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DEC Plans to 'Fix'
The Great Fisheries

By Ted Waddell
LIVINGSTON MANOR — April 7, 2000 -- At a press conference held at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum (CFFCM), the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced its management plan for the Beaverkill Watershed.
The press conference was conducted on April 1, the traditional opening day of the state’s trout fishing season.
Gerry Barnhart, director of DEC’s Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources, DEC’s largest division, is a hometown boy. He was born and raised in nearby Roscoe. Barnhart graduated from Roscoe CS in 1970, and later attended Paul Smith College in the Adirondacks and Cornell University.
His first job in the field of environmental conservation and protection was conducting surveys of fish killed in the intake screens of a large powerplant along the Delaware River south of Philadelphia, PA.
“That was about as ugly a job as you could imagine,” recalled Barnhart. “The one thing I always use to think of was , ‘This is the Delaware and in there somewhere are a few drops of Beaverkill water, so I can get through this!’”
Barnhart has worked for the DEC for about 20 years. Barnhart’s family has been associated with the local region for several generations.
In fact, Barnhart’s Pool on the Beaverkill is named after his grandfather, Claude Barnhart, who once ran a dairy farm on the flats just below the famed Junction Pool, where the dancing waters of the Beaverkill and its major tributary, Willowemoc Creek, converge.
“It’s a very special place for me,” said Barnhart. “I do what I do today, because I grew up here. I spent literally a zillion hours during my formative years fishing in the river with my older brother and close family friends.
“That’s why I chose a career in natural resources conservation,” he added. “Now it’s time to give something back.”
A New Initiative
Speaking on behalf of NYS DEC Commissioner John P. Cahill, Barnhart announced that the DEC has launched a new initiative to improve the legendary fishery of the Beaverkill and Willowemoc through a comprehensive watershed management plan.
During the late 1800s and the first half of the 20th century, the Beaverkill watershed was subject to extensive lumbering and agriculture, industries which resulted in a substantial reduction in the water quality, stability of the eco-systems and wild trout population.
According to the preliminary DEC study, the early “wilderness” waters contained abundant populations of native brook trout. Reductions in that trout species led to stocking programs and the Beaverkill watershed became one of the earliest systems in the U.S. to be stocked with hatchery-reared brown trout originating in Europe.
Brown trout thrived in the lesser disturbed sections of the system and provided the angling challenge that made fly fishing and fly tying an art form.
Since the mid 1900s, the watershed has witnessed a gradual reforestation of hillsides and farmlands, but stream corridors have been negatively impacted by increased roadway development.
In recent years, studies have indicated that these streams have been subject to extreme variability in annual precipitation patterns and summer temperatures, factors which directly affect the quality of the cold water trout fishery.
In 1994, Trout Unlimited (TU) began an effort to establish a fishery-focused watershed management program. The project successfully obtained detailed information on the socio-economic role and importance of the Beaverkill and Willowemoc fisheries in the surrounding communities.
According to Barnhart, Trout Unlimited and fishery scientists from Cornell University will help DEC biologists and technicians conduct a wide array of scientific studies and monitoring programs to build a strong foundation for the development of a watershed management plan.
Doug Stang, Chief of DEC’s Bureau of Fisheries, called the management plan “a priority project” and said it will cost approximately $250,000 per year over the next three years of intensive efforts to gather data. He noted the plan may take up to five years to complete.
“Every six months, we will host open houses for the public so we can exchange information and get ideas,” he added.
DEC will collect data on the fishery through extensive creel and angler surveys, stream flow and water temperature monitoring, research on tributary trout production, estimates of wild trout population and identification of influences of the watershed and habitats.
“The Beaverkill and Willowemoc are revered by anglers as the birthplace of American fly fishing and the historic focus of American recreational trout fishing,” said Barnhart. “I believe this project will set a new standard for scientifically sound community-based management of New York’s magnificent natural resources.
“This is all leading up to a comprehensive management plan developed between a couple of agencies and the local folks in the community,” he added. “The plan is to make this place not only as good as it used to be, but to make it a lot better for the future.”



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