Stream Habitat Assessment
A healthy stream is a busy place. Wildlife find shelter and food near and in its waters. Vegetation grows along its banks, shading the stream and filtering pollutants before they enter the stream. Within the stream itself are fish, insects and other tiny creatures with specific needs: dissolved oxygen to breathe; rocks, overhanging tree limbs, logs and roots for shelter; vegetation and other tiny animals to eat; and special places to breed and hatch their young. For any of these activities, they might also need water of specific velocity, depth and temperature. Many land-use activities can alter these characteristics, causing problems within the entire habitat.
Stream Habitat monitoring and assessment helps determine whether a community’s land practices are affecting the health of local streams and rivers. This type of assessment is usually conducted as an annual event, which is best performed in summer once leaves on trees and shrubs have fully emerged. Habitat assessment is useful as a method for learning about stream ecosystems and environmental stewardship, and as a screening tool to identify environmental stresses on local aquatic ecosystems.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (Department) has developed a Visual Habitat Assessment Manual for the Volunteer Monitoring Program that provides an easy-to-use approach to identifying and assessing the elements of a stream’s habitat. This approach is based on a protocol developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and utilized by the Department's Bureau of Freshwater and Biological Monitoring to record observations of stream habitat characteristics and major physical attributes. The Department employs USEPA's basic protocol along with modified protocols for streams located in New Jersey's Coastal Plain (low gradient) and Highlands, Ridge and Valley, and Piedmont (high gradient) physiographic provinces. The Department hosts an annual training workshop on Visual Habitat Assessment (see Events/Training for announcements of upcoming events).
If you are interested in this type of monitoring but have not yet had a chance to take the training workshop, you can still get started using the basic field sheet best describes your stream: rocky bottom or muddy bottom.