||Stream systems in the Southern Appalachian Mountains represent the southern limit
of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) distribution in the eastern United States and
are home to the region’s only native salmonid, the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout.
Currently, the species occupies only 25% of its former range in the region, but in
North Carolina, opportunities exist to restore brook trout to high quality National
Forest watersheds. The purpose of this project is to provide the information necessary
to design a watershed-specific restoration strategy for the Fires Creek Watershed,
Nantahala National Forest and to develop a model that predicts natural migration barriers
within a stream network.
A geographic information system (GIS) is the primary analysis tool used to derive,
interpret, and display relevant data. In the Fires Creek Watershed, migration barriers
are identified and characterized to delineate potential brook trout reintroduction
sites. The watershed is also assessed as a target for brook trout restoration according
to five criteria. These are the historical presence of brook trout, the current distribution
of trout in the basin, the genetic identity of potential donor populations, site accessibility,
and current and future habitat suitability. Barrier data are also used to develop
a classification and regression tree (CART) model to predict barrier locations.
Results show that numerous opportunities exist to restore brook trout to the Fires
Creek Watershed. The most effective restoration strategy combines the availability
of protected habitat, as delineated by migration barriers, with information extracted
from the comprehensive assessment. The model provides the framework for a tool that
improves the efficiency of completing restoration projects, but results suggest that
higher resolution data is necessary to increase prediction success. Overall, this
work contributes to the development and implementation of brook trout restoration
projects in North Carolina’s National Forests.