Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Restoring Big Run Since 2006

TMI’s Spruce Knob Mountain Center lies in the far reaches of the Big Run watershed. For many years, Big Run has been the centerpiece to the watershed education element of our programs. During this time, students have been assessing the upper sections of Big Run, learning of the importance of high quality headwater streams, and beginning to understand the upstream – downstream concept. Since these first days of TMI’s watershed education programming, Big Run has been the example of a nearly perfect stream.

The waters come together in a meadow and begin flowing as Big Run at approximately 3500 feet in elevation. Rain and spring water from the western flank of Spruce Knob and the eastern continental divide create the stream, and it is separated from the headwaters of the well-known Seneca Creek by only a small ridge. Big Run meanders through this meadow and gains water from its many tributaries. As it grows, it provides a fresh water home to myriad organisms, including a high biodiversity of macroinvertebrates, a colony of beavers, and a reproducing population of eastern brook trout.

Big Run offers a near perfect environment for all of its inhabitants, but as with any watershed, it is only as good as the sum of all of its parts. The stream is one of the few remaining intact watersheds for brook trout in West Virginia. These fish can travel the stream length in its entirety and many move upstream each fall to the tiniest of tributaries to spawn. It was in few of these seemingly insignificant waterways where a major problem was occurring for the reproducing trout. Their spawning grounds were being degraded by an unlikely contender, cattle.

Within the Monongahela National Forest there are several areas where private farms hold grazing rights. There is an area like this on a tributary of upper Big Run, where the cows, grazing throughout the spring, summer, and fall, rely on the small tributary as a drinking water source. The narrow foot of the heavy cow easily collapses the stream’s banks, creating more of a wetland than a stream system. This impact increases turbidity in the water, exposes more of the water to sunlight - raising temperature, and destroys the stream channel needed for trout reproduction.

Since 2006, TMI has been working with TU to help repair and restore these tributaries of the stream. TU, in conjunction with US Fish and Wildlife, has set miles of cattle fencing around the tributaries to keep the herd out, built bridges over stream crossings, and created alternative water sources, spring fed troughs, for the cows. TU has been providing management of the restoration site and TMI has been providing students. Since 2006, TU, TMI, and their students have planted thousands of trees in the riparian zone of the affected stream lengths. The results are already impressive, as the trees are beginning to grow, the tributaries are again channelized, grass is shading the channels, and turbidity has dropped. If you visit this area in fall and approach the banks slowly, you may just catch a glimpse of reproducing brook trout in their spawning bed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Where was TMI when...

"Where was TMI when MNF let drilling proceed on the Fernow EF in clear violation of ESA, NEPA rules and CWA?"

This was a comment left on the blog late last week; a comment I assume is in response to TMI's recent letter to the BLM, filed to protest the leasing of two parcels in the Monongahela National Forest (MNF), both within 10 miles of TMI's Spruce Knob Mountain Center. Where was TMI at the time of drilling in the Fernow? We were right here on Spruce Knob, incredibly busy doing what we do, running our programs, and not privy to the situation at the Fernow until after the fact. The original map of candidate drilling areas for this particular auction, released in July 2009, contained proposed lease areas surrounding and bordering our facility, the Spruce Knob Mountain Center. This couldn't fly under our radar; it was in our back yards.

Over the last year, the proposition of natural gas development in Marcellus Shale in the region has generated much thought and discussion within TMI’s Appalachia Program. TMI Appalachia is not an advocacy group, but an educational organization that works to protect, promote and support the best interests of mountains and all they encompass. This creates an interesting dichotomy in the organization’s view of Marcellus Shale drilling in the mountains of West Virginia. On one side of the division is the preservation of our mountain environments; on the other is the development of cleaner burning energy, natural gas, that many believe could be an important stepping stone in the United States’ conversion from coal and oil to green energy and energy independence.

The Mountain Institute wants to promote the development of cleaner burning fuels and other energy alternatives, but with the immense footprint of the drilling operation, the water use and pollution issues, the current lack of enforcable drilling regulations in place and no real movement in the state or country to use the natural gas to replace other current fuels, it is difficult to support development of the resource, especially on our public lands.

I'm not sure of the intent of this comment. Is someone (anonymous) upset with us for not protesting drilling in the Fernow or wondering why we chose one lease over another? I hope that I have helped to answer the question. If anyone has any questions regarding our letter of protest or our stance on Marcellus Shale drilling, please don't hesitate to email or call the office.