Tag Archives: brook trout

The Great Hill People of the Beautiful River and Their Conservation Efforts

This story is a part of the Native American Blog Series in observance of National Native American Heritage.

The Seneca Nation of Indians are the “Keepers of the Western Door” and are called the “Great Hill People” or “O-non-dowa-gah” in their own language. The Seneca people are culturally attached to their ancestral lands, and call the Allegheny River the “Ohi’yo” which translates into “beautiful river”. The Ohi’yo or Allegheny River joins the Monongahela River to form the Ohio River, which then the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi River. To many Seneca Native Americans, the Allegheny River and its connections are simply called Ohi’yo  River no matter what region it is in.

seneca territory

Currently, the Seneca Nation of Indians holds 53,884 acres of Tribal lands within two territories: the Allegany and the Cattaraugus, as well as the Oil Springs Reservation which is 640 acres in the state of New York.  Photo Credit: eSpatially New York, 2015

The Seneca Nation of Indians has a robust wildlife program and is undertaking many projects to protect and restore fish and wildlife cultural important to their people.  In 2015, the Seneca Nation of Indians were awarded Federal funding for a project titled “Conservation Management” through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grant (TWG) program. The goal of the project is to increase stream and shoreline restoration within the Cattaraugus Creek, to benefit sacred fish species including the brook trout and steelhead fish. According to Seneca oral histories, the Great Spirit had caught and admired the beauty of the brook trout. The Great Spirit’s touch turned the black ebony color of the trout into silvery spots and halos. Since the brook trout had been handled by the Great Spirit and spared for its beauty to live on, the Seneca Nation of Indians do not eat brook trout, but hold it as sacred in the highest regard of fish (Indian Legend received by Larry Becelia).

Additionally, a freshwater hatchery in Cattaraugus Territory, which will also serve as an educational center for the community, is being created under management of Greg Lay, Fish and Wildlife Department for the Seneca Indian Nation. The hatchery will be used for Eastern brook trout. The Seneca Nation provides power to both facilities using solar panels and other sustainable methods.

Another project the Seneca Nation of Indians is working on is to stabilize the walleye population, which is a fish that is both a culturally significant and a subsistence food for the Seneca Nation of Indians, through establishment of a fish rearing facility in the Allegany territory. The rearing facility is managed by Shane Titus, the Fishery’s Manager and and Larry Becelia, the Conservation Manager of Seneca Nation of Indians Fish and Wildlife Department. The highland Strain of Walleye (adult male and females) are caught from the Allegany Reservoir during spawning season using an electroshocking boat. After the reproductive materials have been collected by the caught adults, they are released further up the Allegany River. This location is chosen in hopes that mature walleye will stay up river and spawn in the future to increase the upstream population. When the walleye fry hatch in the rearing facility, they are released where the Allegany reservoir and Allegany River meet.


Larry Becelia, Conservation Manager  of the Seneca Nation Fish and Wildlife Department holding a walleye.

The Seneca Nation Fish and Wildlife Department has also established a research program, in which walleye females that were caught, held, and released from the facility are tagged with URL links, identification numbers, and QR codes. This system is used in the hopes that future anglers can log the individual fish into the system and see where it has traveled on the map. One example of this form of “citizen science” was encountered when a fisherman caught a walleye female all the way in Pennsylvania! The Seneca Nation of Indians have also built a stocking pond near the facility for catch and release fishing of walleye, to ensure that traditional fishing activities are available for the Tribal community.



Shane and Larry also organize a youth program in the summer to create artificial habitat for fish. Eleven- to sixteen-year olds use recycled vinyl siding, quick cement, and pipes to create a resting place for spawning fish. Using grant funds, the Seneca Nation of Indians have also been able to order large boulders to be placed into the freshwater system to provide resting pools for fish. Photo Credit: Zintkala Eiring

In addition, the Seneca Nation of Indians is in partnership with Cornell University and the State of New York to research the chytrid disease in the eastern hellbender, a protected species of large salamander. Several individuals with the disease were unable to be cured, and thus, are unable to be released back into their natural system. Currently, the SNI resource managers, Shane and Titus, continue to take care of a handful of eastern hellbenders. Fortunately, several hellbenders without the chytrid disease were able to be released into their natural environment in the summer of 2017.

