Fish shelter under construction at Jabez Branch Eroded stream banks repaired for brook trout

September 02, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A construction project is under way along the wooded Jabez Branch near Gambrills. A backhoe snorts in the mud. Chain saws snarl. And the tanklike tracks of a bulldozer march along the banks.

But the developers here aren't building houses for people. They're making a bedroom community for brook trout.

At the site of the only remaining trout-breeding stream in Maryland south of Baltimore, Anne Arundel County and state workers are sinking tree roots into the water to act as fish shelters, repairing eroded stream banks and stopping the flow of hot and oily runoff from nearby highways.

They are marketing the idea that new techniques for restoring eroded streams -- using logs and soil instead of concrete and steel -- will allow wildlife to live even in the paved landscapes of suburbia.

To help protect these cul-de-sacs from the 78-home Holladay Park subdivision planned nearby, the county is negotiating to buy a 28-acre conservation easement along the stream. That would create a no-building zone along the creek, county land-use spokesman John Morris said.

"The larger issue we're looking into here is, how can we build homes and roads and still maintain the quality of our streams at the same time," said Robert Bachman, director of resources management for the fisheries service at the state Department of Natural Resources.

"We are really doing something unusual with the Jabez restoration project. And we are hoping that it will provide us with valuable insights into what we can do to protect trout and fish populations throughout the state and even in the Chesapeake Bay," Bachman said.

The Jabez has two branches that slither like a snake's split tongue from this lightly wooded area near the intersection of Interstate 97 and Route 3 past suburban yards to the Severn River.

The creek is only 5 feet wide in places and only inches deep. But it is a rare incubator for brook trout.

Every October, female trout wiggle their tails to dig nests in its gravel and lay hundreds of salmon-colored eggs the size of popcorn kernels.

Inch-long "sac-fry" hatch quickly, hide in the gravel all winter as they eat their yolk sacs and emerge with the warmer water in the spring.

The Jabez is is the only remaining breeding stream for brook trout in the state south and east of Interstate 95, Bachman said. Brook trout still breed near Gunpowder Falls State Park in Baltimore County and in parts of Frederick County.

State environmental officials became worried about the Jabez in the 1980s when the state extended I-97 near the creek and built an interchange with Route 3. The new blacktop sent hot, oily and acidic water into the creek when it rained.

State marine biologists had been monitoring the trout in the stream for years, walking its course with electronic wands that stun fish so that scientists can count them.

"Hot acid is not a good thing for trout," said Bachman.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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