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NC Stream Restoration is Made in the Shade

Forest canopies are believed to be extremely important in the success of stream restoration projects. (Amy Meredith/
Forest canopies are believed to be extremely important in the success of stream restoration projects. (Amy Meredith/
September 27, 2016

DOBSON, N.C. – When it comes to stream restoration in North Carolina, much attention often is paid to restoring natural stream function, but a growing body of evidence points to the importance of "looking up" when it comes to such projects.

Canopies are the term used to describe the foliage and shade provided by vegetation around streams, and Fred Harris, who is the former Division Chief of Inland Fisheries for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, said preserving the trees around a stream is just as important.

"Canopies block out some of the sunlight that would otherwise heat up the rocks as well as the water during the summer months and raise the water temperature to the point that some of the fish and other animals that would normally be in the stream can't be there," Harris explained. "It just gets too hot."

One major coordinator of stream restoration projects in North Carolina is The Resource Institute, which works with communities and landowners to restore streams and wetlands. As part of that restoration, the organization prioritizes the planting of native grasses, trees and shrubs to ensure the canopy is protected.

David Penrose worked for several years as a stream ecologist and was just hired by The Resource Institute to review a stream restoration in Surry County that was initiated a decade ago.

"I was actually completely surprised to see that the streams have gotten a lot better after this 10-year period," he said. "So I think just a combination of wise watershed management practices and restoration really demonstrated these streams got significantly better."

Penrose added that stream restoration projects, often funded by public dollars, aren't evaluated for their effectiveness enough and said much can be learned from past projects.

"When I look at a restoration project, one of the things I look at is whether the stream has the ability to retain organic material," Penrose said. "You can build a stream, you can build it as straight or as sinuous as you want, but unless it has the ability to retain organic material, it's not going to function like a stream."

Leaves falling in higher elevations of the state as autumn moves in will provide nourishment for wildlife and vegetation throughout the winter and even spring months.

Stephanie Carson/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - NC