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Feds praise farmer, groups for protecting stream

April 23, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Calling it "new environmentalism of the future," Assistant Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett visited a 225-acre cattle farm near Charles Town Tuesday morning to praise the owner and organizations who helped him implement a stream protection project on the property.

Assisted by organizations including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Ducks Unlimited, beef farmer Warren "Jim" Mickey agreed to erect 5,400 feet of fence along the North Fork of Bullskin Run and construct special cattle crossing areas along the stream.

Fencing off the stream keeps cattle from walking along the stream banks and destroying them, which can be detrimental to waterways, environmental officials said at Mickey's farm.

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The three cattle crossings on Mickey's farm use a hard, stonelike surface that leads from the field down to the stream. Like the fence, the crossings prevent cattle from damaging stream banks, officials said.

Environmental officials say the work is vital to improving the health of waterways, especially Chesapeake Bay, which eventually receives water from nearby sources like the North Fork of Bullskin Run.

"This is how the world should work," Scarlett said after helping environmental officials and farmers plant trees along the stream where it passes through Mickey's farm.

It cost about $13,000 to install the fence and cattle crossings on Mickey's farm, said John E. Schmidt, private lands coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The USDA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Ducks Unlimited paid for the fence, and Mickey was reimbursed for part of the cost of the cattle crossings, officials said.

Nationwide, about $29 million is available for stream protection from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officials said. Eligibility requirements include landowners agreeing to maintain the protection for a minimum of 10 years.

Before such programs were developed, cattle crossed streams wherever they wanted, leaving damaged stream banks and manure in their tracks, Mickey said. When heavy rains occur, water washes the mud and manure into the streams, affecting the quality of the waterways, said Mickey, whose Meadow Spring Farm is along Roper North Fork Road off the Charles Town Bypass.

There are several new approaches at work with the stream protection efforts being used at farms like Mickey's, according to Mickey and Bill Street, director of watershed restoration for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Besides keeping impurities out of streams, the effort includes planting trees along stream banks, which will cool water in streams, Mickey said. It is hoped that the temperature of the water in the North Fork of Bullskin Run can be cooled enough to allow for trout to be stocked in the stream, Mickey said.

As vegetation increases along the stream, it will become narrower and rocks and other natural structures will appear in the stream, which will provide a habitat for fish, Street said.

"There's a lot of research going on with that," Street said.

Scarlett said the stream bank protection efforts can help farmers in several ways, such as reducing the frequency of "hoof diseases" in cattle, which is caused by the animals walking through manure-laden mud.

Scarlett said the efforts illustrate "cooperative conservation" that is being pushed by Gale Norton, secretary of the Department of the Interior.

"We're here to thank these folks for all their fantastic work," Scarlett said.

Stream bank protection has been ongoing for the last 20 years, but there has been a renewed effort during the last five years, Street said.

About 58 percent of the "stream miles" in the Chesapeake Bay region have been preserved and it is believed healthy waterways in the region can be obtained if that number is increased to 70 percent, Street said.

Stream bank protection is off to a good start in Jefferson County, representing about a third of such efforts in West Virginia, Schmidt said. There also are a few projects in Berkeley County, he said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issues a "State of the Bay" index every year to gauge the bay's health. The index ranges 0 to 100, with 100 being the best. The bay bottomed out in the 1980s with a index of 23 and has increased to 27, Street said. The immediate goal is to increase the index to 40, Street said.

More information about stream bank protection can be obtained by calling Schmidt at 304-636-6586 or by e-mail at john_schmidt@fws.gov.

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