Lisbon Students Conduct Stream Survey on Brebner Property

What do trout and people have in common? We all need clean water to survive. ACT has a special focus on protecting streams and rivers for people, fish, and other wildlife of all kinds. This is our Clean Water/Healthy Trout initiative.

In September 2016, students from Lisbon Regional School teamed up with NH Fish & Game and ACT volunteers to survey streams on the Brebner property in Bethlehem. The Brebners are conserving their land with ACT, both to protect over a mile on the Ammonoosuc River and tributary streams, and to preserve the legacy of their family place.

The stream surveys were to determine the presence of brook trout and other aquatic species. Brook trout are native to New Hampshire, and they are an indicator of good water quality. Tributary streams to larger rivers like the Ammonoosuc are critical as spawning places, as shelters where young trout can escape larger fish predators, and as places where they can find cold water in the warm summer months.

The Brebner property has two tributary streams to the Ammonoosuc. One stream was almost completely dry due to this summer’s drought, but the other still had water and held baby brook trout and other common species such as stream chubs and blacknose dace. We also found an unusual species, the northern redbelly dace, a species of concern in New Hampshire due to its small numbers and susceptibility to changes in its habitat, especially loss of riparian cover like dense trees and shrubs. Fish & Game seeks better a better understanding of the distribution of this fish, but knows it is more common north of the Whites, so finding it in Bethlehem is important. (The redbelly dace was also found in a stream on the Lawrence property in Franconia, another of our conservation projects under Clean Water/Healthy Trout.)

The Lisbon students are members of PAWS (Panther Adventure Wilderness Society), and are all high achievers. But they happily spent the day bushwhacking through the forest and getting muddy as they helped net fish and dug around for aquatic insects.  According to PAWS advisor Greg Superchi, "At Lisbon Regional School, we believe in creating life-long learners who are connected to their community in many ways including caring for their surroundings - the people and the environment they live in and around.  School should be so much more than learning reading, writing, and 'rithmatic.  It's about fostering growth in people who can contribute to our society in multiple ways.  By doing activities such as trout surveys on streams, building bog bridges on trails, and helping to reclaim river banks, PAWS students get to make that connection.  They see there is so much more to life than doing a good job in school and getting a well-paying job.  They become linked to life in the North Country, which we hope they will have for life."

Protecting the 200-acre Brebner property is a high priority for ACT, and we have secured some crucial and competitive funding to make it happen.  Part comes from the Aquatic Restoration and Mitigation (ARM) Fund administered by the NH Department of Environmental Services. The review team for this ARM Fund saw the importance of the riparian habitat, but also the extensive wooded wetlands and potentially unusual plant species there.

As part of the conservation project, ACT’s consulting ecologist Jesse Mohr is doing a natural resources inventory and management plan for the property. Ray Lobdell, a wetlands scientist and long-time ACT member, was instrumental in identifying the important natural resources values of the property and making the successful application to the ARM Fund.

There is an important public recreation aspect to this conservation project as well. While the land is private and will not generally be open for public use, there is access to it along the rail trail that runs from Littleton up toward Whitefield. With the NH Trails Bureau, we are planning a small parking area on Railroad Street near the entrance to the cement plant. This would allow snowmobile parking in the winter and parking for anglers and boaters in the warmer months. It’s a bit of a walk down the tracks to the Ammonoosuc River, where anglers can then use the Brebner land to access some great fishing spots.

Check back for more news as this project moves forward!