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Erosion Cures May Be Anglers' Friends

By Jill Lee
April 1, 1998

Bluegill, bass and catfish love life in the South's silty, warm-water streams. Weekend anglers may be glad to hear that "sticks and stones" can protect those waters--and their fish--for generations to come.

The "sticks" are dormant willow posts planted in a streambank. These cuttings come to life in springtime and grow muscular roots to hold the streambank steady against erosion. The posts are about 7 to 20 feet long.

The "stones" refer to limestone rocks--piled into promontories set perpendicular to the current, or shorter bars running parallel to the bank. These piles put a brake on speeding currents that can erode soil banks.

In 1994, USDA's Agricultural Research Service, working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and USDA's National Resources Conservation Service, developed a cooperative project to restore stream and creek habitats.

As part of this effort, the ARS scientists conducted a 3-year study to determine which technique--stones or sticks--is most effective in restoring fish habitats in a stream damaged by extreme erosion. Stone treatments seem slightly better, based on the diversity and number of fish. But they are more expensive. Willows cost only a fraction as much as stone treatments, but may die off. However, they create habitat for other wildlife.

Streams and creeks can cut deep into the landscape, growing wider and more shallow unless erosion is controlled. If they become too shallow, fish can't hide from birds and other predators. Bottom-dwelling insects die. These bugs are a vital food chain link, feeding fingerling bass and catfish.

The potential erosion problem grows with urbanization. That's because more development means roads and roofs. In turn, runoff rainwater reaches stream tributaries more quickly and with greater force, increasing erosion.

Scientific contact: F. Douglas Shields, Jr. USDA-ARS National Sedimentation Lab, Oxford, Miss. Phone (601) 232-2919, fax (601) 232-2915,

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