As winter starts up and outdoor projects begin to hibernate until the warmer months, one field crew keeps trudging on. Based out of the West Virginia Field Office, the Trout Unlimited/USFWS Partners Conservation Crew is plenty active during the cold winter months just like the fish the organization is named after.
Last week, I spent my time helping out by putting the finishing touches of tree tubes and weed mats on newly planted trees that marked the completion of 3 Trout Unlimited/USFWS Partners Conservation Crew projects. The Service’s West Virginia Field Office Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Partners Program) specializes in riparian/riverbank habitat restoration and enhancement through the construction of streambank fencing and division fencing to exclude livestock. These unsung heroes work year around in all weather conditions to enhance grazing management practices, protect habitat for fish and wildlife, and improve water quality from Virginia Beach to New Orleans.
The Partners Program works with private landowners, other federal and state agencies, municipalities, and non-government organizations to restore riparian habitat using techniques such as: livestock fencing, and streambank tree and shrub planting. Fencing off riparian zones improve fish and wildlife habitat, herd health, streambank stabilization, and water quality; along with reduced run-off and sedimentation to streams, increased nesting cover within the buffer zone, and connected wildlife travel corridors.
The fencing installed is typically constructed as three-strand , high tensile electric fence placed along streams in ordered to limit livestock access to waterways creating a buffer zone between pasture and stream. Newly constructed fencing is flood tolerant, easily maintained or repaired, and is very beneficial to fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, and farm operation. Installed divisional fencing increases efficiency, production, and profitability for the farmer by enhancing land and herd health through rotational grazing practices.
Restricting grazing in riparian zones restores habitat and resources for wildlife while increasing farm profitability by directing nutrients onto pastures and encouraging livestock to graze in high production areas. Since excluding stream access eliminates a potential water source, the TU Conservation Crew installs watering troughs to provide an alternative water source for the cattle that is clean, safe, and reliable. Cows’ growth is enriched by drinking clean water and this new water source increases the herd health and decreases landowner expenses for the veterinarian care.
The fenced riparian buffer zones are planted with large stock trees and live stakes to jump start the restoration process. Trees planted in the riparian area will provide shade, decreasing water temperature and reducing nutrient inputs to the stream, improving water quality for native Brook trout. Many fencing projects also include the installation of habitat boxes for bats, bluebirds, and wood ducks.
All of this is made possible due to Farm Bill cost share incentive programs through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency along with the West Virginia Conservation Agency. Programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) provide incentives to landowners to implement a variety of conservation measures. Without this assistance farmers are forced to prioritize operational purchases over environmental considerations. By making fencing affordable, landowners are able to spend towards a mutual benefit of the farm and of the land.
To date, our Trout Unlimited Conservation Crew has installed nearly 1.5 million feet of fence protecting thousands of acres of riparian habitat on farms across West Virginia. The Partners Program is an invaluable resource for landowners who wish to restore and conserve their property for wildlife. Counties, cities, and private citizens have partnered with the Service, as well as with other federal and state agencies, to help maintain healthy ecosystems in West Virginia. Without the Partners Program the countless miles of stream restoration would not have been possible.