Water Action Volunteers in the field


Tips for teaching Habitat Assessment

Pre-Training Thoughts:

  • Read the habitat assessment fact sheet in the Volunteer Stream Monitoring Fact Sheet Series.

  • If possible, go to your training site prior to the training to pick an area that will work well for assessing habitat during training or work with the training coordinator to learn what section of stream will be used for the habitat assessment during the training session. Consider accessibility to the site, riparian habitat, and depth of water in the length of the reach.

  • If you think you may be short on time during your training, flag out the 300-foot length along the stream and 50-foot width into the riparian area, so monitors in training can get an idea of distances without having to do measurements on their own.

  • You might consider laying out a measuring tape along the ground so that monitor trainees can estimate the number of paces they take when walking 50 feet (a pace is every two steps, one right foot to front and one left foot to front). This will help them get an idea of how far back into the riparian area they need to consider during the assessment.

  • Be sure to give monitors a copy of the data sheet for use at the training as well as for use at their own sites. All data sheets can be printed from the WAV website.
  • There are some slides available on PowerPoint that can help demonstrate various aspects of a stream that are assessed in the habitat assessment if you have such technology and space available at your training. (Thanks to Suzanne Wade, Sue Millin, Stan Nichols for these!). If you have attended a WAV Train the Trainer event you have this PowerPoint presentation on the resource CD from the training.

Teaching tidbits:

  • Discuss general stream form/habitat importance information from habitat fact sheet. This includes:
    1. Definition of riparian (land between water's edge and upper edge of flood plain)
    2. Definition of upper and lower bank (see diagram on fact sheet)
    3. Definition of what makes good aquatic habitat and natural stream formation patterns (varying flows and depths; riffles, runs and pools; variety of natural materials in stream for cover food resources, etc.)
    4. Definition of embeddedness (see diagram)
    5. Explain bank structure (undercut, steeply sloping, gradually sloping) and artificial structures (see diagrams)
    6. Connection between land use and habitat

  • Discuss rocky vs. soft bottom streams and note that there are different data sheets for each. (The same form may not always be used within a watershed, but please stress to monitors to use the same form at a site year to year, unless some major restoration has occurred to warrant changing which form is used.)

  • Discuss that a 300-foot length of stream is assessed. Because the assessment asks the monitor to count the number of bends in the stream, have people measure a straight-line distance of 300 feet, not 300 feet along the bends of the stream.
  • Teach that habitat is assessed at both the right and left banks for some of the steps in the data sheet. Left and right banks are determined by looking upstream (facing upstream, the bank on your right is the right bank). A good way to describe this is to remark that fish orient themselves facing upstream to save energy, so left and right are from a fish-eye view.
  • Discuss the meaning of habitat scores (the range is 13-52, with 52 being the best): Because the scores are dependent upon watershed-specific things such as topography, soil type, and gradient, not every stream can score perfectly. Ideally, a number of streams that are considered reference sites (cream of the crop for a given area) should be assessed throughout the state. However, at this time, we do not have reference streams identified, so alternatively, we utilize habitat assessment scores by comparing them year to year at a site and between sites within a watershed.
  • It's good to note with trainees that the assessment is subjective, so numbers have better meaning to an outside observer if habitat is assessed year to year by the same individual.
  • You might suggest that monitors take photos at their site. This is an excellent way to document site characteristics.
  • You should also suggest that monitors save a copy of their data sheet for reference in future years when they are assessing habitat at the site. - It's differences in habitat that have shown some major changes year to year pre and post stream restoration!

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