Sweeten, S.E. and W.M. Ford. 2016. Validation of a stream and riparian habitat assessment protocol using stream salamanders in the southwest Virginia coalfields. Journal of The American Society of Mining and Reclamation 5:45-46
Within the central Appalachia Coalfields, the aquatic impacts of large-scale land uses are of particular ecological concern. Coal mining practices, particularly surface coal extraction and associated valley fills, both directly and indirectly effect physical stream habitat and water quality. Additionally, many residential areas in this region are concentrated in the stream valley whereby they impact stream and riparian habitat. For example, runoff and untreated sewage into area streams continue to degrade water quality. Identification and quantification of land use impacts to ecosystems are a necessary first step to aid in mitigation of negative consequences to biota. However, oftentimes quantifying physical environmental quality such as stream and riparian habitat can be quite difficult, particularly when there are time or fiscal limitations. Standard protocols such as the U.S. EPA’s Stream Habitat Rapid Bioassessment Protocol have been established to be cost and time effective (Barbour et al 1999). This protocol estimates ten different stream and riparian conditions on a scale of 0 to 20. However, using estimations can be problematic due to large potential variation in the scoring depending on differences in training, experience, and opinion of the personnel doing the estimations. In order to help negate this and provide a simplified process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) developed a functional assessment for streams that measures 11 stream and riparian parameters along with watershed land use to calculate three different scores, a hydrology score, biogeochemical score, and habitat score. In our study, we examined the correlation of stream salamanders to the three USACE scores. In the summer of 2013, we visited 70 sites (sampled three times each) in the southwest Virginia Coalfields to collect salamanders and quantify stream and riparian microhabitat parameters. Using an occupancy analysis we found strong relationships among three Desmognathus spp. and the USACE Habitat FCI score.