Healing Troubled Waters

Preparing Trout and Salmon Habitat for a Changing Climate

“Unless immediate action is taken to restore habitats and increase populations, it is likely that trout and salmon will be eliminated from large areas.”

“Non-native species and hatchery fish can limit native fish populations and increase their vulnerability to climate change. Non-native fish compete with natives for food and habitat, and they often thrive in warmer and more polluted waters. Hatchery fish can interbreed with native populations and can weaken the gene pool that may ultimately provide fish with the ability to adapt and survive.”

Report by Trout Unlimited,  Arlington, Va  – October 2007  Read the full report here

Implementing PRIBT’s proposal would remove the non-native hatchery fish from the upper Wood River and substantially increase the survival prospects for native wild brook trout.


Masquerade Party

On 4/27/14 the RI/MA Area TU Council met in Worcester, MA. The leadership of TU225 attended for the purpose of presenting the report of their “Habitat Assessment Group” and to justify, thereby, their continuing participation in the stocking of the upper Wood River in RI. Consistent with TU National, the council dismissed the arguments presented and asked TU225 to comply with the applicable policy of TU National. Chapter 225 responded with an “OK” and it was then said that the float stocking boxes would be donated to another entity. Although not named as such, that entity is likely to be the Wood River Fishing Club (WRFC), a group comprised largely of the TU225 hierarchy. This will mean that the same individuals who have conducted the float stocking in past will, masquerading as WRFC members, continue to do so. This response had long been anticipated. In chapter meetings the circumvention of TU policy had been openly discussed, one member even proposing that if it came to this, chapter funds might be provided for participant insurance coverage. In prospect, we now have a situation wherein TU chapter resources in the form of the boxes and, possibly, insurance coverage will be utilized in the violation of a TU policy.

Also in attendance at the council meeting were two representatives of PRIBT, invited to present our proposal for a wild trout management area in RI. The proposal was well received by council members. The contingent of TU225 present declined, however, to support the proposal. This is consistent with their silence when the proposal was presented at the recent RIDEM workshop. Insofar as our proposal recommends no stocking of the upper Wood River, TU225’s failure to get on board with this betrays their intent to continue being part of the problem set confronting wild brook trout in RI by aiding in the stocking of hatchery fish over wild ones.HE

Take Out the Dams in the Upper Wood River

By Brian O’connor


This article in the NYT  claims “Dams degrade water quality, block the movement of nutrients and sediment, destroy fish and wildlife habitats, damage coastal estuaries and in some cases rob surrounding forests of nitrogen. Reservoirs can also be significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Put simply, many dams have high environmental costs that outweigh their value. Removing them is the only sensible answer. And taking them down can often make economic sense as well. The River Alliance of Wisconsin estimates that removing dams in that state is three to five times less expensive than repairing them.”

How many dams are there in the area which would be encompassed in the Brook Trout Refuge which PRIBT has proposed to RIDEM?


Brian O’connor

There are many tributaries and branches. As Paul Pezza has reported, there are six dams which he knows of on Roaring Brook alone. In an effort to see the ponds from which some tribs originate, yesterday I traveled to Hazard and Baily Ponds in the north western segment of the Wood River drainage. I had never been in this part of West Greenwich before and was amazed at the seemingly endless second growth forest and posted signs. Traveling onwards I skirted Tippecansett, Wickaboxet, Tillinghast, and Hudson Ponds, all with dams.  There are numerous small dams on the small streams between and connecting some of these ponds. I saw Muddy Brook, Coney, and Kelly Brook for the first time. There are numerous privately owned dams in all the headwaters. I would  suggest removing those dams controlled by the state first. The removal of Breakheart Pond in Arcadia and Eisenhour Pond in the Alton Jones Bio-Preserve would allow the re-joining of split brook trout populations in Breakheart and Acid Factory Brooks. The remains of a CCC dam on the Flat River above Plains Rd should also be considered for removal. These ponds raise water temperature five degrees as measured last summer in comparison to the un-dammed Phillips Brook. This increase in temperature is detectable five miles downstream as shown in WPWA studies. In freeing the tributaries we would re-connect brook trout populations and lower water temperatures, causing increased resiliency in the face of climate change. All populations of upper Wood River brook trout  are awaiting their future reunion in the mainstem.

PRIBT Would Accept a Total Fishing Ban

Taken from a post on PRIBT Facebook Page by Brian O’connor


 “A strict interpretation [of TU National Policy] would it seems, eliminate all stocking of moving water in RI outside of Providence. We are asking for much less and something more achievable in calling for a BT refuge in Arcadia. Every member of the biotic community not already extinct in the upper river would benefit from the reduction in fishing pressure which this would bring about. If it is deemed required for the protection of that biotic community, PRIBT would agree to and advocate for a total ban on fishing and wading in the proposed refuge. The river has been that seriously damaged by thirty years of put and take management. That many fishermen seem blinded to this reality is perplexing. If any other user group was as detrimental to a natural setting as fishermen have been in trampling the upper Wood, one would expect them to police themselves. One might also expect the representatives of national conservation groups to champion the health of the river and its native inhabitants over the continued use in a fashion which has caused the rivers demise.”

