-flowing water at an elevation and enough shade to maintain the oxygen level and cool temperature native brook trout need.
While wading upstream in Ramey Creek, Piedmont and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission staff used electro-shock equipment to stun the trout and remove them with small nets at the end of long poles.
According to Bridle, 62 trout were collected during the first outing and 35 more on the second.
The trout were released in a section of their new stream without brown or rainbow trout and upstream from a waterfall large enough to prevent these non-native trout species from reaching them. The larger and more aggressive rainbow and brown trout easily out-compete brookies.
Meanwhile, DEQ officials are continuing enforcement actions with the landowner that made this aquatic rescue mission necessary. This includes pushing for continued remediation of the damaged section of the Ramey Creek watershed. Trout Unlimited is involved also.
Northwestern North Carolina, including western and northern Wilkes County, have some of the state’s most substantial remaining Southern Appalachian brook trout populations.
These beautiful fish, also known as speckled trout or “specks” for their colorful markings, are North Carolina’s only native trout. Genetic studies indicate that brook trout native to North Carolina (Southern Appalachian brook trout) represent a unique subspecies.
Scientifically actually a char, they thrive in creeks and small branches at elevations of 2,500 feet or higher with cold and clean water, which is rich in oxygen. The presence of native brook trout represents a healthy stream, and indicates good things about the water downstream as well.
The N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission and Trout Unlimited have been restoring Southern Appalachian brook trout populations since the 1990s, often without publicity about where this is done to allow time for them to get established.