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Volunteers Improve Fish Habitat

August 7, 2014

IMG_2041On two sunny Saturday mornings, a crew of Downeast Lakes Land Trust volunteers banded together to improve brook trout habitat on the Farm Cove Community Forest. The group’s mission called for the removal of several abandoned beaver dams in Rolfe Brook.

Beavers can benefit a wide range of fish and wildlife by retaining water in ponds during dry weather, creating still water habitat for the aquatic plants that feed moose and waterfowl, and creating forest openings and grassy wetlands. However, when large beaver dams persist for long periods of time, the standing water exposed to direct sunlight can contribute to rising temperatures throughout the watershed. As warmer waters cannot support the high level of dissolved oxygen that sensitive species like brook trout and salmon require, these streams can become uninhabitable.

The upper stretches of Rolfe Brook, north of the 4th Lake Rd., are subdivided by numerous active and abandoned beaver dams. While active beaver dams that are being maintained by beavers are protected by state law, abandoned dams can be removed under a permit issued by Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Thus, armed with a chainsaw winch, chainsaw, and hand tools, the intrepid dam-busting crew battled mosquitoes, horseflies, and sucking mud to release the tepid waters of Rolfe Brook. Mark Gray and DLLT Wildlife Committee Chairman Louie Cataldo manned the chainsaw winch that dragged large logs and rootballs out of the way. Volunteers Mike Cochrane, Steve Schaeffer, Robert Garnier, as well as DLLT Vice-President Lee Whitely, and interns Deb Gorman and David Montague toiled with mattocks and clam rakes clearing silt and brush down to the gravelly bottom of the historical streambed. While the dam busters released stagnant pools and consolidating braided channels, young Ethan and Seth Gray acted as runners, ferrying tools across the job sites while keeping out a vigilant eye for bullfrogs and painted turtles.

In total, five abandoned beaver dams were breached in two days, clearing the way for heavy summer rains to scour and sculpt the streambed back into a chain of pools and riffles similar to the one that used to support trout in upper Rolfe Brook. Through the hard work of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust and its supporters, native brook trout will again be found in upper Rolfe Brook in the near future.