NEWRY — Work is under way to rehabilitate barriers to brook trout passage at high-priority sites in the Bear and Sunday river watersheds in Newry and Riley Township.
The Sunday River and Bear River watersheds support important populations of wild brook trout.
Last summer, the Androscoggin River Watershed Council surveyed all of the culverts, bridges, dams and fords at perennial stream crossings in both watersheds from headwater brooks downstream to their confluence with the Androscoggin River.
In all, 140 sites were inventoried across a 94-square-mile area, ARWC Project Manager Jeff Stern said Friday by email.
“Damaged road crossing structures can restrict fish migration and negatively affect stream health,” he said.
In the Sunday River Watershed, the remnants of old log-driving dams were found to restrict brook trout passage in several places.
One such site on the Sunday River's main stem on state land in the Mahoosuc Unit in Riley Township presents a significant barrier to fish movement, Stern said.
He contacted officials with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about it. All agreed the dam must be removed, he said.
Stern said he also had John Field and Jay Milot, his partners on recent river restoration work, take a look. Field created a plan to do partial removal and step down the river from the top height of the dam to downstream river level using a series of in-stream rock weirs.
However, the state agencies want to avoid structures and plan to remove the dam this summer using hand tools, he said.
In upper areas of the watersheds — especially in the upper Sunday River — volunteer ARWC surveyors found numerous crossing sites where either a bridge or culvert had been removed from old logging roads and skidder trails.
“Many of these sites are now used as fords by off-roaders and have serious erosion,” Stern said.
Additionally, Tropical Storm Irene destroyed at least one bridge in Riley Township of which he's aware.
A common problem with culverts was that the outlet was perched, meaning there's a drop down to the water level from the culvert end.
“This could affect brook trout, because they are not great leapers like other salmonids, but I don't know how high is too high for brook trout to jump,” Stern said.
He said that about 48 percent of the culverts were perched, 30 percent were partially or fully blocked, and 16 percent were deformed (crushed or otherwise mangled). Only 6 percent of the culverts were in good shape, in that they weren't perched, deformed or blocked.
At one priority site for restoration on Barker Brook, Stern and Joe Aloisio of Sunday River Ski Resort are designing a fish passage improvement project.
“There are two large culverts here that are 'perched' way above the stream behind White Cap Base by a chair lift,” Stern said. “I believe the ski run is called Tempest Trail.”
He's also got Ferg Lea at the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments in Auburn working on an engineering design to improve fish passage at an unnamed tributary of the Bear River that he refers to as "Cat Alley Brook."
“It looks like a nice little trout stream, but the combination of the cement box culvert under Route 26 and a blown-out culvert just upstream have damaged the brook, and I don't think it is passable for trout,” Stern said.
“This summer, I plan to apply for another grant from the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture to get money to fix these priority sites.”
Last summer's work was funded by the EBTJV, a public/private effort to protect and restore brookie habitat from Georgia to Maine.
It is part of a larger statewide effort to inventory barriers to diadromous fish, such as Atlantic salmon and alewives, and native freshwater fish like brook trout.
The ARWC is working with additional landowners, land managers and businesses to improve fish passage at other priority sites documented in the inventory, as well.