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Keywords:

  • culverts;
  • fish passage barriers;
  • mitigation;
  • prioritization;
  • watershed restoration

Abstract

Large-scale culvert replacement programs could benefit migratory fish populations by reconnecting reproductive and foraging habitats in fragmented watersheds. The objectives of this study were to: (1) identify stream and culvert characteristics contributing to fish passage barriers within an Appalachian watershed, U.S.A.; (2) quantify the total amount of Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) reproductive habitat isolated above culverts; and (3) use an ecological currency to identify culvert replacement priorities and stream mitigation credit opportunities. We surveyed 120 state-owned culverts and used a fish passage assessment filter to determine the “passability” of each culvert. We then constructed a geographic information system stream network model to quantify the amount of trout reproductive habitat isolated by culverts. Ninety-seven percent of surveyed culverts were classified as obstacles or complete barriers to trout dispersal. Culvert impassability was higher in small streams with slopes exceeding 3–5%, suggesting a direct relationship between slope and impassability. Thirty-three percent of Brook trout reproductive habitat, representing over 200 km of stream, was isolated by culverts. This is a conservative estimate, because we did not survey privately or federally owned culverts. The top 20 prioritized culverts accounted for nearly half of the habitat loss. Our results indicate that standard culvert designs placed in streams with slopes exceeding 5% consistently produce trout dispersal barriers and should be avoided during new road construction. The process developed here provides an efficient method for identifying culvert replacement priorities and may be used to maximize watershed scale benefits of stream restoration.