RED BROOK AT CENTURY BOG
The fishing journal begun by Theodore Lyman (who eventually came to own much of Red Brook) in 1867, and continued by his descendents for over 100 years, often details the threats posed to Red Brook by the 70 acres of cranberry bogs sitting upon the brook’s headwaters below White Island Pond. By 1954, DDT had reduced the native brook trout of Red Brook to the point that Charles and Henry Lyman had to stock brook trout from a nearby hatchery in order to maintain any fishing for themselves at the brook. Henry Lyman bitterly complained that the hatchery trout were a poor substitute for the native salter fishery, because they disappeared within a couple of weeks.
Between 2001 and the present, a partnership that includes Trout Unlimited, Mass. Div. of Fisheries and Wildlife and The Trustees of Reservations has (with help from the Massachusetts Div. of Ecological Restoration) removed four dams from the lower reach of Red Brook while adding logs and root wads to restore natural stream habitat features.
The result of this work was evident last Wednesday while I helped MDFW fisheries biologist, Steve Hurley, with electro-fishing and trout tagging at Red Brook. The trout that we were collecting and tagging were all wild brook trout, the descendents of the native trout that had been nearly brought to the brink of extinction in 1954 by DDT flowing down from the cranberry bogs. In one small reach that had, before the dam removals, been punctuated by two cement flumes, we collected 20 trout that had been invisible to us, hidden as they were beneath logs and undercut banks, until Hurley probed the waters with his electric wand. The total number of brook trout collected was over 400 spread across all age classes. About 150 were recaptures, trout that had been previously tagged.
The point that I’m trying to make is that the Red Brook trout have survived in spite of the cranberry bogs. This hasn’t been the case on other streams. The brook trout of both the Childs River and the Coonamessett River on Cape Cod were extirpated by cranberry related activities in recent times. Now that the bog operations on those streams have ended, the streams are being re-populated with brook trout from nearby streams – but that’s another story. This story is about the end of cranberry operations at Century Bog and what that means for Red Brook and its native salter.
There are a host of ills that come from run of river cranberry operations. The flow of heated water rushing off of acres of bogs is only one. At Red Brook, these deluges used to leave weeds hanging in the trees at chest level. There is also over 100 years worth of sand that has washed off of the bogs into Red Brook, much of it contaminated. There are about 7 potentially toxic (for wildlife) chemicals used on bogs, which may be contributing to the low numbers and diversity of macro-invertebrates at Red Brook. When you add to all of this the utter ecological wreckage that the ditching and straightening of the stream represents, along with the plowing of the riparian zone into flat mono culture deserts – then expand the wreckage to almost every stream in the region – you have a large scale environmental disaster. And weirdly, it goes unnoticed, because no one remembers what once was – and what has been lost.
Take a look at Plymouth, Wareham and Cape Cod, and everywhere you will see brook trout streams that have been ruined by run of river cranberry operations.
Now you know why I’m celebrating the end of over 100 years of cranberry harvests at Century Bogs.