Md. officials should throw lifeline to depleted stock of brook trout

The Baltimore Sun

Right now, there are worse things than being a Maryland brook trout, I suppose.

A Republican strategist. A Ford salesman. A Detroit Lions fan.

At some point, presumably, all of the humans will bounce back.

But the clock is running down on the fate of Salvelinus fontinalis.

Study after study show brook trout are in trouble through no fault of their own. Brookies love cold water, clear water and lots of little critters floating by to eat. But overdevelopment, loss of buffers and habitat, and climate change are proving to be the trifecta of doom.

Every time we force a stream through a culvert to make way for another shopping center and megaplex, every time a planning board approves more sprawl, every time we decide to build another ribbon of asphalt for cars, we are signing another death warrant for brook trout.

The problem is not new. Sixteen years ago, my colleague, Tim Wheeler, wrote a story about saving brook trout streams in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. At that time, the state was paying $260,000 to restore two stretches of water, Jabez Branch in Anne Arundel County and Goodwin Run near Timonium.

Nice story as long as you don't flash forward to 2008 and a new study by the Department of Natural Resources.

Biologists compiled more than three decades of aerial photos and ground surveys to show that brook trout have lost their fin-hold in six streams in the Baltimore area: Baisman Run in Cockeysville, Sawmill Branch near Phoenix, Stillwater Creek near Eldersburg, Timber Run near Reisterstown, Red Run in Owings Mills and, oh yes, Goodwin Run.

As for Jabez Branch (not part of the study), one day last year volunteers hauled out 7.5 tons of trash - 10 truckloads - from stream side.

The DNR study follows one done several years ago by the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture that found that more than half of Maryland sub-watersheds have lost brook trout entirely, and only three sub-watersheds - all in western Maryland - have intact populations.

So all these smart people are telling us there's a problem. What's the solution?

Scott Stranko, the biologist who led the DNR study, hopes to poke the massive Annapolis bureaucracy into action to help protect what's left. That's no small task in the face of shrinking budgets and frozen government.

"Restoration is so expensive, and it doesn't get things back to the way they were before," Stranko says. "Once you've lost brook trout in a stream, I don't know how you get them back. You have to make the water cooler, remove the sediment and repair the stream banks. Isn't it cheaper to do conservation?"

For starters, perhaps the O'Malley administration could divert some of the Program Open Space money being used to buy bleachers and tennis courts to purchase land around some of the streams that still have brookies. Or maybe the Maryland Department of the Environment could put protecting so-called "stronghold watersheds" near the top of the list.

"This is a big deal for me," says Stranko, 40, who has spent a large portion of his professional life documenting the loss of Maryland's critters. "You can go anywhere and catch a blue gill or a carp. Where can you go to catch a native brook trout in Maryland?"

Fighting hunger

Tip of the cap (tasteful hunter orange at this time of the year) to the Maryland Bowhunters Society for donating $1,000 to Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry. The money is being used to defray the cost of turning deer from the Loch Raven Reservoir bow hunt into ground venison for food pantries and food banks.

FHFH is an 11-year-old Hagerstown-based charity that has chapters in most states. It raises money to pay participating butchers who process the meat for about 25 cents per serving vs. $3 a pound for ground beef.

The average deer yields 50 pounds of meat. Last year, the program processed 2,570 deer to produce 514,000 meals.

Unfortunately, FHFH often receives more than cash, forcing it to turn away thousands of meals. Maryland hunters can check a box when they buy their hunting licenses to give $1 to FHFH, but the bowhunters group decided to take it one step further. To learn more, go to

Ripping the headline

What's wrong with this headline from the online version of the DNR magazine: "Striped Bass: Juvenile Index Down, Recreational Seasons Extended."

Pointing to it, a friend asked, "We have fewer baby striped bass this year, so we'll let recreational anglers fish two weeks longer? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills."

It's not as bad as it looks, really. After a monster birthing season in 2001, Chesapeake Bay striped bass have had four good years and three bad years, including this one. The seesaw effect is not unusual, biologists say.

Still, a headline like that is one of the reasons DNR has such trouble getting people to buy its science.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad