The Warner River Watershed Conservation Project 

Warner Watershed Map2 (002) FINAL lg

The four subwatersheds of the Warner River Watershed span ten towns in the Kearsarge-Mt. Sunapee Region. All streams within the watershed eventually find their way into the Warner River which joins the Contoocook River in Hopkinton.


Lead NH F&G project biologist, Ben Nugent, electo-fishing a stream to find the fish species present. The mild electrical current temporarily stuns the fish, causing them to briefly rise to the surface so we can collect them. You would be amazed how many brookies we find in streams this size!


After we collect the fish from the stream, we quickly weigh them.


Then we measure and return them to the stream.

p1L macroinvert pix FINAL

F&G biologists, Basil Woods TU members and Warner Conservation Commission members sorting macroinvertebrates collected from a stream. By tallying the different species present, we are able to calculate the water quality of the stream.

Distribution of trout 2008 to 2013

This map shows the results of our wild brook habitat assessments from 2008-2013. Over two-thirds of this watershed’s streams have wild brook trout! Areas in light blue have not been surveyed as they are too deep for us to assess.


An old rail trestle abutment along the Warner River in Warner. Residents of the towns of Sutton, Bradford, Warner, Webster and Hopkinton with the assistance of Central NH Regional Planning Commission and Basil Woods TU have written the nomination for the Warner River. If approved by the NH Department of Environmental Services, the Legislature and the Governor, RSA 483 will be amended to include the Warner River as a Designated NH river of the RMPP.


We do preliminary assessments of culvert (stream) crossings to determine whether or not they allow for fish passage, take measurements to see how well they compliment the stream (size, direction, height) and also make note of the culvert condition. The culvert above is too high (perched) and does not allow for fish passage at low-flow conditions. This culvert is very likely also a hazard during flood conditions as it is much more narrow than the stream and its smooth concrete bottom will cause stream velocity to accelerate. The data we collect is used by numerous state agencies and we also provide reports to local towns to aid them in determining which culverts should be replaced first.


This culvert, though much lower, may still create difficulty for trout when they attempt to travel upstream to spawning grounds.


By contrast, bridges and bottomless culverts provide a natural stream bottom. Not only do these designs allow for better fish passage, but they also allow passage of many wild animals as well.


This is a bottomless culvert designed to span beyond the width of the stream. The corrugated metal, rocks lining the concrete abutments beneath and the natural stream bottom emulate true stream-like conditions.


In fall drought conditions of 2015, we set out to collect wild brook trout that were prevented from reaching their spawning grounds upstream by an old perched I-89 culvert over 200′ long. A portion of the stream had no above-ground flow. We were stunned to find a brookie in this puddle! Just upstream in the cool shade of the woods, the brook had much more flow and more trout.


We were very surprised at just how many brookies we found that day! We took extra precautions by providing them extra oxygen during transport. Here F&G biologist, Matt Carpenter, is gently releasing the trout into the pristine headwaters of the same stream (above the I-89 culvert) so that they can spawn. We know that trout existed in this particular area previously and look forward to assessing the success of their relocation in 2016.

This project originated in September 2011, when Ben Nugent, a cold-water fisheries biologist with NH Fish & Game (NHF&G), presented the Basil W. Woods, Jr. Chapter of Trout Unlimited with wild brook trout surveys done throughout the state that had been conducted by NHF&G and its partners. He noted that, locally, very little was known about the presence of wild trout populations in the Lower Warner River Subwatershed of the Warner River. Members of the Chapter, some of whom live within the watershed, saw this as an exciting opportunity to involve the Chapter and its members in an important local conservation project. As a result, Ben targeted the Lower Warner River Watershed for the next series of brook trout surveys.  Basil Woods TU coordinated local volunteers and took the lead for introducing macro-invertebrate counts and water quality testing.  To further increase local grass roots involvement and interest, George Embley, the Chapter project leader, and Ben Nugent met with the Warner Conservation Commission, and the Commission as a result became active in the project.

2012 Lower and Upper Warner River & Andrew Brook Subwatershed Habitat Assessments

Over a two-week period in June 2012, lead researcher, Ben Nugent, with the aid of the local volunteers, other NHF&G biologists, Basil Woods TU and Warner Conservation Commission members led the search for wild brookies in the many small tributaries of the watershed. Without exception, the volunteers involved with this work not only added to the value of the project, but also got tremendous personal satisfaction from the work.  We were all encouraged by the results which indicated high water quality and presence of wild trout in two-thirds of the survey locations.

One of the most surprising findings occurred on the campus of Kearsarge Regional High School where 60 wild trout were found in a short stretch of stream between the two driveways!  This provided a valuable opportunity to engage the school staff in using it as an educational tool (e.g. water quality monitoring, watershed mapping and land use assessment, and aquatic resource studies).  The following year the school adopted the Trout in the Classroom program which engages students in raising brook trout and studying their watershed for the best habitat to release them.


