May 17, 2006
Raleigh, North Carolina — Brook trout once
thrived in nearly every coldwater stream and river in the eastern
United States. Over the last century, urbanization, poor land
management practices and degraded streamside habitat have ravaged
brook trout populations, particularly in North Carolina where this
native fish has been eliminated or greatly reduced throughout more
than 80 percent of its historical habitat.
And North Carolina is not alone. This grim assessment of the brook
trout’s status in North Carolina is similar to other states along
the East Coast, according to report released last week by the
Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (EBTJV). The EBTJV, a partnership
of state and federal agencies, conservation organizations and
academic institutions including Trout Unlimited and the N.C.
Wildlife Resources Commission, is dedicated to restoring brook trout
to fishable populations by protecting, restoring and enhancing
aquatic habitat throughout the brook trout’s range.
The report, “Eastern Brook Trout: Status and Threats,” provides
information on the status of brook trout populations in 17 states
along the East Coast, an area that represents 70 percent of the
historical range of brook trout in the United States. The report
also identifies the principal threats to brook trout populations on
a state-by-state basis.
In North Carolina and Tennessee, which share many of the same
watersheds, a variety of factors led to the brook trout’s decline.
Large-scale logging in the 19th century coupled with poor land
management associated with agriculture caused massive soil erosion
and opened the formerly shaded streams to the sun. As sediment
choked the streams and water quality declined, brook trout began to
disappear. In their place, rainbow trout, which are native to the
Western United States, and brown trout, which are native to Europe,
were introduced. These trout species could tolerate warmer and less
pristine waters than brook trout. As a result, they often
outcompeted brook trout for food and space.
Today, the majority of North Carolina’s brook trout populations are
relegated to headwater streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National
Park and Pisgah and Nantahala national forests. These publicly owned
lands still have some of the highest quality trout habitat remaining
in the Southeast.
However, brook trout populations on private lands in North Carolina
face a much bleaker future.
“Continued destruction of brook trout habitat from logging,
agriculture and development leave many of the remaining populations
particularly vulnerable,” said Doug Besler, coldwater research
coordinator for the Wildlife Resources Commission. “Brook trout are
an excellent indicator of water quality, and their loss in many of
our streams should serve as a wake-up call to the citizens of North
Efforts like the EBTJV seek to educate the public and legislators to
the plight brook trout face and generate support that will restore
and protect brook trout and reverse these negative trends that are
occurring throughout their native range.
The EBTJV began in 2004 as a pilot program for the
Habitat Initiative. This report represents the first collaborative
effort to identify the status of brook trout habitat across the
entire eastern United States. The full report, as well as
state-specific data and maps, is available at
report on North Carolina and Tennessee watersheds (pdf).