by Dan Boward
Who are these brave and enthusiastic souls? They are volunteers with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Stream Waders Program embarking on an annual wade-in.
Since 2000, the staff of DNR’s Monitoring and Non-Tidal Assessment unit have been recruiting and training adult volunteers to gather stream-quality data. Their volunteer work supports the Maryland Biological Stream Survey (MBSS), DNR’s professional statewide stream sampling program.
Because MBSS crews cannot examine every stream in
every watershed, these stream waders go a long way in helping bridge the gaps.
MBSS crews sample fish, reptiles and amphibians and collect data on water
chemistry and physical habitat, while Stream Waders sample aquatic invertebrates
- excellent indicators of stream quality - and collect stream site information.
Stream Wader sites are chosen from smaller sub-watersheds, and their samplings
provide localized data that are particularly useful to area governments and
How does the Stream Waders program work? Each February, MBSS biologists hold several all-day training sessions across the state. This training covers aquatic invertebrate sampling protocols, the proper use of a GPS unit, how to accurately take stream channel measurements, and procedures for obtaining landowner permission. The volunteers then divide up into teams, and each team is given the necessary maps and equipment and sent on its way. Actual stream sampling takes place during March and April. The highest priority sampling sites are those selected by local governments or watershed organizations, but volunteers are also able to choose sampling sites that are of interest to them.
Take Plenty of Notes (use waterproof markers)
How exactly is the Stream Waders data used? Local governments in Frederick, St. Mary’s, Anne Arundel and Worcester Counties use both Stream Waders and MBSS data to characterize stream conditions for watershed health profiles. The results help direct restoration money toward waterway improvements likely to have the greatest impact.
Organizations such as the Ridge and Valley Stream Keepers of Southern Pennsylvania and Western Maryland, the Magothy River Association in Anne Arundel County, and the Port Tobacco Conservancy in Charles County collected data from over 80 sites to help develop watershed management plans. Such data has also been used to evaluate stream impacts from a fly-ash facility in Charles County, a logging operation in St. Mary’s County and a housing development in Baltimore County.
The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE)
uses Stream Waders data to help assess the quality of the state’s non-tidal
wetlands. Lastly, since Stream Waders may choose sampling sites close to or on
their property, the volunteers themselves may also make use of the data.
Why are these dedicated citizens willing to work so hard for this cause? In a recent opinion poll of its volunteers, most said that they joined Stream Waders to learn about the environment. Others said they joined to support DNR stream monitoring efforts, to learn aquatic invertebrate sampling methods and to make new friends.
These survey results offer proof positive that DNR has put together an effective environmental stewardship program, especially since many of the volunteers told us they’re sharing what they’ve learned with family, friends and neighbors. High school and college teachers regularly complete the training, which further circulates this knowledge. These volunteers do so much more than just gather stream data - they enhance their understanding of the natural world and ultimately become better environmental stewards.
So, next time you’re out driving on a blustery spring day and you come across a band of smiling folks with bug nets, buckets and GPS units heading toward a stream, stop, say hello and offer them a cup of hot coffee. Now you know why they’re out there, what they’re looking for and how they are helping DNR learn about the health of Maryland’s streams.
By the way, the bug nets used by Stream Waders are one-size-fits-all, so if you’re interested in joining, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the program, visit www.dnr.state.md.us/streams/mbss/mbss_volun.html.
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