The results of the first year’s surveys were so well received by the Warner Conservation Commission. In fact, the positive interest that the Chapter and NHF&G had in the watershed led to the Commission to initiate the nomination process required for the Warner River to become a NH Designated River within the NH Rivers Management and Protection Program (RMPP). This program was established in 1988, by RSA 483, gives communities a tool to protect certain rivers for their outstanding natural and cultural resources. To learn more about the RMPP and this designation, please visit the Warner River nomination website.

2013 Lane River Subwatershed Habitat Assessment

In subsequent years, the partners have built upon the success of the first year.  In 2013, a second Warner River subwatershed, the Lane River Watershed, was surveyed, completing the watershed-wide baseline fish distribution surveys for the entire Warner River Watershed.  Basil Woods TU coordinated with the project partners to organize and lead the volunteers for the habitat surveys and collection of macroinvertebrates and water quality data.

2014-2015 Continued Watershed Habitat & Stream-Road (Culvert and Bridge) Crossing Assessments

In 2014 and 2015, with basic trout survey results in hand for all the Warner River Subwatersheds, Basil Woods TU and NHF&G focused on conducting stream-road crossing surveys in order to complete our understanding of the health of the watershed. Culverts placed at elevations higher than that of a stream bed are habitat barriers to brook trout and other aquatic species, preventing migration throughout the variety of habitats that exists in the watershed. Brook trout are then unable to retreat to cooler headwater streams during hot summer months or reach critical spawning grounds in fall months when low-flow stream conditions exist.

In early June 2014, two stream crossing assessment training sessions were held for almost 20 volunteers–led by instructors John Magee, NHF&G habitat specialist, and Colin Lawson of Trout Unlimited. Basil Woods TU then took responsibility for leading the surveys and collecting the data within the watershed.  Collected stream-road crossing information was reported to NHF&G and incorporated into a state-wide database.  The reports that Ben Nugent has put out summarizing the results and conclusions of these studies are invaluable aids to the Chapter and NHF&G toward making specific plans to protect and improve cold water habitat within the watershed. These reports are also forwarded to local town officials as inadequate stream-road crossings also present greater flood risk to public and private property.

Interest and participation in this project continued to grow in 2015. Basil Woods TU volunteers alone put in over three hundred hours in the field – and an additional one hundred hours for
administration, planning, and sorting through data sheets.  Overall, volunteers have now donated well over a thousand hours of their time to this project.

Our outreach effort to increase community awareness and recruit volunteers has been an important component of this project.  By distributing copies of TU’s 2nd Edition of My Healthy Stream – A Handbook for Streamside Owners, giving local project presentations, maintaining a presence at various community events and recruiting volunteers to assist with surveys, volunteers and local citizens are acquiring a more intimate understanding of the importance of wild brook trout and the issues that limit the species proliferation. In recognizing that our beautiful wild brookies are marker species for determining our watershed health, we are collectively becoming more educated, active stewards for protecting this watershed’s cold water habitat and high water quality.

Our results describe a high quality watershed that is well worth preserving. However, the Contoocook watershed, of which the Warner River watershed is part, is predicted to face growing pressures and has been identified in the USDA Forest Service Report, Private Forests, Public Benefits: Increased Housing Density and Other Pressures on Private Forest Contributions as:

  • The most endangered watershed to suffer the most loss of interior forest;
  • The second most threatened for loss of private forest acreage and water quality; and
  • Ranked ninth nation-wide to experience the most loss of timber volume.

Therefore we are taking a proactive approach, promoting land practices that preserve both the resiliency of wild brook trout and water quality. We will build on grassroots interest, and help identify
specific actions to protect,
reconnect, restore and sustain
trout habitat throughout this
valuable watershed.


Our talented intern Tyson assessing a culvert-stream crossing this last summer. He enabled us to complete all of the culvert/bridge assessments for the entire Warner River watershed this last year! We will very much miss him this year, but send him strong support and best wishes as he works on his Master Degree at Plymouth!

2016 Stream Crossing Assessment & Outreach Campaign

We created this website to support our 2016 Stream Crossing Assessment & Outreach Campaign wherein we are seeking to engage local watershed communities, landowners and the general public in order to promote good stewardship and identify conservation actions.

To help us reach our goals, we applied for and received $4,ooo dollars from TU National Embrace-A-Stream-Grant funds. With these funds, we hired a student intern to help us meet our goals. Our intern was so talented and efficient, we are able to extend this grant funding to hire another student intern in 2017!

(more updates coming soon!)

Basil Woods TU Project Articles
Conserving the Warner River Watershed by George Embley, Chris Connors and Ben Nugent, Wildlife Journal, Spring 2016
Wild for the Trout near Mt. Kearsarge
by Brenda Charpentier 12/12/16
A Look at 2016 Fisheries Habitat Work in NH by John Magee & Ben Nugent 12/28/16

Official NH F&G Warner River Watershed Reports
Notes from Fish Community Assessments and a Plan to Protect Wild Brook Trout Populations and their Habitats within the Warner River Watershed

Warner River Watershed Conservation Project Partners
Basil W. Woods, Jr. Trout Unlimited Chapter
NH Fish & Game Warner River Watershed Conservation Page
The Warner Conservation Commission

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