Click here to read the whole post

The Upper Wood River

By Brian O’Connor

 If it has not become obvious in my writing on Facebook and this site, I would like to make clear that BT are but one part of the upper Wood River ecosystem in which all members have been seriously impacted by the ever growing spread of sediment. The watershed in question was grazing land at the turn of the last century. It was degraded to the point of 20140410_134627being uninhabitable by bt except in its extreme headwaters. Stocked fish died before 6 weeks elapsed. As second growth surged, the habitat improved to allow wild bt to reclaim their former place in the upper system. 1970 was most likely the high point in this reclamation as increased acidity took it’s tole on bt recruitment. Sometime in the early 80’s, it was decided to establish a river which would be stocked in a manner as to supply summer-long fishing opportunities for large stockers. The ecology of the system and it’s undervalued native fish were not considered. When I first visited in the early 70’s I was amazed that such a wonderful river could exist in RI. The entire system has become degraded by this management, Minnows, Darters, Mussels, and riparian and aquatic plants have been impacted. The river is shallower and full of sediment affecting all aspects of the community. A BT refuge would help not only BT , but every aspect of the community. This river, simply left to it’s own devices, has the power to restore itself to a fully functioning system. Removing the several dams in the upper watershed would allow populations of BT , now split by these dams, to once again merge. By including the upper mainstem, populations from 6 tribs would once again converge to trade genetic material and bolster the health of the system, increasing the potential of survivability in the face of warming. Removing those dams would also shift water temperatures downward. Re-wild the Wood! Remove the hatchery fish, and the hoards lured to them and leave the river alone long enough to heal itself.

Where The Brookies Live


April 10, 2014 – Afternoon walk along a wild brook trout stream

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
William Shakespeare.



Vintage photos of wild trout taken from RI waters in a time when brookies were relatively abundant. The largest of the fish pictured is 15″ long. What does it mean when a DEM official describes the contemporary situation as one of “relative abundance” regarding wild brook trout? Implied is a benchmark or standard for comparison; and what is that? This post will provide a benchmark for making this judgment based on extensive record keeping by this writer over several decades. These data pertain to three different watersheds in Rhode Island. In one, it was not unusual to catch (& release) 30-60 trout in a visit. Occasionally, more. In another piece of water, three successive evening trips yielded an average of 32 per session. The third generally produced a more modest average of 12 per visit. Today, in the first location a good day is 3-4 trout; in the second it is 1-2; and in the last it is 0-2. Once abundant, wild brook trout in are now relatively scarce. This is why the US Fish & Wildlife Service will assign Greatest Conservation Need status for RI brook trout for 2015. It appears that we are near, if not at, the “tipping point” for this species here. See to it that RIDEM gets the message and gets on board with a brook trout management plan for RI waters. Please contact Christine Dudley, Deputy Chief/Freshwater Fisheries (christine.dudley@dem.ri.gov) and Janet Coit, RIDEM Director (janet.coit@dem.ri.gov) with your support !!!

Charr of the Spring



SALVELINUS FONTINALIS/Charr of the Spring or Fountain: The genus and species names for our brook trout speak to the fish’s environmental requirement for clean, cold water. Pictured are springs located in “South County” that support wild brook trout only a short distance away. And shortly thereafter a succession of dams begins as these waters make their way to the Atlantic. At Rhode Island’s latitude and low altitude damming is especially damning to the Charr of the Spring as the water is held and warmed.

River Grass


There is a tiny caddis fly, nyctiophylax moestus, that builds its little trumpet shaped fiber nests on blades of river grass. In a typical clump of grass there are thousands of such nests. Millions upon millions of these little sedges should line the bed of the Wood River, but they don’t ! Their homes, the host grass clumps, have been trampled out of existence there.

Brian plucked a n.m. from its home during a paddle trip we took last year on the Pawcatuck River. They were once surely all over the bed of the Wood, that two mile or so stretch that has been so trampled that clumps of river grass are now hard to find there. At least on our trip through untrammeled waters we could see that they were thriving somewhere.

The nymph has a glorious chartreuse colored body. I’ve read about, and would love to witness,  the voraciousness with which the nymph will thrust itself temporarily outward to devour a passing midge larva.

They are summer emergers. Brook trout must once have lined up, sucking these bugs down, long long ago before we came along to wreak our havoc on nature. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tie on a number 20 and catch a brook trout during such an event ? Or just to watch ?

Burt Strom

A Species in Greatest Need of Conservation


Brook Trout

STATUS CHANGE: The brook trout is now listed by the State of Rhode Island as a species in “Greatest Conservation Need ” (GCN), this as a prelude to the issuance of a revised State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) for 2015. The decennial SWAP is required by the US Fish & Wildlife Service for the receipt of federal funding. Will this listing influence RIDEM operations? TU National recently informed TU225 that the chapter must cease its participation in the stocking of the upper Wood River. Will the GCN listing make it even more difficult for the Narragansett Chapter of TU to thumb its nose at TU National?