Smokies biologist receives national recognition

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Supervisory Fisheries Biologist Steve Moore was recently recognized with two national awards for his leadership in native trout stream restoration at the Smokies and in national parks across the nation. Moore recently received the Aldo Starker Leopold Medal by the Wild Trout Symposium and the Trout Unlimited Trout Conservation Professional Award.

Both awards recognized Moore’s over 25 years of achievement in restoring populations of native brook trout to streams in the Smokies, and assisting with other projects including the restoration of bull trout to Crater Lake National Park (Ore.) and to North Cascade National Park (Wash.) and restoring Bonneville cutthroat trout to Great Basin National Park (Nev.). Throughout the country, a combination of habitat degradation and extensive stocking of non-native fish species, have taken a heavy toll on numerous species of native trout, which typically require cold, clear, pristine water for survival. In many cases streams that may have been degraded by siltation or pollution in past years have been cleaned up, but the native trout still need a helping hand to return.

According to Deputy Park Superintendent, Kevin FitzGerald, “One of the core missions of national parks is to preserve natural biodiversity which sometimes means restoring native plant and animal species which have been displaced from their historic homes by earlier human impacts. “

“In our case, the brook trout was the only native species of trout in the Smokies, but they were crowded out of all but the most isolated high-elevation streams when - with the best of intentions - logging companies and early park managers released rainbow and later brown trout into Park streams in the early 20th Century.”

In the Smokies the brookies that remain in the headwaters face a double threat. They are squeezed between heavy competition from rainbows and browns downstream, and airborne acid deposition upstream that has made the water too acidic to support trout. The key to preserving the Appalachian brook trout is to remove the non-native trout from selected segments of lower-elevation streams and then to assist the brookies in moving downstream into less acidic waters.

To be suitable for restoration, a stream segment must have a record of a pure brook trout population in the past and a waterfall or other barrier at the lower end that prevents non-native fish from returning back upstream. Restoration of each segment involves removal of the non-natives through either electro-shocking and/or chemicals. Over the last 24 years of the Park’s Brook Trout Restoration Program Park biologists, assisted by a small army of state fishery managers and volunteers from Trout Unlimited, have restored a total of 24.1 miles of stream to brook trout habitat.

Restoring each segment involves close coordination of 20 or more biologists and volunteers who string nets, electro-shock and relocate the non-natives, add and monitor the chemicals used and add neutralizing agents at the lower end of the segment being restored.

“Stream restoration is such a complex and labor-intensive process that the Park could never even attempt it without the financial support and/or hands-on assistance of all the neighboring entities such as Trout Unlimited, Tennessee Brookies, Friends of the Smokies, and the Tennessee and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commissions.” FitzGerald said. “Steve has become nationally-recognized master of planning these restoration projects and brokering together a huge number of partners to get them done. We welcome this opportunity to acknowledge this well deserved recognition of Steve and show our appreciation to all the partners that he has brought into the mix over the years.”

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