86,000 Miles of Streams: Protecting Pennsylvania's Trout

86,000 Miles of Streams: 
Protecting Pennsylvania's Trout

By Rob Shane, Mid-Atlantic Organizer for Trout Unlimited

Pennsylvania is home more than 86,000 miles of rivers, streams, and creeks - second in the United States only to Alaska. That’s three-and-a-half trips around the Earth. Thirty trips from Los Angeles to New York. It’s five times more than the 10 largest rivers in America combined.

These 86,000 miles provide clean drinking water to Pennsylvania’s residents, water for crops and livestock, and recreation opportunities for boaters and paddlers.

When we at Trout Unlimited (TU) look at those 86,000 miles, the first thing we think of is that they’re home to wild trout – a lot of them.

TU’s mission is to protect, connect, and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. We can’t protect those fisheries if we don’t first know where they are, so since 2011, TU has been conducting stream surveys to document and protect unknown populations of wild trout in the state’s streams. This project, the Unassessed Waters Initiative (UWI) spear-headed by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, has led to the discovery of wild trout in more than 40 percent of streams surveyed. Over the past year, Pennsylvania has protected more than 1,000 miles of newly identified wild trout streams.

Nationally, our 300,000 members and supporters donated over 700,000 hours of volunteer time in 2017 to protect more than 3 million acres of land and waterways, reconnect 750 miles of streams, and restore 310 miles of streams. In Pennsylvania alone, TU boasts more than 13,000 members and 49 chapters—the most in the country. With that many miles of wild trout streams to protect, it’s easy to see why. 

Award-winning filmmaker Sam Dean from Virginia recently spent some time in the field with TU’s UWI team, producing the video below on the effort.

Pennsylvania now has 15,000 miles of wild trout streams, including 2,000 miles of Class A waters, which have the largest populations. Counting linked upstream stretches, wild trout protections cover more than 35,000 stream miles.

Locating these populations is critical given the ongoing natural gas boom in the Marcellus Shale region. More than 10,000 natural gas wells have been “fracked” in the Keystone State over the past decade. As many as 25,000 miles of new pipelines could be built in the state by 2030. The projected development of the shale fields would require hundreds of stream crossings and disturb tens of thousands of acres of forests — many of which contain the headwater streams wild trout call home.


Deforestation and construction leads to increased sedimentation in streams, erosion on stream banks, and rising water temperatures, all of which are detrimental to critical trout habitat. Pennsylvania’s Wild Trout Water designation affords these streams additional protections under state regulations.

TU’s Mid-Atlantic policy team continues to advocate for wild trout protections in the Marcellus Shale region. For more information on how you can get involved in these efforts, contact David Kinney, Mid-Atlantic Policy Director, at dkinney@tu.org, or Rob Shane, Mid-Atlantic Organizer, at rshane@tu.org.