LEWISBURG - The Steve and Esther Martin farm is nestled behind a large cornfield off of Furnace Road in Union County. Like many rural farms, the Martin property shares part of its acreage with a local watershed, in this case the Turtle Creek watershed.
Local farmers, conservation organizations, landowners and members of the public toured the farm during the first week of August to see some of the management practices in use there, such as streambank stabilization.
"The goal (of the stabilization project) was to lessen the impact from agriculture," said Renee Carey, executive director of the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy, which organized the series of field days.
A crowd gathers to watch as Susquehanna University students locate fish at the Martin Farm near Lewisburg.
Field day attendees look at photos of stream stabilization projects.
Dave Keller, of the state Fish and Boat Commission, explains how log deflectors work.
A fish is weighed.
A duck shakes off water while it rests on a
log deflector at the Martin farm in Lewisburg.
Two other farms are involved in the project, and pictures of the sites were displayed during each field day.
One of the goals of the event was to encourage farmers in attendance to work with conservation organizations to improve stream quality on their own properties.
Back in October of 2013, the Martins and two neighboring farms were approached about the possibility of stabilizing several of the stream's banks and creating new crossings.
"Turtle Creek was an impaired stream because of all the sediment going into the stream," Carey said. "This will lessen that sediment."
Jason Fellon, northcentral watershed manager with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said one of the focuses of the project was to "make it easy for landowners to participate with us."
Fellon said Turtle Creek has about 24 miles of stream and about half of it runs through various agricultural operations.
"The work that has been done on this farm and the two surrounding farms has helped improve water quality," he said.
Biologist Dave Rebuck recently conducted a DEP study on the stream's current ecosystem to establish a baseline.
"We had to establish a baseline so that we could judge changes after the construction was completed," Rebuck said.
The areas between the three farms he sampled showed a significant pattern, Rebuck said.
"We saw a distinct, gradient pattern as we moved upstream from the farms. The further we went upstream, the more improved it
became, with more organisms," he said.
John Niles, a professor at Susquehanna University, and his students also studied the stream's biology. The university team conducted fish and insect study demonstrations during the field days.
The team conducted a fish study by walking 100-meter sections of the creek and electroshocking the fish in those areas.
Electroshock devices deliver a mild shock to the fish, enough to stun them so that the team can net them. The captured fish then are measured, weighed and, if more than one species is found, a species count is taken.
The fish were released unharmed.
For the insect study, team members collected samples of water and surrounding vegetation and counted the various types of insects. The count provides them with a sample of the diet some of the fish in the area have, as well as how many organisms the stream's ecosystem can support.
Niles said he and the students have been working with the state Fish and Boat Commission, participating in the Unassessed Waterways Program.
"Trout fishing is big business in Pennsylvania. It's a billion dollar industry," Niles said.
The work that Niles and his students perform is helping the state determine the best waterways for trout.
Dave Keller, stream habitat manager with the Fish and Boat Commission, said some of the bank stabilization focused on providing areas that benefit the stream's fish.
"We set up 'cribs,' which help stabilize the bank and create overhead coverage for the fish," Keller said.
The overhead coverage gives fish a place to hide from predators and also promotes vegetation and insect growth. This in turn promotes healthy fish populations because both vegetation and insects are food sources, Keller said.
He also said the stabilization construction uses "deflectors" that divert the velocity of the stream away from the bank and more toward the middle of the stream.
"This protects the bank. We also sloped the bank, which is better than a straight bank. We tried to slope the bank as much as possible," Keller said.
A stream tends to wear away the "toe," or base, of a straight bank much faster than a sloped bank, Keller said.
"Once the toe is washed away, the rest of the bank is quick to follow," Keller said.