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RALEIGH (March 7) - The future of the East's only native trout is looking up, thanks to a partnership of academic institutions, state and federal agencies and conservation organizations, including Trout Unlimited and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV) today released a first-of-its-kind conservation strategy to restore healthy, fishable populations of eastern brook trout throughout their native range.

The strategy, which is based on the status and threats information contained in the EBTJV's "Eastern Brook Trout: Status and Threats" report from 2006, identifies a set of aggressive range-wide and regional targets, including protection of highest quality habitat, improvement to 30 percent of impacted brook trout watersheds, and reintroduction of brook trout to 10 percent of those watersheds where they have disappeared.

The EBTJV will evaluate progress toward these targets at five-year intervals, using the status and threats data identified in the 2006 report as a baseline.

In conjunction with the range-wide strategy released today, each member state of the EBTJV is developing a specialized plan based on that state's existing brook trout populations and dominant threats.

Doug Besler, research coordinator for the Commission, is leading the effort to finalize North Carolina's conservation strategy, which was developed jointly with the U.S. Forest Service, Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Trout Unlimited and Federation of Fly Fishers.

North Carolina's strategy identifies the short and long-term goals of six priorities: 1) assessing brook trout populations; 2) protecting stream habitat; 3) restoring brook trout populations and habitat; 4) protecting brook trout genetic diversity; 5) providing educational outreach; and 6) creating recreational fishing opportunities.

While North Carolina has the largest number of brook trout populations remaining in the Southeast, approximately 95 percent of watersheds where brook trout historically thrived have been negatively impacted to the extent that populations are now moderately or severely reduced. Brook trout are now found mainly in headwater streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah and Nantahala national forests.

The number one reason for their decline in North Carolina is poor land management associated with agriculture, said Besler.

"Practices such as clearing riparian areas of trees or allowing livestock unrestricted access to streams can destabilize stream banks, thereby increasing erosion and introducing sediment into the streams," Besler said. "This sediment often smothers and kills fish eggs."

Wide-scale residential development, commercial logging and road construction, and competition from non-native brown and rainbow trout have also threatened brook trout.

North Carolina's strategy outlines ways to reduce these threats. Fencing livestock from streams to allow riparian areas to re-vegetate with trees, providing landowners with financial incentives to conserve their land, and experimenting with stocked sterile brown and rainbow trout are just a few of the strategies that will be implemented to help curb the decline of brook trout populations.

"The Commission is proud to be part of this first-of-its kind conservation strategy for brook trout across their entire eastern range," Besler said. "We hope this effort will produce long-term solutions to the problems that face North Carolina's only native trout species."

The EBTJV, formed in 2004 as a pilot project of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan, believes a collaborative approach to brook trout management is the most effective for several reasons: Brook trout are declining across their entire eastern range; causes for these declines are similar; an integrated approach would be cost effective; and, watersheds of concern span state borders and state and federal jurisdictions. EBTJV participants include fish and wildlife agencies from 17 states, federal partners, conservation organizations and academic institutions. It is seeking additional partners and support to assist in the protection and restoration of brook trout habitat.

For more information on the range-wide eastern brook trout conservation strategy and state-specific plans, please visit www.easternbrooktrout.org.
 
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