The O-non-dawa-gah or Seneca people have been conserving their lands for thousands of years. Through the tribal wildlife grants program, they continue to demonstrate their ancestral ties to the Ohi’yo River and its wildlife inhabitants, as well as the protection of species through their hatchery, stream-bank restoration projects, and species recovery programs. Tribal environmental managers pass on their traditional ecological knowledge and conservation skillset to Seneca youth each summer, so generations can continue O-non-dawa-gah traditions into the future.

The Seneca Indian Nation’s conservation management projects were made possible by the dedication and efforts of the Seneca Nation of Indians, other partnerships, and the Tribal Wildlife Grants program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tribal wildlife grants are funded through an annual appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. These grants have awarded more than $77 million to Tribes since 2003, which provide support for approximately 444 conservation projects throughout Indian Country. For more information about tribal wildlife grants please visit https://www.fws.gov/northeast/nativeamerican/index.html

First Micmac Fish Harvest

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a unique relationship with federally-recognized Native American Tribes, as do all Federal agencies. This relationship is defined by treaties, statutes and agreements, and differs from relationships with state and local governments.  In fact, Tribes are sovereign nations and the government works with them in nation-to-nation manner. The Northeast Region is committed to working with Tribes to conserve and manage wildlife resources. There are 19 Federally recognized Tribes in the Northeast, from Maine to Virginia. Each year, the Service administers Tribal Wildlife Grants program, providing financial and technical assistance for projects that benefit fish and wildlife resources and their habitat that are a priority for Tribes.  One recent recipient of a grant is the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, headquartered in Presque Isle, Maine.

The Aroostook Band is part of the Micmac Nation, comprised of 29 bands with ancestral ties to the St. Lawrence, Maritime Provinces and other regions along the Atlantic Seaboard in Canada and the United States.  The Tribe gained federal recognition in November of 1991, and now has approximately 1,240 members. The Aroostook Band is known for creating beautiful black ash baskets, quillwork birch bark boxes, and floral wooden sculptures. Last month, the Aroostook Band unveiled their newest creation, a recirculating aquaculture brook trout fish hatchery that was made possible by their Tribal Wildlife grant. The new fish hatchery has allowed the Tribe to grow brook trout, a traditional food source, and the first harvest went off in April without a hitch.

Like other fish species that are native to Maine’s waterways, the brook trout has long been an important part of the Aroostook Band’s cultural traditions and subsistence. The first brook trout fish harvest marked an important milestone for the Tribe, and fed the Tribal Council and guests at a Tribal Council meeting. It was incredibly thrilling for the community and especially for one Tribal Councilor, who remarked “25 years ago we were sitting in a small office on Main Street and this was just a pipe dream, now we are doing it!” One hundred pounds of fish were harvested, and the surplus was distributed to Tribal elders. Everyone agreed the fish tasted delicious! In addition, because these trout were grown in a closed system, they are free of contaminants.

Additionally, the Aroostook Band is developing a brook trout educational program for Tribal youth and other local youth. The purpose of the educational program will be to raise public awareness with regard to the importance of brook trout and the current ecological and human stressors that are affecting wild brook trout populations.

The next steps for the Aroostook Band will be harvesting and selling fish to the public. The money made on fish will help sustain the cost of the hatchery. Not only does the fish hatchery benefit the Tribe, it supports local fish populations by reducing fishing pressure on the native trout. (At this time, fish grown at the hatchery are not introduced into native watercourses or bodies of water.) The Aroostook Band is excited for the opportunity to protect wild brook trout populations while producing a healthy source of fresh fish for the community. The Tribe plans to hold an open house for the fish hatchery in the near future.

Unleash the trout: impaired stream ready for brook trout

Today we’re sharing a story written by reporter Karen Blackledge of The Danville News from Pennsylvania’s Central Susquehanna Valley. The news story features our efforts to assist private landowners in restoring homes for wildlife, including the eastern brook trout!


Thanks to habitat restoration, brook trout like this one will soon make their home in Limestone Run, a tributary of the West Branch Susquehanna River. Credit: Jaime Masterson/USFWS

LIMESTONEVILLE — For the first time ever, wild brook trout will soon be swimming in Limestone Run.

They are part of a stream restoration project in the works for  about 15 years, said Sean Levan, district manager and bay technician at the Montour County Conservation District.

He and other officials Wednesday showed work done on the farm of Jeff Smith where the state Fish and Boat Commission plans to release about 150 trout Oct. 7. They will range from fingerlings to about 9 inches long.

Dave Keller, a habitat manager, said there is no record of wild brook trout ever being in the stream. “The temperature in the last four years has been conducive to them surviving in the stream,” he said of the only trout native to Pennsylvania which is losing its foothold in habitats in the state.


Logs have been placed alongside and in Limestone Run to improve habit for insects, fish and other life. Photo courtesy of Karen Blackledge, The Danville News.

He said the drought shouldn’t affect introducing them to the stream.

Andy Shiels, director of fisheries for the fish and boat commission, expects multiple releases of fish for several years. They will remove fish from other streams.

Limestone Run, which is considered an impaired stream by the Environmental Protection Agency due to agriculture practices, currently has fish considered bait fish for wild brook trout.

Mark Roberts, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said numerous partners, including federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, the Montour County Conservation District and universities, worked on the project to create buffer trees to keep cattle out and to install logs around the stream and in the stream.


Mark Roberts of our Pennsylvania field office stands by Limestone Run. Photo courtesy of Karen Blackledge, The Danville News.

Smith was one of the first farmers to work with the groups on creating shade to keep temperatures down in Limestone Run, he said. The logs create deeper pools and places for fish to hide.

Roberts credited the landowners along the run with working with them. “Without them, it would not have been possible,” he said of the voluntary program.

“It’s great to see where this has come,” said Levan who has been part of the project for 11 years.

He said the Chillisquaque-Limestone Watershed Association “got the ball rolling.” Tom Benfer, who taught biology and has a small farm betwen Exchange and White Hall, serves as president.

There is only one farm remaining with animals having access to the run and it is in Northumberland County, he said.

Jason Fellon, watershed manager with the state Department of Environmental Resources, said the the types of insects found in the run shows the quality is improving. The run is now impaired by too much sediment from embankment erosion, he said.

Levan said the work wasn’t expensive with the hemlock logs at $55 each and logs totaling 175 along with 200 tons of rock used. The Fish and Wildlife Service provided equipment with labor done by interns, Fellon said.

LeVan said the project was to improve the stream, from Seven Springs Farm in Montour County and continuing to Milton borough in Northumberland County, began with a biology teacher at Milton High School.

“The biggest thing was talking with landlowners who were willing to work with us,” he said of at least a dozen farmers whose properties are along the stream.

Another important part was working with Milton officials concerning Brown Avenue Park where kids now fish for trout.

“It’s great to see that many people working together,” he said.

Buffers and trees have been planted to keep animals out of the stream. Logs in the stream provide more oxygen and shaded areas.

The partners hope to create an environment for wild trout to reproduce. Next year, they will return to shock the water so the fish come to the surface. They will identify them and count them.

“We will see how they survived the year,” Levan said.

The stream currently is home to warm water fish including suckers, black- and red-nosed daces, shiners and chubs. He said they will be able to live in a now cooler stream and use the structures in place. “They improve the water quality of all fish there,” he said.

Besides landowners, partners in the Limestone Run Watershed include Mike Yeage and Karen Avery of Milton High School, the Chillisquaque/Limestone Watershed Association, DEP Growing Greener, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Fish and Boat Commission, Renee Carey of the Northcentral PA Conservancy, Montour County Conservation District, Northumberland County Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Susquehanna University and Bloomsburg University.

The Limestone Run work is the 10th project since the partnership began seven years ago of the state Department of Envrionmental Protection, fish and boat commission and conservation organizations.

More than 90 projects have been completed along nearly seven miles of agricultually impaired streams in North Central Pennsylvania. They won a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2014.

Check out the original story on The Daily Item’s website. You can reach the writer at  kblackledge@thedanvillenews.com.