Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Virginia
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Virginia Project

Farm Bill conservation practice (BMP) efficacy in mitigating livestock impacts in the Copper Creek watershed

May 2018 - February 2020


Participating Agencies

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service

This project complements ongoing BMP analysis in the Copper Creek drainage (CCD) to assess the collective outcomes of conservation work by several agencies. The project focuses on developing spatially explicit models to explain and predict how watershed features, including BMPs, interact to influence upland sediment dynamics and instream benthic habitat conditions. This work will inform conservation planning for hellbender, fishes, and mussels by providing baseline data, validating protocols for water quality monitoring, and helping to prioritize implementation of future BMPs to benefit imperiled aquatic species. The project is a collaboration among USGS, USFWS, NRCS, and Virginia Tech.
1) Summarize available water quality data;
2) Complete our geomorphology dataset on channel topography;
3) Identify optimal locations for BMP implementation;
4) Test scenarios of BMP investment.

Our research focused on developing spatially explicit models to explain and predict how watershed processes and features, including agricultural BMPs, interact to determine instream benthic habitats that support at-risk aquatic biota in CCW. This required compiling baseline data on watershed processes and habitat conditions in the CCW, and developing BMP scenario analyses that linked upland management action to instream habitat outcomes. Results from this research can inform protocols for water quality monitoring planned to begin in 2021, can inform NRCS-WLFW on strategic planning and outcome assessment needs for aquatic partnerships, and have identified implementation approaches and metrics to use in CCW and other aquatic conservation partnership efforts across the region and country. We highlight four primary findings from our research:
The most cost-effective BMP scenario varied between the two target habitat metrics (relative bed stability and % embeddedness).
Benefits to benthic habitats could occur even at low adoption rates (i.e., ‘high’ adoption not required).
Scenarios focused only on cattle exclusion fences provided little to no benefit to stream habitats.
This investigation started to establish Copper Creek baselines for metrics to be used to set targets/goals for instream habitat improvement.