The Restoration of Eastern Heritage Brook Trout in Kurtenbach’s Brook is a Trout Unlimited (TU) Embrace-A-Stream Project.
Kurtenbach’s Brook is a known Heritage Brook Trout tributary of the Musconetcong River lying entirely within Stephens State Park in Mount Olive Township, New Jersey. The TUNJ State Council is working closely with TU’s Musconetcong Home Rivers Initiative (MHRI) on this project.
Kurtenbach’s Brook was redirected and forced into a man made channel in the 1960s to facilitate the construction of Interstate 80. As a result, the Brook Trout habitat was greatly impaired by channelization of the stream, hard armoring of the streambed, the addition of a now obsolete metal culvert, and the elimination of connectivity to the stream’s floodplain. Through electro fish sampling of this entire stream with NJ Fish &
Wildlife (NJ F&W) fisheries biologists, native brook trout populations in the affected lower reaches of this stream have been determined to be approximately 10% – 20% of those in the un-impacted upper stream, which remains intact and fully protected.
The purpose of this project is to restore the in stream habitat, reconnect the population of brook trout in the lower stretch to those in the upper stretch via culvert removal, and reconnect this important spawning tributary to its floodplain and the main Musconetcong River where accumulated sediment has caused low flow impasse to fish migration into and out of this tributary. The methods to be used to perform this work include culvert removal, bed load manipulation, and the construction of plunge pools on two sections of the stream where stone slides were built to accommodate significant elevation drops using Urbani Fisheries of Bozeman, Montana. The primary goal of the project is to increase the populations of brook trout to within 75% of the upstream population which will be determined over time through electro fishing with NJ F&W biologists. A secondary goal is to reconnect the mouth of this spawning tributary to the main river toconnect this fragmented population of brook trout with populations in other tributaries, strengthening their overall genetics in an Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV) state that has seen wide spread extirpation of brook trout habitat.
The Hacklebarney TU chapter has seen multiple volunteers step forward to complete a series of seasonal pre construction macro invertebrate analysis to set a baseline for future studies.
Hacklebarney TU chapter conducted a comprehensive clean up effort of the brook with aid in the form of free dumpsters and hauling by State Parks in Spring 2011. Prior to the in stream construction, which is tentatively, scheduled (funding dependent) for summer 2014, TU volunteers will be used to remove non native, invasive trees and shrubs from the site and to create wide enough openings to accommodate the heavy equipment (small track hoe) to access the stream. These same volunteers will move small boulders from old stone walls located in close proximity to the stream into numerous marked piles to be used by the heavy equipment to stabilize the stream channel, build engineered riffle structures and plunge pools, and to provide in stream fish habitat. Once the construction phase of the project is completed,
Following restoration, the same members from Hacklebarney chapter that performed pre- restoration baseline studies of the macro invertebrates will monitor on a quarterly basis these aquatic insect populations for a time of three years. Additionally, TU volunteers, working with NJ F&W principal fisheries biologist, Pat Hamilton, will perform electro-fish sampling to determine post restoration fish populations also over a three-year period. Baseline population studies for both impacted and un-impacted sections of Kurtenbach’s are completed as noted earlier. Success will be considered by an increase of brook trout that matches as high as 75% or more of the upstream, un-impacted populations as determined by electro shock fishing. Macro invertebrate studies will further confirm the effectiveness of this project by proving that aquatic habitat has been restored with a corresponding increase in the food chain that trout rely on for survival. .
Having a Heritage brook trout stream located so closely to a major interstate highway, yet fully protected from development in the nation’s most densely populated state makes this project important in so many ways. If native brook trout populations can rebound in New Jersey, then they can rebound in far less populated states throughout their range using similar restoration techniques.