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McIntosh and Beehunter Creeks (Allegany State Park) (2008-2012)

Evaluation of McIntosh Creek Habitat Improvement Project

In June 2012, with the help of angler volunteers, we sampled wild brook trout at 35 sites on McIntosh and Beehunter Creeks. This was the fifth and final year of sampling to evaluate habitat improvement work that DEC, Trout Unlimited, USFWS and Allegany State Park under took on McIntosh Creek in July 2008 (McIntosh Creek habitat project 2008). We first sampled in June 2008 to evaluate the wild brook trout population before habitat work and we conducted four years (2009-2012) of post work sampling. Beehunter Creek had no habitat work done and was used as our "control" stream for this project. McIntosh Creek was closed to fishing by park regulations during the post work evaluation period.

Table 1 below shows population estimates for adult (yearling and older) and young-of-year wild brook trout in 2008-2012 for the entire length of both streams. You will note in Table 1 that in our initial year of sampling (2008), before the habitat work, there were moderate numbers of adult wild brook trout, but essentially no reproduction (only one YOY found in McIntosh and 12 in Beehunter). We also found very low numbers of yearling trout. Almost the entire trout populations were made up of age 2 and 3 fish, with a couple fish that were likely 4 or 5 years of age. We fully expected to see fewer adults in 2009 as many of the adults we found in 2008 would have died naturally before the 2009 sampling. That is exactly what we saw. However, we were glad to see that the 2009 and 2010 year classes were very strong in both streams, indicating they had good spawning and rearing conditions. You will note that reproduction in 2009 was slightly better in McIntosh than Beehunter, but this pattern was reversed in 2010.

Table 1. Estimated populations of adult and young-of-year (YOY) wild brook trout in the entire lengths of McIntosh and Beehunter Creeks, 2008-2012.
Year McIntosh Creek Beehunter Creek
Adult YOY Adult YOY
2008 169 Too low for estimate 334 Too low for estimate
2009 88 912 154 565
2010 581 521 584 1014
2011 542 106 911 218
2012 243 937 391 847

In 2011, we anticipated higher numbers of adults in both streams, with the majority being yearlings and two year olds. The sampling backed that up, with good numbers of adults in both streams. Numbers of young-of-year brook trout in 2011 were considerably lower than those found in 2009 and 2010. This may have been due to a severe flooding event in December 2010, which destroyed trout eggs deposited in the gravel in October, 2010.

Finally, in 2012 we found very good reproduction in both McIntosh and Beehunter Creeks, but reduced numbers of adults in both streams from 2010 and 2011 abundances. Good reproduction was fully expected this year as the lack of winter/spring flooding should have led to good numbers of young trout surviving into the summer. The reduction in adult abundance may have been due to severe drought through much of 2011 and into early summer 2012.

Nine inch wild brook trout from McIntosh Creek.
Nine inch wild brook trout from
McIntosh Creek.

While there was a significant increase in the adult trout population in McIntosh Creek in 2010 and 2011 over 2008, the population in 2012 was not significantly higher than 2008. Our control stream, Beehunter Creek had a similar trend in its adult trout population, indicating that population changes in McIntosh Creek have not been due to the habitat work, but rather are related to natural fluctuations in the trout populations. Statistical analysis verifies this conclusion. Fluctuations in populations are likely driven by weather conditions such as floods and droughts that affect spawning success and adult trout survival from year to year. Additionally, the abundance of larger wild brook trout in McIntosh Creek did not increase over the length of the study, indicating that neither the habitat work, nor the stream being closed to angling was able to allow fish to survive additional years in the stream and grow to larger size.

Summary

The lack of positive response to the habitat work in McIntosh Creek is likely due to our only being able to create 16 pools along the 1.5 mile stream (less than 0.02% of the streams' length). All work was done with volunteer labor, by hand, with on site logs and boulders. The availability of heavy machinery and materials from off -site, allowing us to create substantially more adult trout habitat might have lead to a different outcome on this project. This project indicates it is unlikely that projects that are only able to increase the amount of quality adult trout habitat by a very small percentage on infertile, headwater brook trout streams will be able to substantially increase adult trout populations. While the overall population did not improve in McIntosh Creek, adult brook trout were found using all 17 of the structures we built, showing that if a project's goal is just to create more trout habitat for fishing, this type of work may be suitable. This type of work may also be suitable where a total lack of adult trout habitat in causing a wild brook trout population to be in danger of extirpation. McIntosh Creek will be reopened to fishing via changes in Allegany State Park regulations for the 2013 season.