Coal (a.k.a. trout-be-gone)
I visited Logan County, WV trout water yesterday. Or at least what used to be Logan trout water. Logan County lies in the heart of the southern coalfields in WV. The deeper you get into the southern coalfields, the poverty and garbage is striking. I just can never get my arms around it. Everytime I visit I am still amazed at the ubiquitous amount of garbage and litter. I submit that there is no place in America, even on depressed reservations, where garbage is more ubiquitous. I suppose when you spend your work days destroying the environment by filling streams with toxic overburden, pumping gray water into streams from prep plants and planting invasive species such as autumn olive in the name of surface reclamation, then chucking the McLunchbag out the window or chucking the old washing machine in the creek don’t seem relevant. I’m a proud West Virginian and these folks that dirty up my state get no pass from me.
The DNR in WV has been stocking fingerling trout into streams where year round production is sufficient to grow the fish, but where reproduction is not sufficient for self substanance. They do a lot of this themselves in addition to doling out these fingerling loads to Trout Unlimited chapters, Izaak Walton League chapters, watershed groups and other conservation organizations, so long as the fish remain in waters accessible to the public. The DNR has been doing fingerling stockings in about five different streams in Logan County for several years. Lee Orr found a healthy population in Elk Creek near the town of Man about four years ago and we’ve returned there at least a half dozen times over that span, typically catching between 3 and 8 fish per visit. Not a lot, but considering the low gradiency of this stream and lack of pool structure, it really isn’t that bad. Normally you can cover the upper reaches of this stream in less than 2 hours.
Yesterday I fished Buffalo Creek and Elk Creek and did not move a single trout. I covered a lot of water. A couple of months ago I fished Rum Creek and Dingess Run and did not move any fish there either. Massey Coal and it’s subsidiaries operate mines in the headwaters of most of these streams. Massey has accumulated over 69,000 days of Clean Water Act violations and $2.4 billion in fines, the vast majority are unpaid or settled for pennies. The WV government and Choir of Engineers give them and other companies a pass in the name of economics while the WV Coal Association and Friends of Coal spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on PR campaigns to show how environmentally friendly they are. The education and literacy levels plummet the further you get into the coalfields (much like you’ll find in extraction mining communities worldwide). McDowell County has a staggering literacy percentage, 38% of McDowell County adults cannot read above a 4th grade level. I believe that this works perfectly for these companies as folks are easy to convince via these untruthful PR campaigns.
But there have been a few nuggets of beauty come from the coalfields in my eye…wild trout. Elkhorn Creek is one of a couple of dozen wild trout streams that have been created from deep mine seeps that run across limestone geology. Cold groundwater that has been buffered by this limestone (or in some cases active treatment via settling ponds) and believe it or not, juiced up by raw sewage run to the stream from residences dotting the streams (the raw sewage adds organic phosphates to the stream and jacks up the pollution tolerant benthic life…it’s a monoculture of blue winged olives and midges, but the trout grow fat on them). The scenery is the most depressing imaginable for the greatness of America, but the fishing is second to none.
Logan County didn’t get the memo. Lee and I have taken water chemistry on many of these streams and found incredible alkalinity levels of close to 200 ppm in many of them. Coupled with cool water they are custom made for big brown trout…if the dozers would stay out of the creeks (for counterproductive dredging purposes) and coal companies would cut into their enormous profit margins to become better stewards that is. Oh, and if the locals would stop chucking garbage into the streams. I’m still amazed that I didn’t move a single fish. Overfishing doesn’t seem to be a component. Given, low water this past summer would’ve hammered the populations in the lower gradient streams, but I still should’ve moved some fish. I’m not giving up hope, I still think there is much to be gained from a more extensive fingerling stocking effort in southern WV, but there is certainly more of un uphill battle for salmonid conservation in southern WV than in about any other state in the US.
Video Link to photo slideshow.