SANDOWN – The conservation commission heard a presentation on a proposed stream restoration project that could take place soon on the portion of the Exeter River that passes through the Wells Village Road Town Forest.
The project’s goal is to improve fish habitat and as a result, sport fishing.
Brooke Smart of the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Wetlands Reserve Program and Colin Lawson of Trout Unlimited attended the Thursday, Feb. 27 meeting, prompted by some land assessment work the two groups have done in the Wells Village Town Forest, an area the commission recently extended with new land purchase.
The NRCS owns the conservation easement for a portion of the property.
Lawson heads up the New England Culvert Project, an initiative that looks to better fit culvert road crossings with the streams they shuttle. As part of that work, he explained, he does wood restoration in streams, and a small portion of the Exeter River has been suggested for improvement. Lawson’s focus in Sandown would be to restore the large woody debris that supports fish and other aquatic life.
The group has been reviewing about 100 waterways in New Hampshire and found 30 that were worth pursuing improvements.
Lawson explained that short- and long-term goals of potential restoration work include restoring in-stream connectivity (largely focused on road crossings), performing stream crossing assessments, improving aquatic habitat, restoring riparian area (the area on the banks of the river) and working closely with Fish and Game to monitor population and migration.
While Lawson’s target species is brook trout, the water in much of the Exeter River is a bit warmer than those fish typically seek, and generally habitat restoration would largely favor species like bass and perch. But the portion of the Exeter being reviewed in Sandown has a high potential for brook trout if habitat restoration is successful.
Much of the restoration work around culverts focuses on creating under-road passages that are more favorable to animals and debris. This is a benefit not only for the ecosystem but also for road repair bills, as too often improperly sized culverts, coupled with increased storm water run-off from development, lead to road flooding and damage.
Lawson said many things go into improving habitat but he would focus on large wood in the stream channel. This, he described, entails placing trees and stumps and branches within the river to create eddies, pools and other prime habitat for fish and all the things they feed on.
Lawson explained a couple methods for establishing that wood without having it wash away during storm events.
Commission members were in favor of the work but asked questions to more fully understand the process.
Chair Paul Carey said the Wells Village Road culvert and attendant roadway are planned for improvements and suggested it would be wise to coordinate stream work with that project. Carey noted that the stream in that area is full of bits of roadway from past storm events.
There has been discussion about moving the asphalt that has been carried downstream by storm water run off.
“I think any time you can get professionals to come in and improve a resource of the town, I’m usually all for it – as long as we don’t have to pay a whole lot of money for it,” said Carey.
Lawson said the work would greatly enhance fishing in the short and long term. He would expect larger fish moving in in three years.
Kevin Major suggested that because such projects generally use both paid staff and volunteers, it might be a good project to get the Boy Scouts involved in.
While no decisions on the project were made, both Lawson and Smart said things were progressing and that they would keep the town updated. A timeline for the work was unknown, as more work needed to be done to create a detailed plan for the project.
In other conservation business:
Brian Butler’s daughter Brianna Butler will again be chairing the commission’s annual fishing derby. Butler joked that when she heard he had told the group it might need a new chair for the derby, she was quite upset with him.
The commission decided to hold the derby on Saturday, May 13, pending final approval with Sal Genualdo, in whose pond the event is held.